Sustaining Access to News: What We Learned from eDesiderata 2017

Saturday, November 11, 2017

The notion that the current print-based approach to preserving news applies in the digital era was pretty much exploded at last month’s eDesiderata Forum, Investing in the Persistence of News.  It was clear from the Forum conversations that digital news is an entirely different animal, and that digital technologies and new research practices present an entirely new set of preservation challenges for libraries, and for CRL.  

The end of the status quo.  Forum speakers Mary Feeney (University of Arizona) and Patrick Reakes (University of Florida) showed that print-era preservation strategies – involving microfilm and interlibrary loan – are becoming ineffective and unsustainable. Microfom vendors now prohibit interlibrary sharing, and prices are soaring as hard-pressed publishers seek to maximize royalties revenue.  Add to this the fact that major suppliers like the British Library and Brill/IDC are ceasing microfilm production altogether, and the supply chain that long served scholarship appears to be on the brink of collapse.

Moreover, microform ill serves today’s researchers, and will likely be rejected outright by tomorrow’s users. Locating relevant information within the vast print newspaper corpus is hampered by a lack of comprehensive indexing. Digital text, as Nick Adams (UC Berkeley) and James Danowski (UIC, emeritus) showed, enables researchers to mine vast bodies of news using APIs and powerful new software applications.  

Mark Sweeney (LC) and Dorothy Carner (University of Missouri, Columbia) reported that efforts by national libraries to archive electronic news content are proceeding but that technical and legal obstacles often prevent their providing meaningful access to the content archived. On the other hand the media sector, publishers like The New York Times and broadcasters like CNN, have robust and sophisticated new capabilities for managing digital content throughout its lifecycle, and for enhancing that content with rich metadata, capabilities not likely to be replicated in the library sector. As Evan Sandhaus (New York Times) and Philip Spiegel (LAC Group) suggested, the media organizations are now "in charge" of archiving.

How should CRLrespond?  The Forum discussions suggested that a new approach is in order to ensure long-term access to “the first, rough draft of history”:    

  1. Narrow the scope of CRL microfilm production and acquisition. Focus on materials identified by member libraries through the demand purchase programs and Area Materials Projects (AMPs), and discontinue the just-in-case acquisition and stockpiling of microform newspapers.  
  2. Expand digital delivery of print and microform. CRL's proven cooperative collection development model can be adapted to identify priorities, and new partnerships can help bring CRL newspaper digitization to scale.  Brian Benilous and Robert Lee (East View Information Service) outlined an ambitious plan to digitize Stanford's newspaper holdings, and possibly related CRL materials.  We will consider investing.   
  3. Expand CRL licensing of online news sources. Leverage the robust and sophisticated archiving and content management capabilities the news media have built by engaging the world's major news producers through the market. Ann Okerson discussed how the academic site license CRL negotiated with The New York Times and, more recently, The Wall Street Journal, can serve as the locus of productive conversations with those news producers about the persistence and integrity of their content. 
  4.  Strengthen CRL analysis and evaluation of news databases and electronic news. Patrick Reakes described the need for market intelligence, to inform local and cooperative licensing decisions. Too much confusion exists about what is available in print, as compared to full-text databases, page-image archives, online news sites, and archives of harvested news sites. 

Preserving broadcast news content is another matter. While CRL has important holdings of transcripts, we have not ventured into the realm of video preservation. Clifford Anderson (Vanderbilt University) discussed a new Andrew W. Mellon Foundation-funded effort exploring how to sustain library-based broadcast preservation efforts like the Vanderbilt Television News Archive, UCLA Library Broadcast NewsScape and the Library of Congress-WGBH American Archive of Public Broadcasting. I will report further on that effort in a future post. 

A more detailed summary of the eDesiderata conversations is available on the Forum event page. The conversations will inform CRL strategic planning. On May 17-18, 2018, in conjunction with the annual Council of Voting Members Meeting, we will hold a two-day collections forum on CRL’s future, where representatives of CRL libraries will have an opportunity to consider and help shape that planning. 


Bernard F. Reilly
President (2001-2019)
Center for Research Libraries