ICON Survey Results

Last summer the International Coalition on Newspapers (ICON) conducted a survey on the size, scope, and status of international newspaper collections at North American academic and research libraries. (“International” newspapers were defined by the survey as newspapers published outside the United States.)

The survey findings suggest that newspapers produced in the Middle East, Latin America, Africa, and other regions--traditionally vital sources of information on the larger world for historians and other researchers--are not being preserved systematically or comprehensively. Faced with competing demands for collection space and funds, most libraries today rely heavily upon a few large institutions for access to international newspapers. At the same time, those “libraries of record” are themselves battling constraints in acquiring, cataloging, and preserving foreign materials, especially newspapers in non-European languages. Consequently, important documentary evidence and heritage materials are at risk. The survey was designed to provide a picture of extant collection practices and policies in four main areas of activity: selection and retention; storage and handling; cataloging and access; and cooperative preservation. The data gathered is expected to inform future preservation planning and decision-making by ICON and its participating institutions.

The survey was distributed to CRL members and other academic and research institutions across the U.S. and Canada. Most of the 40 institutions that responded were libraries at large universities, described as “Doctoral Research–Extensive” in the Carnegie classification scheme. Responses were gathered by automatic web-form reply and email over a two-month period, and the data then compiled, analyzed, and assembled into a report. Click on ICON Survey Results for a PDF version of the full report. Findings at a Glance Using a combination of data and written comments, the survey report provides a cogent description of how the responding institutions’ missions, curricula, research needs, faculty, and other factors contribute to library decisions. According to the survey libraries fall into four general categories with respect to their policies on preserving international newspapers. The categories are:

  1. Non-collecting: For these institutions international newspapers are beyond the scope of the collection. Non-collecting institutions generally include small college libraries and specialized research libraries. In some cases these libraries provide access to newspapers held elsewhere through interlibrary loan (for retrospective materials) or through online aggregators (for current and retrospective materials).
  2. Discarding: The largest number of respondents—masters-granting institutions and many doctoral-level universities—were in this category. These libraries acquire current international newspapers to support local curriculum and student-body use, but discard them after a specified period, which can range from three months to ten years. Generally, “discarding” libraries purchase microform or rely on interlibrary loan and/or online materials to support historical research. Here newspaper titles generally receive full-level cataloging, but no special preservation work is done.
  3. Retaining: Just over one in four responding institutions attempt to retain and make available indefinitely any of their international newspapers in hard copy. Such libraries are also likely to acquire some newspapers originally in microform; discard hard copy of titles subscribed to in print when microforms arrive; and discard titles altogether that are “regarded as primarily of value for research on current events” or titles known or “assumed to be” filmed and available through CRL or other consortia. For titles that they retain in hard copy, these institutions are likely to make use of remote and local storage facilities with favorable climate control, and undertake some conservation and reformatting. Retaining libraries generally catalog at the full level with holdings attached. There are few projects that digitize international newspapers, though interest is high in cooperative cataloging, reformatting, and preservation efforts.
  4. Preserving: In only a handful of libraries do vast collections of international newspapers remain important to the organization’s mission. Just three libraries reported collections of over 3,000 non-U.S. newspaper titles that are retained permanently in either print or microform. (CRL has holdings of about 7,000 foreign titles.) The three institutions—namely, the Library of Congress, the Library and Archives of Canada, and the Research Libraries of the New York Public Library—are atypical of even the largest university libraries in the scope of their collections and the centrality of preservation to their missions. Even for these libraries permanent preservation of print is still the exception for current newspapers, as microfilm remains the long-term format of choice for preserving newspaper holdings that do not have significant “artifactual value” or “historical significance.”

The survey results make clear that even at top research universities and national institutions, preserving international newspapers in hard copy is increasingly rare. Moreover, where historical print runs are being preserved indefinitely, institutions are often unable to determine with precision what they hold and how those holdings relate to similar holdings elsewhere. Many institutions depend on consortia and sharing arrangements to meet their research needs, and accordingly, interest in collaborative filming and cataloging runs high.

For more information about the International Coalition on Newspapers and the full text of the survey report, visit the ICON Web site. The International Coalition on Newspapers is a cooperative preservation project supported by the Center for Research Libraries and the National Endowment for the Humanities.