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Primacy of content
If those of us in research libraries were slow to catch on to the fact that format distinctions mean little to library users, the digital revolution has made this concept much easier to grasp. We now understand that students and scholars engaged in historical research seek source material for their projects without regard to provenance or medium. We must recognize, therefore, that organizing library material by format alone confounds, rather than facilitates, library use. From the perspective of the user, a more felicitous organizing principle would simply be to bring together related resources and provide access to them. There is every reason to expect that if we continue to rely on artificial distinctions in organizing library material, our users will desert us altogether for the ostensibly more straightforward and immediate results afforded them by internet search engines, and we will be left to contemplate the tragedy of underutilized library collections.
Impact of web delivery
At the same time, the online availability of current newspapers has called into question the rationale for maintaining print subscriptions. No other genre of electronic text has achieved the ubiquity or level of acceptance as that of online newspapers, which is starkly reflected in the dwindling number of readers of current print newspapers in the Newspaper Library. These developments raise urgent questions about the responsible use of shrinking materials and operating budgets. With static or decreasing materials budgets, we can no longer afford to subscribe to print copies of newspapers, to be read at most by a handful of individuals, only to discard these copies 3 or 6 or 12 months later when a microfilm copy arrives, nor can we justify the investment of human capital in processing these print subscriptions at a time when staffing levels are being reduced.
Newspapers as resources for historical research
Once the traditional practice of maintaining current print subscriptions is called into question, it becomes possible to envision the Newspaper Library in new ways. If our students and faculty increasingly turn to the web to read current newspapers, the character of our newspaper collection is fundamentally altered. Its main constituency becomes students and scholars engaged in historical research, using our rich retrospective newspaper files as primary source material.
With the announcement last fall of the launching of the National Digital Newspaper Program, the successor to the U.S. Newspaper Program, we can look forward to a not too distant future when searchable digital facsimiles of hundreds of newspapers will be available to our users. There is probably no digital resource so eagerly embraced by our faculty and students as the complete retrospective files of newspapers such as the Historical New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Times (London). According to our teaching faculty, the availability and searchability of these sources have radically altered the types of research projects that undergraduate students can undertake.
But even with the NDNP’s goal of digitizing 30 million pages of U.S. newspapers, we will rely on microfilm for a long time to come to provide our users with much of this important primary source material. Digitization of foreign newspapers will, for the most part, lag behind efforts to digitize U.S. newspapers. Maintaining our collection of newspapers on microfilm remains an essential service to our users.
Does format matter?
In this period of transition, it is vital that we remain cognizant of the potential losses to scholarship, as well as the gains, posed by the substitution of the digital medium for print. Electronic surrogates take many forms, from digital facsimiles to full content to full text. Although online access is available for many dailies via aggregator databases, often the online delivery of articles removes them from the context provided with the print edition. As stewards of our intellectual heritage, we must address the larger philosophical and hermeneutical issues raised by online surrogacy. What is the nature of context in an increasingly digital knowledge environment? How does electronic textuality differ from the print medium? How do differences in materiality affect the production of meaning and the reader’s encounter with a text?
Clearly both libraries and users are profoundly affected by changes in publishing practices and content delivery. The digital representation of information changes not only the mode of encounter with the text, but its very meaning and uses. The process of substituting online access for print must be approached carefully and with full understanding of the implications of our decisions, even when our choices are severely constrained by fiscal realities. Prudence dictates, for example, that we continue to offer students and scholars a selection of current newspapers in print format, precisely so that vital questions such as the nature of context in a digital environment can be fully explored.
II. Overview of Merger
Mission of unit
As we have seen, a confluence of economic, technological, cultural and behavioral factors has created a mandate for change. The changes in patterns of use of the Newspaper Library, with the shift in focus to the historical backfiles, point toward a fusion with the cognate unit, the History & Philosophy Library, to create a central locus for historical research in the library.
The consolidated unit will serve students and faculty engaged in historical scholarship from all departments and programs on campus where such research is performed, from curricula as diverse as speech communications, educational policy, religious studies, advertising, foreign languages and literatures, political science, art history, environmental sciences, and sociology, as well as history. For novice and expert users alike, this library will bring together source material for their research and provide assistance in discovering and locating these resources, as well as guidance in formulating research strategies. The format of the source material may be digital, print, or microform, but the organizing principle of the collection is the content.
