Survival Lessons for Libraries
Staying Afloat in Turbulent Waters—News/Media Libraries Hit Hard
by James Matarazzo
Dean and Professor Emeritus, Graduate School of Library and Information Science, Simmons College
and Toby Pearlstein
Former Director; Global Information Services, Bain & Company, Inc.
There has been quite a bit written about the fate of newspapers (and magazines) and the staffs that support them with respect to creating new publishing business models. Weaning the industry away from a model based on print advertising alone in order to arrive at a successful internet-based business model seems to be the overriding challenge.
As recently as January 2010, the Financial Times reported that Alan Rushbridger, the editor of The Guardian, “described the financial effects of the internet on his newspaper … [as] sometimes quite scary.” 1 In discussing the viability of pay walls such as the FT itself now uses and will be implemented by The New York Times in 2011, the author points out that even if only a small percent (6% is quoted from an Outsell, Inc. study) of U.S. readers will pay for online news sites, this number alone could mean profitability and could provide enough data about subscribers to enable more targeted and therefore more sellable online advertising. 2 The kicker, if you will, is that specialized business publications like the FT and TheWall Street Journal have a better chance of survival because their business focus draws corporate customers. For the general newspapers to be saved, they will have to “take the plunge” and find a new way of doing business.
Newspaper and Media Libraries
In thinking about survival lessons for newspaper (and media) libraries, we kept coming up against the metaphor of the “newspaper morgue.” The “morgue,” the traditional name for a newspaper’s archive, is a critical source of knowledge for reporters and the public, as well as an important repository of the history of the paper’s interaction with its community. Access to this source is frequently managed by an information professional, and we increasingly see the skill set of librarians brought to bear in projects to digitize and index this archive to increase its value to the organization.
On the other hand, there is the recent, and we believe erroneous, oft-reported “death” of newspaper libraries (sometimes along with the newspapers themselves, although often just the library). Here the morgue metaphor has a much more devastating meaning and one we believe is misleading. It is time for a new metaphor that better reflects how media librarians work thoughtfully every day to help their services and their organizations stay afloat in these turbulent economic times. In choosing to be optimistic rather than fatalistic about survival (as suggested by our three case studies), in choosing to aggressively figure out more effective ways to “row and bail” rather than listening to the band play “Nearer My God to Thee” as the ship goes down, media librarians will do all that is possible to ensure themselves at least a place in the lifeboat.
What’s Happening With Newspaper and Media Libraries Today?
Michelle Quigley of the Palm Beach Post (Florida)began keeping her list of “News Library Layoffs and Buyouts“ around 2005. The authors cannot help but wonder if the more than 70 publication/media outlets currently on the list indicate that something more library-centric is going on in the news/media business, specifically causing such a large number of closures/reductions in news libraries? Also troubling in this context is a significant decline in the membership of the SLA News Division, which has seen an almost 46% drop in membership since 1994. 3 While this decline could be driven by many factors and while the authors cannot equate a dropped membership with a closed library, the question must be posed:Are these libraries simply victims of circumstance or is something larger going on that has led to their near or total demise?
There have been a variety of studies from both within and outside the publishing/media industry that newspapers are in dire economic straits. 4 As CRS reported to Congress recently, “advertising revenues are plummeting … while readership habits are changing as consumers turn to the Internet for free news and information.” 5 Publishers in all media struggle with the fee versus free dilemma, as well as with challenges to the fundamental definition of journalism with the advent of the blogosphere and the notion that everyone with a cell phone, Facebook, or Twitter account is now a “journalist.”
Some have suggested the actions of corporate executives have led to the huge debt loads that have resulted in reductions throughout organizations in order for the debt loads to be repaid. Dan Kennedy, professor of journalism at Northeastern University, as well as a columnist and commentator on media issues, told us flat out: “The real culprits are mergers and acquisitions and corporate greed.” Referring to TheNew York Times’ purchase of The Boston Globe, Kennedy noted: “The Times bet half the company on the Globe purchase. Think about it: the Times was worth $2.2 billion at the time and spent in excess of $1.1 billion on the purchase.” 6 In his view, reductions experienced in news libraries, and throughout the organizations, are more a function of this kind of deal rather than librarians having failed in their mission.
