Tools of the Trade: More on the Keeneland Library

The Keeneland Library is a valuable resource for anyone who works in the sport of horse racing in literally any capacity. For writers, it is the home of the richest collection of publications, photographs, and other resources that one would need to create any book on the sport. For anyone working on breeding or a fan who wants to find more on their favorite horses, the Library will help any patron find the information necessary to answer nearly any question out there. As a follow-up to my post on the Library, I wanted to find out more about the Library experience from Roda Ferraro, the head librarian at the Keeneland Library. Read on!

The Keeneland Library houses the largest collection of materials on horse racing in the country! What is your typical day at this unique library like?

There really isn’t a typical day here. I come in each morning with goals and expectations, but there is no way to predict who may walk through our doors or reach out through email or phone. We field several hundred research requests each month, and I spend much of my day meeting those requests.

When I am not consulting with patrons or doing research, my time is spread across other efforts, including preservation projects, strategic planning, collections management, and developing library exhibits, programs, and events. I index our incoming print journals and magazines so future researchers can tap into today’s stories. I also collaborate with other library staff to build our research files, selecting articles that cover the trends and events most likely to be used by researchers in 10 or 50 years. Last year, we added roughly 5,000 articles to that repository.

So each day really is a mixed bag, and I am fortunate enough to work with a small, but dedicated team to take on the range of work.

What is your favorite part of the Library?

This is tough. The depth of our collections impresses me every day, but I would have to say our patrons are my favorite part of the Library. I have worked in libraries, museums, and universities for more than 15 years, and there are no patrons more passionate about their research than ours. I enjoy connecting them to the right information resources, and it is especially gratifying to watch them take a shared research effort and publish a new piece of the industry record.

What about your job surprises you the most?

The variety of research topics. From bloodlines and equine diseases to farm and track history, and from legislation and public perception to the biography of horses and people; if you can dream up a question remotely related to racing, we get it. I’m not sure I will ever stop being surprised by the range of inquiry.

Who is the most famous person you’ve helped?

Well, I can’t name specific people (librarian/patron confidentiality). As for working with esteemed patrons, I have worked with Pulitzer Prize-winning authors, international news agencies, Hall of Famers, Media Eclipse Award winners, and various industry publication award recipients.

Talk a little about what the Keeneland Library can do for writers like me and what you can do for the average fan.

There is a wealth of industry information and databases freely available online, but we can help broker access to 1) information that predates online content and 2) print resources that greatly outnumber online resources. Patrons often share they are frustrated they can’t find their answers online, despite considerable searches. That’s where we come in. From the 1700s to the present, no other repository approaches the scope of our industry print resources. They prove valuable every day to both writers and racing fans. Additionally, I have access to newspaper and journal databases not available to the public.

The majority of our research requests come from folks from all over the world who are either facing a tight deadline or can’t make it to visit us here in Lexington. We do our best to connect them to relevant, vetted information to meet their varied needs.

We are also the repository for roughly one million photo negatives and prints. We grant permission to use thousands of images each year to support online and print publications, museum exhibitions, and personal research projects.

We don’t find the answers every time. And we don’t always have the book, journal issue, or photograph someone may need. But we strive to be a responsive, freely available resource for all of our patrons.

Thank you, Roda, for answering my questions and being part of the blog. Roda was instrumental in helping me prepare the book for publication, including the vast majority of the photographs you will find in the book. If you have a chance to visit Keeneland, please stop by the library and say hi to all of the wonderful staff there!

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