Creating a “historical research node” in the library permits concentration of expertise and resources in a way that offers users a more integrated, fluid research experience, in a comfortable, welcoming environment. At the same time, we must ensure continuity of services to the allied disciplines of philosophy and religion, which are presently supported by the History & Philosophy Library. Recognizing that students and scholars in virtually all departments on campus rely on web delivery of current newspapers, we are also challenged to establish a single entry point for newspapers in all formats on the Library’s web site. Whether recast as the History, Philosophy, & Newspaper Library, the Library for Historical and Philosophical Research, or yet some other designation, the unit must convert the expectations of all constituent user groups into a coherent repertoire of services and operations consonant with the goals of the Library’s strategic plan.
Planning for the merger
An advisory committee was appointed by the University Librarian to assist in planning for the consolidation of the two units. Members of the committee include teaching faculty with ties to one of the programs served by the libraries (Mark Leff, History; John Nerone, Journalism; Patrick Maher, Philosophy), library faculty with allied interests (Lisa Romero, Communications Library; Betsy Kruger, Central Circulation and Bookstacks; Tom Kilton, Modern Languages and Linguistics Library), and a non-UIUC longtime user of the Newspaper Library (Tom Kacich, News-Gazette).
A detailed timeline for the merger has been developed, with a projected opening of the new unit in late August 2005. In addition to the advisory group, the History & Philosophy Librarian is consulting extensively with the Library Facilities staff on reconfiguration of 246A and the Newspaper Library stacks, with the AUL for Collections on newspaper subscriptions and backlogs, and with other personnel as the need arises.
Reconfiguration of 246A
The shelving and reading areas in 246A will be reconfigured to permit transfer of the circulating and reference collections from the History and Philosophy Library, as well as the current periodicals. No current print newspapers will remain in the reading area. Individual and group study spaces, computer terminals, and microfilm reader/printers will be arranged in a manner that best facilitates the research needs of the users. History and Philosophy Library reserves will be located behind the circulating desk in a somewhat reconfigured staff work area.
Within the Newspaper Library stacks, new microfilm storage units will replace the shelving on the upper level, as long planned, to permit transfer of the microfilm from deck 7 into the Newspaper Library stacks. Some of the older microfilm reader printers in the Newspaper Library stacks will be removed. Most of the reference material currently in 246A will be relocated to the bookstacks or Oak Street storage facility. Non-current (ceased or cancelled) newspapers in the reading room will be stored or recycled, and the remaining current newspapers and print indexes will be shelved in the Newspaper Library stacks.
The staff of the two units will be fully integrated. The History and Philosophy Library academic professional and LTA will move into the office of the former Newspaper Librarian (246D), and the History & Philosophy-Newspaper Librarian and graduate assistant will occupy the current workroom (246B). Changes in positions and staffing assignments are planned, but details are confidential and still in negotiation.
Current newspapers online
As tempting as it may be to hope that online availability of current newspapers will lead to simplified or streamlined structures of bibliographic control, unfortunately the opposite obtains. In tandem with the goal of facilitating historical research, the new unit faces a major challenge in the creation of a single entry point in the Library’s web site for both current and retrospective newspapers. The plethora of delivery mechanisms for online newspapers, including subscription aggregators, dedicated databases, hybrid databases, and publicly accessible sites confounds traditional modalities of bibliographic control, and new solutions are required to provide users with straightforward access to current as well as retrospective newspapers. Staff in the new unit will work closely with the AUL for Information Policy and Planning, Systems staff, and tech services staff to accomplish this goal.
Instruction and Reference
Library instruction and on-site and remote reference services will be the cornerstone of the new unit, with involvement of all staff. A current news online instructional module is being planned by the Coordinator for Information Literacy Services, the CLIR postdoc for information literacy, and the History & Philosophy Librarian. This will be offered to librarians in other units both as a stand-alone online module and as a template they can adapt for use in their own instructional sessions when current news is a featured resource.
All of the instructional services currently available through the History & Philosophy Library will be maintained, extended, and/or revised to incorporate web-based modules on conducting primary source-based research in the UIUC Libraries. Training will be provided for Newspaper Library staff in reference service in history, philosophy, and religion, and for History & Philosophy Library staff in newspaper reference, together with minimum reference standards.
The ability of the new unit to achieve its mission as a node for historical research will depend in large measure on the availability of an extensive menu of public services, including instruction, on-site and virtual reference, support for the use of microfilm reader/printers, good signage, and an inviting layout of reader space, computer terminals, microfilm reader/printers, and collections.
History & Philosophy Librarian