NY1’s celebration of Bronx Week continues with a look inside a company that has helped students all over the country do their homework for more than 100 years. NY1’s Dean Meminger filed this report.
Reading, reading, and even more reading. Workers in the Bronx digest piles of newspapers and magazine articles every day. They're producing guides and indexes that help students and researchers from around the world find the information they're looking for.
"We like to think of ourselves as the Google of the 20th century,” says HW Wilson Company Vice President Jim Phelan. “Before the Internet age people used to have to go to books and magazines to get information, and they still do. Our company provides indexes to make that very efficient in terms of gathering data from those sources."
And they've been doing it at the HW Wilson Company on University Avenue for generations. Ever use the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature when you go to the library? The company first created it in 1911.
If you never go to the library, well, that information on the Internet needs to come from someplace. Each worker here analyzes about 40 articles a day from 4,000 magazines, and most of their work nowadays goes to the company's website, because most students and researchers do their work online.
“We feel that our book products are secondary in importance, and the thing that is most important thing for us is our web product,” says Margaret Richter, HW Wilson’s Art and Humanities Editor. “Every day the records that go up there have been checked and rechecked and double checked to make sure the information is as accurate as they can be."
It's a long way from the company's beginnings in the late 19th century, when Halsey William Wilson went into the publishing business while still a student at the University of Minnesota. So many East Coast schools and libraries wanted to buy the reference information his then small company was compiling, he moved the operation to New York.
He bought a building in the Bronx and placed a lighthouse on top to symbolize his mission: "To give guidance to those seeking their way through the maze of books and periodicals."
The printing is now done in Albany, but the company is still at the same location, with four buildings and 350 workers.
Among all of the workers are 85 librarians. I have quickly realized that this must be the quietest place in the Bronx to work. And because they read so much, some of the most informed people in New York are right here.
“When I go out at night I am the life of the party because I know everything, so it seems,” says Richter. “I have all of these little tidbits that other people don't know about. They are very surprised, and I tell them I learned it at work."
And that means you won't have to work so hard the next time you want to learn something, thanks to workers in the Bronx.
- Dean Meminger