While not heaping blame on news librarians for any failure to reposition themselves in a rapidly changing environment, Kennedy also feels that news librarians have been “made utterly obsolete by technology!” 7 Yes, media outlets have had some decline in audience, he continued; they have suffered catastrophic declines in ad revenues. Reporting in these new and much smaller papers has changed from investigative to shorter stories that do not require as much research.
With questions of how much information readers are willing to consume, on what platforms, and at what prices plaguing the newspaper and publishing industry as a whole, what does this mean for librarians working in newspapers and other media organizations?
As newspaper revenues have declined, management has had to make reduction decisions that have affected every facet of the business, including their libraries. However, in our interviews with news librarians, they tell us that it is not just this decline in revenue that has affected them. Two technical advances have also had serious consequences for their work, both related to their end users’ desktops. First was the ability of reporters to access the internet and the World Wide Web directly, including basic aggregated research tools such as Factiva or Nexis. The second and related advance was when a newspaper’s archive itself could be similarly accessed. Together these advances reduced the number of basic information requests coming into the library. Exacerbating this decline has been a steady drop in both investigative journalism and other types of long, in-depth stories, which has likewise reduced the opportunity for more sophisticated and collaborative research support.
It would be telling only part of the story to stop here and say that financially complex and risky mergers and acquisitions, reductions in advertising revenues, and the ability of reporters to do some of their own online and archival research alone have reduced the work of librarians and their staffs or have led to outright closures. The decline of the industry as a whole reminds us of how closely the life of the corporate library ties to the life of the business itself. Our experience tells us that Kennedy’s belief that technology has made news librarians obsolete, along with the belief of many librarians themselves that giving end users access to research resources at their desktop and training them to use these resources efficiently is tantamount to doing themselves out of a job, is really only a very small part of the story of reductions and closures. Often such deployments have meant that the librarians’ skills could now be applied in other ways. John Cronin, chief librarian at the Boston Herald from 1976 to 2006, put it this way:
The amount of work in the library did not decrease. Rather it changed; a great deal of time was now spent on formatting the paper for the database aggregators. This included coding for headlines, notations for photographs, pagination, etc. The photographs were not digitized at that time and these had to be filed manually. 8
Interviews with other news librarians noted similar reductions in reference questions and related reductions in staff, which coincided with other staff reductions at their papers, and a focus of the remaining library staff on preparing the paper for submission to the database vendors. Surely, though, preparing their paper for submission to database vendors is not all that newspaper librarians have left to do. First of all, not all newspapers have deals with the aggregators, and, increasingly, those that do deploy customized software packages to do the majority of the preparation.
So What Else Do News Librarians Do Now?
A recent article in Wired West: The Newsletter of the Special Libraries Association Western Canada Chapter, described the role of librarians at the Pacific Newspaper Group (Vancouver Sun and The Province) as trainers for newsroom staff. 9 The author, Kate Bird, noted: “Technological change in a work environment such as ours, where staff are required to adopt new technology and workflow while publishing a newspaper six days a week, presents a unique training challenge.” Not only did they continue to train staff on library applications, they also took on the role of trainer for nonlibrary applications in conjunction with the IT department. Bird pointed to the practicality of using librarians as trainers in this way. After all, these were their customers, relationships with them already existed, and the librarians knew the strengths and weaknesses, as well as the varying needs, of the reporters. Unlike outside trainers, the librarians were also available for follow-up.
To get some idea of just what other kinds of tasks newspaper/media librarians do, we monitored the SLA News Division listserv (Newslib) for 6 months. We found postings on a dazzling array of operational issues that gave us some insight into what these folks currently do and think about. (Three sidebar cases on pages 17, 19, and 46–47 describe specific activities and/or changes in how news researchers operate. They highlight ways in which you might inoculate yourself against catching something fatal.)
Overall, the range of myriad activities is incredible. One recurring theme is helping to figure out new revenue streams for their organizations. Others include figuring out how to use new technologies to enhance productivity and increase existing revenue sources, including everything from digitizing text and photos (current and archival), marketing network stock footage, fielding research inquiries from the public, using wikis as the backbone for an intranet, repurposing blogs in print, using social media sites as research resources (e.g., The Journalist’s Guide to Facebook), using nonprofessional staff on the “help desk,” all the way to thinking about ways to reform copyright laws as they apply to “free riders” who “divert readers and advertisers” from the newspaper that originally created the content. 10 The sidebar story by Elaine Raines of the Arizona Star (see page 17), for example, describes her success in creatively bridging her research role with that of being a content provider for her paper.
