A New Cooperative Agenda for News Preservation

Screen shot of a “CBS News Simulation” of the moon landing, July 21, 1969. Courtesy of the Vanderbilt Television News Archive.

At the end of the day, Bernard Reilly, President, Center for Research Libraries, returned to the key question of the roundtable, “What is the appropriate role for research libraries to play in ensuring the long-term accessibility and integrity of the journalistic record, in print, broadcast and the web?”

Reilly observed that a “tipping point” has been reached in libraries' efforts to preserve news. Several things are contributing to this.

  • In the realms of print and television news, space and other resources needed to maintain large bodies of paper and broadcast material are becoming scarcer, as is funding to acquire large databases and research collections. Efforts by major research libraries that have historically preserved assets of national importance, like broadcast news archives and newspaper backfiles, are approaching maturity and now require support beyond what their home institutions can provide.
  • In the electronic era, the effective archiving of online news is simply not happening on a meaningful scale. The nascent legal deposit and web harvesting programs of various national libraries are either not yet scaled to archive significant amounts of electronic news content, or are not designed to capture online news content in formats that current research practices require. On the other hand, as Megan Bernal points out, impressive new capacity does exist in the media sector for managing and maintaining electronic news.
  • At the same time, ever larger bodies of current and “historical” news content are becoming available in electronic format. The amount and variety of born-digital news have exploded in recent years and, as Debora Cheney's survey revealed, navigating the myriad sources and platforms for access to current and non-current content presents daunting new challenges.
  • As researchers' capabilities for processing large bodies of text and data grow, demand for access to these materials will only increase. Kalev Leetaru's overview of text mining and other innovative uses suggests that researchers seek not just larger data sets but tools and functionality well beyond what libraries can yet provide.
  • And finally, although research interest in television broadcast and cable news content, both transcripts and video, is growing, coverage of these in the current commercial offerings, particularly of international broadcast content, remains sparse.

Libraries will need to work strategically and at scale to surmount these challenges. Preserving news is important not only for scholarship, but also for civil society itself. Reilly suggested the outlines of a cooperative agenda that research libraries might adopt to better ensure that the journalistic record will continue to be available and usable in the future. He said that CRL will pursue two complementary strategies in the news arena:

An Advocacy Strategy: CRL will build into its program some concrete measures to address the challenges identified in the roundtable:

  • Work to exert the collective influence of research libraries on news publishers and aggregators. Libraries make up a sizable sector of the market for electronic news – by no means dominant but still sizable. As such, acting together libraries can probably do more to further the interests of scholars with the organizations that manage the content, whether large commercial database producers or media organizations.
    CRL Action: Using this leverage in negotiations for member purchase of and subscription to electronic databases, CRL will work with NERL, JISC Collections, the Canadian Research Knowledge Network, and other appropriate partners to obtain greater functionality, exposure of more data on the contents and usage of news databases, greater interoperability among news platforms, and other concessions from the publishers, aggregators, and vendors of electronic news.
  • Determine how the CRL community might better support the “non-proprietary platforms" that archive and provide electronic access to traditional news content. An opportunity now exists to leverage capabilities and considerable historic investment by institutions like Vanderbilt, UCLA, and University of North Texas to create greater accessibility and functionality by broadening their base of support.
    CRL Action: In FY 2014 CRL will explore with Vanderbilt and UCLA how to broaden community support of their efforts to preserve broadcast content;  CRL will also increase its own investment in the digitization of foreign newspapers, a longstanding focus of CRL collecting.
  • Enlist support from communities outside the traditional humanities and social sciences, i.e., business, law, and public policy libraries and researchers, in the effort to preserve international and foreign news content. The recent Global Dimensions conference noted the growth of, and investment in, international studies in the professional schools of U.S. and Canadian universities. This new interest will create demand for news content from other world regions, and thus incentives for professional school libraries to invest in preservation and electronic access.
    CRL Action: Factor the needs of those libraries into CRL's strategic dealings with publishers and aggregators, and enlist them in funding electronic access to foreign news collections.

Meta-preservation Strategy: With scarce resources, libraries must concentrate on measures that are most likely to produce real benefits for researchers. Informed investment in preservation will require analysis and information about the landscape of news production, management and distribution, and use. Therefore CRL will build into its operations ways in which to:

  • Increase our understanding of researcher needs. Determine how today's researchers use news content, the kinds of tools and analytical practices they bring to bear in that use, and the kinds of scholarly products and outputs they produce. We know little about which of the many versions of a given “story” or news report is the most useful for researchers, and how valuable “snapshots” of new websites are. Determining what content is appropriate will determine the type of preservation approaches required. Scholarly practices are changing rapidly, and current preservation models may not be adequate to serve today's or tomorrow's research.
    CRL Action: CRL will continue to analyze and report on the practices of researchers using news corpora, through its webinars and Primary Source Awards program.
  • Increase the amount and quality of data available on digitized news back files and the contents of news aggregator databases. Libraries and commercial publishers are investing heavily in digitization of back files of newspapers. With little information available about what has been digitized, and what is left to do, these investments are relatively uninformed and therefore may often be redundant.
    CRL Action: CRL will expand the ICON database of newspaper holdings, and will enlist publishers of databases to contribute metadata on digitized materials to it as a service to the library community.
  • Monitor the technology for production, management, and distribution of news content, to better understand how these systems work. Information about the systems will be essential to libraries' ability to authenticate what is trustworthy for scholars, amid the ocean of content available that is of indeterminate origin. This forensic role will be important in evaluating potential “collecting” opportunities, as well as the cost of some digital content continues to rise.
    CRL Action: In 2011 CRL mapped the landscape of electronic news production for the Library of Congress Office of Strategic Initiatives, and will update that analysis periodically to keep pace with new technology and developments.