Partner Interview: Barbara Ferry of the National Geographic Society

What makes working for National Geographic a fulfilling experience and why should you be excited to add National Geographic Virtual Library to your collection? Find out straight from the source. Recently, we had the pleasure of interviewing Barbara Ferry, the Director of the Library & Archives at National Geographic Society. Check out this quick bio to learn more about her professional accomplishments–and, then, it’s on to the interview!

Ferry image informalBarbara Ferry is the Director of the Library & Archives at National Geographic Society, where she has worked for more than 24 years.  Prior to working at National Geographic, Barbara was a news research analyst at the Washington Post and Manager of Research at Washington Information Group.  Barbara holds an MLS from the University of Maryland and an MS in Journalism from Columbia University.  Barbara manages a terrific staff of information professionals dedicated to providing the best resources and research support for editorial and business decision-making, records management, NG heritage products and editorial and NG-branded research databases for libraries world-wide.

1. Why did you choose to work for the National Geographic Society?

Like many people, I recall a childhood filled with yellow border magazines and National Geographic documentaries on PBS. While reading or watching National Geographic, I felt that I was on the very edge of discovery – in the deserts of Africa or on ship tossing in the Pacific Ocean – with the Society’s explorers and scientists. I thought that working at National Geographic would be the most glamorous job in the world!  When I heard of a job opening in the Library, I didn’t hesitate to apply.  Turns out, supporting NG’s mission through the library has been extremely rewarding for me both personally and professionally.

2. How do you see National Geographic Library impacting your line of work?

A few years ago we noticed that other libraries – public, school, or academic — could not access National Geographic magazines and books in a networked environment.   We knew from our own library that we were focused on providing desk-top access to as many journals and materials as possible, and we were concerned that NG would lose its place in libraries as a premier quality research source if it was accessible only in print.  So we set about finding a great partner (that would be Gale Cengage!) to develop the National Geographic database, and then worked internally with divisions to seek identify and clear digital rights to content (magazines, maps, books, videos, images, etc.)  The project has been fantastic in raising the profile of the library internally and has also the added benefit to provide our own staff with a fully accessible digital database of NG published content.

3. How do you see National Geographic Virtual Library impacting students/researchers/teachers/etc?

Students: Students are already familiar with the National Geographic brand so there will be no arm-twisting to get them engaged in the database. National Geographic content is written for a general audience, but tackles complex topics.  Our content is visually engaging and students will love that they can go to one place to search across all our content types.

Researchers:  With an archive going back to 1888, researchers will interested in the historic context that National Geographic brings to many topics.  Researchers will also love the text analysis tools such as term frequency and carrot search and the full OCR’ed text.  I personally like to research the evolution of the advertisements over time.

Teachers: Teachers will like that students already know the National Geographic brand and will be drawn to its visually-appealing content.  For teachers in states who are following the Common Core guidelines, they will find that National Geographic content supports literacy skills development with high quality nonfiction content recommended in the guidelines.

4. What are the most important topics covered?  Why are these topics important? Or why are these entries so important?

The content of National Geographic is well known for its coverage of countries & cultures, geography, environmental and conservation sciences, and natural history.  NG is meant to appeal to a general audience, so topics are presented in an easy-to-understand, engaging manner.

5. What fields of study would you recommend National Geographic Virtual Library for?

College students will use the database if they are studying introductory geography or who need supplemental research materials for classes related to cultural understanding, environmental history, migration, and exploration.

6. How is National Geographic Virtual Library different than other resources covering the same subject areas?

National Geographic is known for its quality of facts and depth of story.  Librarians trust that the content provides the context for students looking for a broad understanding of a topic.  This broad coverage is often difficult to find in scientific journals, which are often hyper-focused, or in news journals that are more interested in political dimensions of a topic.

7. Tell us a bit about some of the National Geographic authors and explorers featured in the product.  Call out some of the leaders in their fields, the caliber of the contributors, etc.

Most people do not realize that National Geographic is a major grant maker in the fields of science, anthropology, archeology and natural history.  Since our founding, we have issued more than 10,000 grants in hypotheses-driven field research and exploration.  Our grantees read like a “who’s who” of the world’s most recognizable scientists and explorers:  Maeve Leakey, Wade Davis, Lee Berger, Jane Goodall, Robert Ballard — among many others.

8. What does National Geographic mean to you?

I have a favorite quote from one of NG Explorer in Residence Robert (Bob) Ballard: “Everyone is an explorer. How could you possibly live your life looking at a door and not go open it?” Among the most accomplished and well known of the world’s deep-sea explorers, Robert Ballard is best known for his historic discoveries of hydrothermal vents, the sunken R.M.S. Titanic, the German battleship Bismarck, and numerous other contemporary and ancient shipwrecks around the world. Bob’s quote epitomizes what National Geographic encourages in all of us – an endless curiosity about the world and all that’s in it – something that I know all librarians and teachers can relate to.


Look out for part two of our interview in the coming weeks, and check back weekly as we continue to learn more about our partners.

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