What the activity on Newslib (which also includes subscribers who are not members of SLA) illustrates is a very vibrant community of loyal and skilled employees working as hard and as creatively as they can to contribute to their employers’ survival by using their significant set of information professional skills and the very substantial power of professional networking to share knowledge. These activities underscore an equally diverse array of job titles ranging from information editor to research editor to the most common, news librarian (or news researcher) to the esoteric durable content coordinator.
Nonetheless, the fact that usage of their libraries is not growing is somewhat “old news” for this group of librarians. Paul and Hansen (2002), for example, in a splendid article in Library Journal described the situation very well. 11 They surveyed librarians, journalists, and managers (usually editors) hoping to understand their attitudes toward information use and management within their organizations and to see if their responses yielded any solutions to shrinking usage and substantial cuts in newsroom staff. They found some interesting disconnects that certainly should have informed the strategic thinking of anyone concerned with news libraries. For example, “Some 54 percent of reporters and 58 percent of librarians [believed] the most important role of the librarian is as information retrieval expert.” 12 Only 39% of managers agreed. In the context of our predictive model, the disconnect between the value reporters placed on librarians and the librarians’ own perception of their value versus how editors who held the purse strings viewed them indicates the onset of a disease that may yet reach plague proportions. 13
An example of getting out in front of this potential disconnect is the case of The Oregonian, where researchers moved from the library to the newsroom floor in early 2001. The events of 9/11 and the ease of access to these researchers embedded in the newsroom created a much more symbiotic relationship between reporter, librarian, and management than might ever have happened if the researchers had operated in the “relative isolation and quiet of the library.” 14 The article describing the success of these “embedded researchers” appeared in a journal whose readers are investigative reporters and editors (i.e., end users). It offered several tips for this group on how to make best use of their librarians. Here were news librarians reaching out to their organizations to show how, in a pressure situation, their work in the trenches contributed to successful coverage of these events. Getting in front of our audience in this way is something we in special libraries need to do much more often.
We also interviewed reporters and editors for their views on news librarians. Based on the Paul and Hansen survey findings, it was no surprise to us that reporters were very positive regarding librarians and their helpfulness in researching and especially their institutional memory. When layoffs affected librarians among others, the reporters expressed sympathy. However, there was also either relief that it was not one of them or explanations that this was the news business, where people come and go regularly.
The editors we spoke with each mentioned how much they liked their libraries. Kevin Convey, editor-in-chief of the Boston Herald, told us he could not imagine the paper without its library and saw the library as needing to step up and play a strong role in the paper’s technology advancement. 15 He definitely saw some technology advances (such as automated archiving) as likely changing the role of the library and the number of librarians needed. Right now, according to Martha Regan, the Herald chief librarian, the staff spends about 80% of its time preparing the paper for the database aggregators and the rest of the time in a mix of activities including research support, manually filing photographs, and negotiating contracts for desktop databases such as Factiva and LexisNexis. 16 It was clear that Convey valued the library’s past contribution and would look to it for future contributions.
Regan’s role at the Herald is not unusual. We spoke with another chief librarian, this time at a Midwest newspaper. Like Regan, she has one assistant and together they spend a great deal of their time getting the paper ready for the aggregators. They have a hard time juggling their tasks to find time to answer questions from the editorial staff. Unfortunately, because their customers know how busy the library staff is, they are reluctant to ask questions. In fact, in the past, this chief librarian had even attended budget meetings, which led to numerous research queries (which one would think a good thing). However, with staff reductions from small layoffs over time, she could no longer attend these meetings and that very beneficial avenue of insight into the paper’s operations has gone away. 17
John Yemma, editor at TheChristian Science Monitor (CSM), represents the other end of the spectrum from Kevin Convey and the Boston Herald. CSM is the first major newspaper to go totally virtual (with the exception of a Friday-only print magazine). In the past, Yemma told us, 95% of the paper’s resources went toward print; everything was geared to the print deadline. CSM has changed its entire approach to the process of publication, becoming more nimble and creating a structure more conducive to the web than the old industrial structure. Nonetheless, he felt the role of the library has not radically changed. It is still needed on a daily basis to support reporters and editors as stories develop and to do more introductory research for the weekly print magazine.
