A newsletter file drawer at CFI

Extra! Extra! Read All About It!

February 6, 2020

CFI Libraries has many different formats of information in its hallowed halls of knowledge. Of course, there are books, archives, microfilm, databases, and periodicals. Periodicals, in library lingo, consist of journals, serials, magazines, and the like. But one type of periodical we hardly talk about is our newsletters.

The newsletters here at the Center for Inquiry (CFI) can be divided up into a few different categories. National and international newsletters, of course, come from national and international organizations sharing information about the organizations themselves or items of interest to the membership. Examples of this include our former publications the Secular Humanist Bulletin and Skeptical Briefs, and they served to keep the readers of our magazines informed between magazine issues and included items that might not have made it into the flagship magazines either. Cult Awareness Network News and Free Mind (the newsletter of the American Humanist Association) are examples of newsletters outside our publications.

We also have a large number of “niche” publications that relate to our various missions. Freethought, atheism, rationalism, and skepticism are prominent. But such newsletters as Saucer Smear out of California and Pit Bull Christian from Lubbock, Texas, are very specific to their scope and readership. All “niches” related to CFI are covered: from the paranormal, cryptozoology, and the occult, to humanism and atheism, freethought, religion, etc.

By far, the most interesting newsletters we have are created by local groups. These local groups are typically (but not necessarily) affiliated with a larger organization. We have many that were affiliated in some way with the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP, now the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry [CSI]), the Council for Secular Humanism (CSH), and CFI, but we also have newsletters from the American Atheists, American Humanist Association, the ACLU, and others. FIG [JL1] Leaves from the Free Inquiry Group, The Greater Philadelphia Story (now Freethought Society News) from Margaret Downey’s group in Pennsylvania, and PIQUE (the newsletter from the Secular Humanist Society of New York) are all examples[JL2] .

Paper newsletters are dying out. This is not because of a lack of interest but because they are going digital. We also save the digital format here at CFI. The aforementioned Greater Philadelphia Story was formerly a paper item; it is now delivered as a PDF and saved. The NMSR Newsletter (from the New Mexicans for Science and Reason group) is delivered electronically now, but CFI Libraries has an almost complete run of the paper copies going back many years.

What makes these local newsletters so interesting is that they contain the history of the local group—the various events that were held, the officers of the groups, and attendees of events are often listed and recorded here. You sometimes see what the local group thought about a topic, which may not coincide with the position of their national organization. All sorts of interesting insights can be gleaned from their pages.

I would like to remind all these organizations that we are still collecting newsletters—whether they be in the form of paper back issues, new electronic issues, or both. It is also a good back-up for your organization for someone outside it to hold these materials.

Finally, researchers should know these items are available here at CFI as well. The new library website will be running within the next few months, and a list of all the newsletter titles we have will hopefully be included there soon after it is active.