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Consolidation of Newspaper Library and History & Philosophy Library

I. Rationale


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 acquisitions and operating budgets. With static or decreasing funding for collections, 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 significantly 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, Chicago Tribune, Early American Newspapers, 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. For now, microfilm remains the archival medium of choice. Moreover, 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. Form (or format) and function are inextricably linked in newspaper publishing. Electronic surrogates take many forms, from digital facsimiles to full content to full text (and, unfortunately, not so 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. We are challenged to try to anticipate the new issues and questions that scholars will take up as they confront these new modes of presentation and dissemination of news.

Web delivery of current newspapers and the availability of digital facsimiles of backfiles fundamentally alters the concept of a newspaper collection in the new millennium. Nonetheless, 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, pointed toward a fusion with the cognate unit, the History & Philosophy Library, to create a central locus for historical research in the library.

This consolidated unit is designed to 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 brings together source material for their research and provides 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 cohesive 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. The new History, Philosophy, & Newspaper Library 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 at the beginning of the Spring 2005 semester to assist in planning for the consolidation of the two units. Members of the committee included 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). The advisory group considered several issues facing the consolidated unit, such as the instructional role of the History, Philosophy and Newspaper Library, the collection development policy, and user services. The group also entertained various proposals for the unit's name and carefully weighed the advantages and disadvantages of each suggestion (continuity vs. break with past practice, inclusiveness vs. brevity, format vs. function) before adopting the present nomenclature.

Reconfiguration of 246 Library

In designing the layout of the consolidated unit, we wanted to give priority to the comfort and convenience of our users wherever possible. Individual and group study spaces, public computers, and microfilm viewer-scanners and reader-printers are dispersed throughout the History, Philosophy and Newspaper Library and in the adjacent microfilm and newspaper stacks areas. The entire space offers wireless internet access. The reference collection, current periodicals section, and new books section are flanked by reading tables, and the public services desk has been reconfigured to highlight the circulation, reserves, and reference functions.

The general microfilm collection from deck 7 in the bookstacks was relocated to the stacks area adjacent to 246 Library. At the same time, the microfilm collection of the former Newspaper Library was integrated into the general microfilm into a single call number sequence. Microfilm guides have been relocated to this area. All microfilm now circulates to faculty, students, and staff and to researchers at other institutions through interlibrary loan.

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. The Research Information Specialist for the History, Philosophy and Newspaper Library will work closely with the Associate University Librarian for Information Policy and Planning, Library Systems staff, and technical services staff to accomplish this goal.

Instruction and Reference

Library instruction and on-site and remote reference services are the cornerstone of the new unit, and all staff participate in the delivery of information services. A current news online instructional module is planned, which 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. Web-based instructional modules on conducting research with primary sources in the UIUC Libraries are also in development.

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 the microfilm collections, good signage, and an inviting layout of reader space, collections, public computers, and microfilm viewer-scanners and reader-printers.

Mary Stuart
History, Philosophy and Newspaper Librarian
Professor of Library Administration