Yemma commented that his librarian understood the fiscal implications of the changes in the paper and made commensurate changes. He also noted the preeminence of the library when it came to “knowing databases.” He felt the paper had to have someone “out there fishing on the frontier” and helping to build the Monitor’s community online. While it was very early into the Monitor’s 5-year plan to make any judgments about how things were going, it was clear to us that Yemma felt the library’s database expertise (along with design and coding ability), in addition to its usual role in research support, made them a partner in the potential success of this new business plan. 18
There is no question that the newspaper industry and perhaps all of media and publishing is going through a significant transition, not only in terms of interactions with their traditional customers, but in regard to their overall business models as well. TheChristian Science Monitor has taken the risk of going all electronic, with the exception of a weekly in-depth news magazine. The jury is still out on this experiment; it is both too early to tell how it will pan out and, with the significant financial backing offered by the Christian Science church, it is a relatively unique situation. Whether or not suggestions such as changing the copyright laws or reducing the number of times a paper is printed, even making newspapers into nonprofit entities (something Convey of the Boston Herald felt would never work due to lack of funds), or putting content behind a paywall will materialize also remains to be seen.
Many newspapers, some considered “too big to fail” (to use a now familiar euphemism), have either gone out of business entirely or drastically cut back on operations to the point of being shadows of their former selves. The idea of a “one-paper town” in a city like Boston, unthinkable a year ago and certainly not desired by anyone, is within the realm of possibility. Many are scrambling to understand how to change the business paradigm of newspapers that has seen them almost totally dependent on advertising revenue. The publishing industry overall is facing their own business paradigm challenges in the form of ebooks, self-publishing, and price wars with big box stores.
Certainly this is not the first time in their history that newspapers have experienced the kind of downturn they now face. The Great Depression saw newspapers hurt by the introduction of the radio; advertising revenues plummeted, and many papers had significant layoffs or closed entirely. Every decade since, there have been consolidations, chain buy-ups, closures, etc. Kirchoff writes: “[T]he key challenge for newspapers [today] is to hold on to lucrative print readers, while finding ways to make more money from a growing online audience that generally reads the paper for free.” 19 We leave an analysis of the lessons to be learned from this history to the economists and newspaper publishers.
Amid all of this, then, how can news librarians hope to cast or recast themselves in the role of asset rather than liability? We began this article with a discussion of corporate library closures over time and whether or not we could learn from them. One thing we know for sure is that in some instances, no matter how good you are, no matter how well aligned with your parent organization, no matter how much those with the purse strings appreciate what a library can do for their business, if the whole enterprise is going under, there is nothing to do but package yourself to be ready for another opportunity. However, if your organization is not on the brink of total shutdown, you can at least try some things to both showcase how you can contribute and to position yourself for a seat in the lifeboat.
The Big Picture
In May 2009, the authors began a series of Searcher articles with an eye toward better understanding the case for special libraries. Throughout, our focus has been on alignment with the goals of the parent organization and when — and when not — to employ some of the newer tools that have become available. The authors also urged managers of corporate/special libraries to become leaders in information management within their organizations.
Our first article was about the EPA libraries (Searcher, May 2009). In this effort, we urged library managers to verify all savings achieved through library services; consider using benchmarks for more valid comparisons of performance; and to pay close attention to the political realities at their organizations.
The second article in June 2009 involved a case study on significant reductions in a publishing company library. We noted that the library manager had no time to defend the library or its staff, that the decision was made at the top management level. This case was measured against our predictive model:
• Was the decision made at the top, without consultation of those who used the services?
• Was there a reduction in the number of customers?
• What was the availability of outside resources?
• Was there a lack of evaluation of library service?
• Was there evidence of financial crisis in the parent organization?
The librarian at this publishing company had the opportunity to see the changes coming but chose to ignore the warning signs provided by the predictive model.
