Center for Research Libraries - Global Resources Network

Resources for

International Coalition on Newspapers

Linda Ronan
Project Coordinator, ICON, Center for Research Library


The printed newspaper as we know it today has a history of almost 400 years. During that span of time, over much of the world, the daily events that affect the lives of ordinary people have been written, discussed, photographed, satirized, praised, and analyzed. It is a fascinating, first-hand source not only of history, but also of fashion, the arts, entertainment, culture, commerce, and the thousand seemingly trivial things that people want to know. In every language, the newspaper is an irreplaceable primary resource.

Increasingly, researchers from amateur genealogists to professionals and academics are finding a treasure trove in newspapers. CRL has long understood the valuable assets it holds for use by its members. Our collection holds over 12,000 newspapers, with more than 7,000 current and retrospective newspapers published outside of the United States. The International Coalition on Newspapers (ICON) emerged out of recognition of the need for increased preservation of and better access to global newspapers.

ICON’s Beginnings

Even before ICON, CRL had a long history in cooperative foreign newspaper preservation activities. Having started filming and acquiring the film of some 50 foreign newspapers for its members in as early as 1952, by 1961, CRL was filming 146 titles for 54 participating subscribers as part of the Foreign Newspaper Microfilm Project (FNMP). For the next two decades, CRL maintained its role as one of the few institutions in the United States with an ongoing commitment to foreign newspaper preservation and access, even as funding priorities shifted to the necessary preservation of domestic papers.

In May 1997, CRL, in collaboration with the Association of Research Libraries, Council on Library and Information Resources (Commission on Preservation and Access), and the Library of Congress, convened for the “Symposium on Access to and Preservation of Global Newspapers” held in Washington, D.C. Participants were asked to design a course of action that would guarantee acquisition of and access to international newspapers. The International Coalition on Newspapers (ICON) was sparked as a response. A working group, with support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, met three times in 1998 and issued a final report of their findings. The culmination of the working group’s assessment was a recommendation to form a permanent body to monitor and coordinate an international effort of newspaper acquisition and preservation.

In 1999, ICON was officially established and a permanent steering committee was formed from among the charter participating institutions, including the Library of Congress, the British Library, the Library and Archives Canada, the New York Public Library, the University of Illinois, and the University of Washington. During its history, ICON has received generous support from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). In doing so, the NEH has signaled that the preservation of foreign newspapers and bibliographic access to them is vitally important for scholars and researchers today and in the future.

ICON’s Goals and Progress

Among ICON’s original and continuing goals are: to amass information on the preservation status of the world’s newspapers; to provide access to and unprecedented array of newspaper holdings; to preserve global, cultural and intellectual resources; and to provide an ongoing forum for discussion of issues related to global newspapers. ICON has honored its commitment to preserve and improve access to international newspapers by the pursuit of several core activities:

Preservation Microfilming of Important and Underrepresented Titles

Through funding from the NEH, ICON has preserved whole runs or significant parts of 40 titles from around the globe. These titles include historically valuable newspapers, such as the Czech paper Národní Listy (Prague), a foremost daily of its time, of which ICON provides the only comprehensive filmed version for the years 1918–1931. Other titles include La Bourse Egyptienne (Cairo, Egypt) and the Eritrean Daily News (which is currently being filmed).The Eritrean Daily News (Asmara, Ethiopia) and its companion publication, Il Quotidiano Eritreo, were issued by the British Ministry of Information during the tumultuous years of the Second World War. The paper reflects the politics of British military rule in Eritrea and Ethiopia after the Italian colonial era. ICON’s preservation efforts with this title complement the holdings at the British Library.

ICON also identifies and preserves underrepresented titles, such as the relatively undocumented Vanguardia (Lima, Peru) which professed to be “the voice for what the people think.” ICON preserved a run from 1945–1963, an important period for Peru’s emerging democracy. ICON also preserves titles outside of the mainstream, such as the Lithuanian-language Argentinos lietuviu balsas (Buenos Aires, Argentina) and Shanghai Times (Shanghai, China).

Institutions that contribute to ICON’s preservation microfilming with hard copy holdings receive film of their contribution at the end of the filming process. ICON has been fortunate to have collaborative relationships with several institutions in the United States, including the Library of Congress, Stanford University, Harvard University, University of Texas, Columbia University, University of California, University of Connecticut, Tulane University, and others. CRL members can also receive loans of ICON film at no cost, or duplicates of film on a cost-recovery basis. A complete list of the titles preserved by ICON is available on ICON’s Web site.

Creation of the Database of International Newspapers

The ICON Database of International Newspapers is a freely accessible electronic resource intended to provide reliable information about newspapers published outside of the United States. It includes a bibliographic description of titles as well as specific information on institutions’ holdings of the same. The database serves as a central locus for information about international newspaper collections available in North American libraries and in selected libraries outside North America, providing a tool for resource discovery, access, and collection management. The database is available from ICON’s home page.

Coordinated Cataloging of Partner Institutions’ International Newspaper Holdings

Increasing access to international newspapers depends on the creation and sharing of bibliographic information in local and national catalogs or databases. Bibliographic control of foreign newspapers is a resource-intensive activity that requires language or area specialization in addition to high-quality cataloging skills. ICON’s role as an advocate and support structure for original cataloging of international newspapers was an early goal of the project’s visionaries. As ICON moves forward, it is expected that hundreds of new records will be added, greatly increasing the visibility of historic global newspapers.

Dissemination and Coordination of Substantive Information about International Newspapers

After a complete redesign in 2006, the ICON Web site now contains the ICON database as well as a variety of resources, including a “clearinghouse” of international standards for newspaper preservation and bibliographic access. ICON is mounting information relating to project reports and presentations; links to newspaper informational sites; news and developments of current preservation projects; reference resources; and digitized guides. It is ICON’s goal that the Web site will become a vital and comprehensive stopping place for gathering data about accessioning and preserving newspapers.

Creation of a Long-Range, Sustainable Business Model and Operating Plan for ICON

ICON has largely been successful in pursuing the original objectives of the project. The database, cataloging, preservation activities, and clearinghouse services are all fully in process. In terms of future activities, ICON will remain focused on its objectives, expanding whenever need or opportunity makes sense. Such activities will include increasing the number of participants and including preservation projects for material held in other regions; coordinating filming activities and communication among existing and prospective projects and institutions; and engaging in further collaboration with national and international organizations (e.g., International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions) concerning conservation of materials in microform and print (including repositories for the “copy of last resort”).

ICON was envisioned to be a global initiative, involving national and local libraries from every region. In order to achieve this, an expansion of activity and articulation of the reciprocal benefits of the project must be undertaken. CRL continues to provide support to ICON and eagerly welcomes expressions of interest from other organizations.