One program of the Center for Inquiry (CFI) you may or may not be aware of is the Center for Inquiry Libraries (http://www.cfilibraries.org/). While being around (formally) since 1995 and having world-class collections in skepticism, humanism, freethought, atheism, the occult, and the paranormal, the Libraries are more of a “behind the scenes” program at CFI.
Libraries are considered old fashioned or out of touch by people who are more technology oriented. Many think “Google has everything, I can find it all online” when, in fact, an estimated 25 to 28 percent of all books and materials are available digitally, leaving over 70 percent of information not being available online! And this does not include archives, vital records, or holdings in other special collections. In the CFI Libraries, an even larger percentage is not available electronically anywhere.
As a result of the digital information age, the library paradigm has shifted from physically visiting libraries to virtual reference services. Some examples include:
I have done a lot of reference work for Senior Research Fellow Dr. Joe Nickell over the years. Nickell appears on a recent MonsterTalk podcast as a guest, and I provided a lot of the information on the cases he discusses. Host Blake Smith has also been the beneficiary of virtual reference work that I have provided.
I have recently been doing a significant amount of research for Tom Flynn lately—we are working on a Freethought Trail website expansion that will highlight the many connections between freethought and woman’s suffrage. We are adding more about these connections to the Ingersoll Museum too.
Reference work is not done only for the staff at CFI. Due to our highly focused collections, scholars have always come to CFI to use our collections for extended periods of time. But now, more are relying on us to send digital materials to them. There are two separate projects that have been working with converted videotapes that were specially completed via a grant recently. These relate to the Hillside Strangler Case; Dr. Martin Orne was the lead psychiatrist on this case, and his collection contains notes, videotapes, transcripts, and the like.
Aside from a few significant projects like this, CFI is always getting requests for information from the media, scholars, independent researchers who all want a quick “ready reference” type of scan citation, or verification. This has not changed over the years; only the method of delivery of their information.
CFI Libraries is still here, still doing the type of work you would expect from a library. We are just more of a hidden gem.