Alternate sourcing was the subject of our third Searcher article (September 2009). For years, librarians have outsourced activities such as subscription management and cataloging. Our case study focused on a global professional services firm. The authors encouraged library managers to participate in any “make or buy” decisions at their organizations. If the firm is outsourcing functions, proactively review library processes so as to participate in the deliberations and be positioned to drive decisions that affect your department.
Our fourth article (Searcher, December 2009) described scenario planning, focused around an unexpected takeover of part of an organization. We urged library managers to build scenarios for a post crisis world; to build their enterprise with the idea of sustainability; and to become bold and creative about how their services and staff could contribute to their firms.
Despite our research so far, we have been unable to find substantive and sustained research and documentation on the causes of reductions and closures in corporate special libraries, studies that would help us extrapolate a pattern of behavior or circumstances that could yield more than anecdotal lessons for these types of libraries in particular. For example, there are no statistics that we can find on the number of corporate special libraries and the number of openings, reductions, and closures affecting them over time. Such statistics would be invaluable for identifying trends that could guide practitioners in thinking strategically about their roles within their organizations. The Special Libraries Association appears to have its focus elsewhere, although many of its members are in crisis. The authors suggest that SLA is uniquely positioned to collect and analyze this kind of data and encourages the Association to make this a priority of its efforts.
Looking for the Literature
What we do know, again anecdotally, is that the current economic downturn, while unique in its severity, is not a first-time occurrence, but how it is affecting corporate special libraries may be a new twist. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, Day noted that some special libraries had closed in the “past five years of depression.” 20 Interestingly, she wrote that untrained librarians had started those libraries that had closed. Unfortunately, she was not specific about these closures, other than noting that there had been only a few, though she also alluded to staff reductions and budget cuts. Day’s opinion was reinforced by Alexander, 21 who wrote, “Almost no special libraries had been discontinued during the [D]epression.”
The study of corporate library closures disappears from the literature after the Depression to 1963, when Woods 22 writes in the Directory of Special Libraries and Information Centers that “many company libraries are short lived, reflecting frequent administrative changes within business.” The reader is left with the impressions that since administrative changes were generally normal to businesses, it would apply to the libraries that served them.
Two articles in the 1970s reminded company librarians of their vulnerability during difficult economic times. 23, 24 One described the approach to the search for employment elsewhere, while the other described the preparations needed to properly close a corporate library. The articles were not any more specific and did not even reveal the names of the firms. In one, the author even used a pseudonym.
In 1972, Frank McKenna, the executive director of the Special Libraries Association, commented on the economy and the loss of positions. 25 He specifically noted that defense and aerospace-related industries were being particularly hard-hit. While written evidence documenting this in terms of numbers and locations of libraries affected is impossible to find in the special library literature, an article in the 1975 ALA Yearbook provided insight into the prevailing conditions:
[A]nd almost every day-wondering if the widely publicized, improving economy of 1975 would permanently remove the long-lived-with threat of staff cutbacks, retrenchments in service, or even, going defunct.
By year’s end the volatile nature of special libraries had, indeed, been reaffirmed with news and rumors of library mergers, cutbacks, folding. But, once again, volatility worked in both directions. In most cities (special libraries tend to be a metropolitan phenomena) one could point to at least a few new organizations that were taking the special library/information center plunge …. 26
In 1980, Matarazzo compiled a list of corporate libraries closed in a single metropolitan area. 27 He found that the importance of these libraries was tied to the financial strength of their firm, that senior managers at the firms made the closure decisions, and that any real or perceived financial distress caused the companies to evaluate all expenditures. The ensuing management analysis established that these senior managers frequently found a company’s library to be something that the firm could survive without. In fact, it was these findings that led Matarazzo to the development of the predictive model we have referred to in previous Searcher articles in this series.
The economy also suffered recessions in 1990–1991 and 1995–1996. Each time, some firms closed their libraries and/or reduced staff and expenditures. Matarazzo and Clarke demonstrated that there was growth in the number of vacancies in corporate libraries in 1991 compared to 2001 in a least one geographic area. 27 Previous studies in 1985 and 1989 had demonstrated unsustainable growth in vacancies in New England. 28,29 What differentiates these previous experiences from today is that during these earlier recessions and economic slumps, more new special/corporate libraries overall opened than were closed; there tended to be more “births” of special libraries than “deaths.” 30
So, while the profession during these periods may have bemoaned the many reductions or closures, there almost always seemed to be other jobs waiting in the wings for those who had been laid off. Today, anecdotal observation indicates that the trend of cutbacks and closures appears to far outweigh the new jobs being created, even as information professionals demonstrate that their skill set can make greater contributions to an organization’s success.
