Divine help for the creation of large data banks
Web posted at: 2:17 p.m. EDT (1817 GMT)
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NEW YORK (CNN) -- Whether through your work, study or interest, chances are you've stumbled across more than one database so vast that it left your head spinning. You wondered how much time, energy and man- or womanpower it took to enter all that information.
The photograph bank used by the New York Daily News is just one of many examples.
Every photograph that goes into the newspaper must be catalogued online in case it is needed in the future. And the captions must be entered, too.
When the New York Daily News launched its effort to computerize all that information, those captions added up to 1.5 million entries.
If you're thinking that a task like that would be best executed with a little divine intervention, you're right.
So the newspaper turned to Ed Leonard, who contracted the work out to monks and nuns throughout the United States.
Leonard owns The Electronic Scriptorium, a company specializing in high-value data conversion. Pairing data entry with religious orders is a natural, he told CNN.
"The rule of St. Benedict says that you will make your living by the work of your hands," Leonard said. "The monks work very methodically, they only do so much work per day. Their lifestyle is centered around prayer and God."
Monks and nuns also work in quiet environments, so they tend to get more work done, Leonard said.
"Well, we've all been in office buildings and we know that you're interrupted 15 times per hour by the phone," he said. "The monks don't have any of that."
"I think this (work) is in line with our lives, because we are contemplative," said Sister Bruna, who, along with her fellow nuns at Sisters of the Regina Mundi Priory, a Benedictine order outside Philadelphia, helped create the Daily News's database.( 192 K/12 sec.WAV)
Leonard's company has annual billings of $2 million, and his working nuns and monks have converted data for such big-name clients as Time/Life, advertising giant J. Walter Thompson and the U.S. Department of Justice.
Leonard's latest job is putting classic works online for New York's Pierpont-Morgan Library. The library's collection includes manuscripts from such authors as Charles Dickens and Jane Austin, as well as work from the Middle Ages.
The library says putting such classics online can be costly, but Leonard's service makes the data conversion a reasonable expense.
"(It is) less (expensive), actually than it would be to hire people in-house," said Elizabeth O'Keefe, director of Information Services for the Morgan Library. "Because, frankly, we would have the expense of training, we'd have the expense of finding computers for (workers) to sit at, even a place for them to sit."
Leonard contracts directly with the monasteries and convents. The monks and nuns are paid a certain amount per record they enter.
The orders use the money to offset living expenditures, such as health and medical insurance, clothing, food, or maintenance for the house and grounds.
The monks and nuns say that in addition to earning money for necessary expenses, the work allows them to do community service while participating in the information age.
"We are just benefiting from this new technology, and I think it suits us," Sister Bruna said. "We are not angels, we are human beings -- we can't be praying from noon to night."
Correspondent Donald Van de Mark contributed to this report.
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