These changes took place over the longue durée of the twentieth century. In contrast, the digital revolution represents rupture and discontinuity with the circumstances and forces that drove our collection policy in the preceding hundred years. 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 Library. Meanwhile subscriptions to online services have placed further strain on our collections budgets. While many newspapers offer their current issues for free to anyone with access to a computer, more often this material is available only through a commercial vendor by institutional subscription.
Fortunately, we can look forward to a not too distant future when searchable digital facsimiles of hundreds of newspapers will be available to our users. Over the next few years, the National Digital Newspaper Program will produce 30 million pages of U.S. newspapers, and at UIUC we already have access to commercial databases offering retrospective files of newspapers such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, Early American Newspapers, and Times (London), and to selected runs of other important newspapers digitized by historical societies and libraries (e.g., the Brooklyn Public Library's Brooklyn Daily Eagle Online, or Colorado's Historic Newspaper Collection). The British Library has recently undertaken a project to digitize two million pages of nineteenth-century British national, regional, and local newspapers. Similar projects are underway in other countries. The digital capture of newspapers as facsimiles preserves the cover-to-cover content, as well as the graphic material and relational context that students and scholars (in contrast to most casual readers) often require.
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.
The present state of archiving of digital newspaper content is chaotic at best. Many major papers, including the Chicago Tribune, do not currently maintain a digital archive. Even when a publisher does host a digital morgue, it may very well not meet standards of integrity and reliability acceptable to libraries, and in all likelihood there is no guarantee of permanent stability. Consortia and other organizations, such as the CIC, the Center for Research Libraries and the International Coalition on Newspapers, must play a leading role in lobbying commercial vendors, especially database producers and aggregators, to adhere to minimum standards for digital archives and to ensure persistent access. Working consortially, we are much more likely to be successful in influencing commercial content providers to produce cover-to-cover electronic surrogates that are fully searchable and browsable, and as a group, we are better positioned to shape the terms of our interaction with these commercial entities. As a charter member of the International Coalition on Newspapers (an NEH-funded project based at the Center for Research Libraries), UIUC should take a leading role in these efforts.
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. It is vital that we maintain a working collection of current print newspapers to complement online access in order to support research and teaching that bridges the print and electronic media. To be sure, this working collection will be smaller than the array of current newsprint that we were able to offer in the halcyon days of ample acquisitions and operating budgets. For archival purposes, we will continue to rely on microfilm as the accepted medium of preservation. New microfilm viewing and scanning technology that delivers film images to the desktop will increase the appeal of this medium to students and scholars, and acquiring and supporting this technology is an essential component of our mission.
The interim collection policy for newspapers should incorporate all of the following efforts:
History, Philosophy and Newspaper Librarian
Professor of Library Administration