Elsewhere 31 we have analyzed the literature regarding research on trends in corporate library management hoping to find any efforts to collect data about corporate libraries (aside from a simple directory) and how they have fared over time. We could not locate any covering this topic directly.
Outsell, Inc. [http://www.outsellinc.com] has published an annual report — “Information Management Benchmark: State of the Function” — since 1998 that focuses on creating, over time, a database of operational key metrics and drivers for IM functions in corporate and other types of libraries. It has compiled myriad data on such activities as budgeting, staffing, users, key ratios, services, strategic planning, and challenges. One of the stated purposes of these reports is to assist those involved with the information management function to maximize their value within their organizations. Staffing is covered in terms of increases and decreases, data that could be extremely insightful if compiled and analyzed over time — something we would encourage Outsell to do.
Outsell’s market analysts also report on trends in how the information management function itself continues to change over time. In 2000, it also produced a report that went into considerable detail on position descriptions. Yet, even Outsell, a market analysis firm focused on the publishing and information industry, has not produced any report devoted to analyzing what is happening over time with employment in the information field. About the closest Outsell gets is, on the one hand, to analyze how jobs overall are being sought (i.e., through online advertising or print classifieds) for the benefit of those in the business of selling this type of advertising and, on the other hand, to analyze company recruitment practices. Outsell does seem to make glancing reference to how librarians seek jobs, noting, for example, the launch of LibGig in 2008, but nothing else.
So, while a body of literature has grown during the past 20 years to address the issue of operating benchmarks in corporate library management, little or no data has been gathered or analyzed concerning the health of this segment of the profession in terms of number of jobs, number of job seekers (successful or not), where jobs are located, how the jobs relate to their parent organizations overall, or whether or not these jobs are growing or reducing in number. Thus there is no data from which we can hypothesize about cause and effect and/or see patterns from which we can learn how not to repeat past mistakes and learn about what has worked.
Two recent projects try to address the data gap in our understanding of reductions and closures. The first, while very useful, is geographic-bound. It is chronicled in an excellent and timely article in the July/August 2009 issue of Information Outlook describing the now familiar situation of bad economic times driving cutbacks in special libraries. 32 The authors offer specific advice to prevent reductions or closures. advice rooted in survey responses from a wide spectrum of types of special libraries and a couple of case studies. Even though the authors’ survey is limited geographically to the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, it represents one of the few attempts to document the impact of economic downturns on special libraries. Like these authors, we believe this combination of documented and case-based evidence can be a very powerful strategic planning tool for a library facing reductions or closure.
The second effort is industry-bound and has been the focus of this article. Michelle Quigley’s project, albeit by one individual with voluntary contributions of information, documents (admittedly not comprehensively) IS staff reductions and closures within the media industry. 33 The data she has compiled (see Figure 1 on pages 50–51) provided a jumping off point for us to talk with both IS practitioners and end users (reporters and editorial staff) about what was happening in their industry and how it might affect their in-house libraries/information services.
From Supporting Content Creation to Creating Content
As the number of online news sources grew and local resources shrank, the news focus of the Arizona Star began shifting to an even stronger emphasis on local news. Everyone, including library staff, was asked to contribute content
to the print and online products. The library had always contributed to the Star’s news content, providing research, timelines, and history boxes, but now the department was being asked to increase that effort and to quantify our contributions. For many local stories that meant writing Did You Know? sidebars and Local Angle boxes for national stories.
Did You Know? sidebars are short, highlighted items containing information on the subject such as something of historic interest or a little-known fact. Local Angles provide a Tucson angle to a national article, such as when the subject of an obituary had visited Tucson.
For years, the library staff had written a column called Critter of the Week. In 2007, these items were compiled into a database. This allowed the popular column to once again become available to readers. It is often included as an online link to local wildlife stories.
Also, in 2007, a new feature began in the paper and online called Tucson Timecapsule. Each day, a Star photo from that date in the past was selected to run in the paper. The photo was chosen from the Star’s detailed photo logs going back more than 35 years. Caption information included not only the original information, but often provided updates on the subject matter. The library was responsible for the selection, researching, and writing of this feature. The Timecapsule was well-read, and readers were encouraged to upload their old Tucson photos to an online gallery.
As an extension of this focus on historic Tucson, a history blog was started. Tales From the Morgue was a perfect platform for providing more information and photos from Tucson’s past. It was a place to showcase an interesting article or advertisement gleaned from old pages of the Star or to recount a historic Tucson event. The blog was very popular and always in the top 10 of the most accessed Star blogs.
To demonstrate the contribution of these efforts, hits were very closely monitored. From the beginning, the Timecapsule received good online numbers, and there were letters to the editor and calls regarding the print version. As space became tighter, it would occasionally get cut from the paper. That meant it also didn’t run online. The managing editor sent out word that the Timecapsule should not be cut from the paper and it was always to run on StarNet.
Tales From the Morgue grew out of the Timecapsule’s success. The numbers for the blogs were very closely monitored, and it became a competitive thing. Tales From the Morgue was always right up there with the University of Arizona sports blogs and the Hollywood gossip blog. It was frequently promoted on the homepage using one of the photos from the day’s entry. The library director also received an employee of the month award once when it had really big numbers.
Critters was submitted by the Star to the Arizona Newspapers Association Best Practices publication, where successful ideas that other papers used to build readership were presented.
The Local Angle and Did You Know boxes were monitored monthly, and editors were required to meet a specific number for each of them.
—by Elaine Y. Raines
Director, News and Research Services, Arizona Star, 1982–2009.
[As this article was going to press, the authors learned that the library staff at the Arizona Star had been eliminated. This is an important key take-away and reinforces our two major themes: Take action to inoculate yourself to try to ward off a fatal illness, but even when very positive action is taken, sometimes there is no antidote.
—J.M. and T.P.]
The Embedded Researcher
In 2000, The Oregonian’s news research department consisted of 12 people working from a semi-secluded library one floor below the main newsroom. By 2009, the library was gone and the news research department was a one-person team. I am it.
A lot has changed in the intervening years — in my position obviously, but also at my paper and, more broadly, across the industry. I have done my best to adjust, adapt and move forward. But moving forward means letting go too.
Looking back now, the first transition was a big one. During the summer of 2001, a decision was made to split the five news researchers off from the archivists and photo librarians and move them into the main newsroom. It was a bit jarring for some: The library was a cozy and secluded place. Then came 9/11, which was an all-hands-on-deck story in which our hands were not only needed but a visible part of the news team. After that, I think everyone (researchers, reporters, and editors) was much more aware of how vital we could be to day-to-day coverage.
Our workflow changed once we were integrated into the newsroom, of course. Before the move, we were working off a traditional question-and-answer model. And our newsroom training was a lot more formal. Our new location provided the opportunity to develop closer relationships with reporters and editors and to make many of the processes less formal. There was much more collaboration on projects. And our integration increased our visibility, which in turn brought us new “customers.”
We had several good years working under this new model, with a staff to do it well. Then the industrywide downturn crept into our daily lives and The Oregonian started offering early retirements and buyouts. Other positions were left vacant. All of us had to learn to do more with less. By the fall of 2007, only two news researchers remained.
But even more change was still on the horizon. I soon left my desk next to my colleague in the news research pod and joined the breaking news/online team. This move was bittersweet. At first, I missed having a department, but then I realized I was missing our old department and newsrooms from years ago. It was time to move on and join the news team. The managing editor and I believed I would provide the best value by becoming a part of the online/breaking news team. I was still responsible for providing reference services to the rest of the newsroom and for doing administrative tasks. But now I was looking at ways to be more efficient with my new team.
Fast-forward another year and the newsroom research staff had shrunk again, making yours truly the only one still standing. The library support staff has also left.
Some of my previous goals and tools have been jettisoned as part of this transformation. I am much more focused on deadline reporting, for example, than I was before. We just don’t have the luxury any longer of assigning someone to work the big breaking news story of the day while others handle longer-term investigative and feature stories. So sometimes I have to put things on hold and juggle more than I would like to, but I’ve decided that my first and best use is as a resource to reporters on fast-moving, breaking news stories.
Another downside to being a one-person department is that we just have fewer hours of coverage (which means more calls to my home). I also need to be selective about projects I can help with, which frustrates me at times when I’m forced to turn down projects that would be interesting and helpful. My outreach and training have slowed considerably too, although everyone knows I am available for training if there is anything specific that people need help with. I also miss the time (and money) to test out and experiment with new products.
Professional development is also difficult. As a solo librarian, it can be hard to get away from the building for professional events, although I’ve tried to take advantage of opportunities as they arise. (I was able to attend a local ORSLA event recently on my day off and I am taking an online continuing education course in a few months.)
With the all changes in our industry, it is easy to lose confidence and feel lost. But that isn’t a productive way to spend my day. It is my responsibility to show my skills to my co-workers and/or our readers. I have found that it is much more productive to keep my goals in line with the general goals of the newsroom.
Even in hard times, there are opportunities.
• Creative thinking. Creative thinking should be cultivated. Otherwise, you risk feeling like a drone. Plus, creative thinking sparks enthusiasm, and enthusiasm is contagious.
• Self-directed work. Being more empowered to take actions that resolve day-to-day problems is a good feeling. It is also a lot easier to plan, control, and improve your workflow when you only have your own personality to consider.
• Increased relationship building. I think embedded and solo librarians tend to have more interactions with the people they help. Increased interactions change the dynamics of a service relationship and can put you in a position of having more insight over the work you perform. Relationship building also feeds creative thinking and self-direction.
• Flexibility. Most importantly I have learned that we need to stay flexible!
— by Lynne Palombo
News Researcher, The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.)
Thriving on Turbulence: Three Questions to Help Keep Yourself Grounded
After celebrating its centennial in 2008, The Christian Science Monitor became the first national newspaper to go to a web-first publishing schedule and drop its daily print edition; news would be reported not only online, but in the most appropriate format. This included two subscription-based editorial products — a weekly print magazine and a PDF daily digest.
As the Monitor’s librarian, I have a decade of experience in adapting to changes in media while working in a field with some of the most demanding production cycles of any industry. I saw early on in my career the advantage of welcoming change since it is always a learning experience. I also knew that convergence was roiling in the media industry. It was clear that the rising costs and cumbersome delivery of putting the news on paper — as well as daily deadline pressures — would mean that a move to where the readers were, as well as developing the flexibility to reach them right when they were looking for information, would be happening soon.
One of the ways in which we tell stories now is through the use of lists. Here’s a list of a few questions for news librarians — or information professionals in other fields — to ask themselves in order to best support their enterprise in these turbulent times.
1. What are my strengths? What do I bring every day?
We rarely ask ourselves these questions voluntarily. Now is the time to evaluate yourself regularly. In my case, I had a digital career whose arc began when the Monitor rode the waves of media change. It was one of the earliest newspapers to have an online edition; first to offer audio for its website, first to offer RSS feeds.
I bring a dedication to accuracy in every piece of information I obtain or analyze for our journalists. Accuracy is still paramount, perhaps even more so with so many more voices telling the story but with varying degrees of journalistic credibility or ethics. I can say with confidence I have never had a correction or clarification attributed to anything I have done. That continues, though we now produce more content than ever.
I am also responsible for managing our digital asset management system. We have three new formats to archive — our weekly pages, the PDF digest, and born-digital content — in addition to our photos and cartoons.
Since I have also been managing the electronic and print resources for the newsroom, and training our staff on how to use them, I am well-practiced in evaluating tools and changes in the information business as a researcher as well as a manager and trainer.
2. What do I need to learn as our business changes?
Ask yourself this question regularly and ask your manager periodically. When I asked this question of my manager (our managing editor), he replied that content and its production would be “less traditional.” This was even before our transition to the new multiplatform publishing model. We both acknowledged that there may not be the usual production-line chain of handling, or by as many intermediaries, and editors might be performing different functions. Deadlines, would, of course, be fluid for the web-first content. We would be more “scattered” as far as teams were concerned, and a common editorial pool would contribute to both the online content and the print content, each with very different production schedules. I saw this as a needforflexibility as well as the responsiveness that our staff has come to expect, particularly as they have to react faster to each news event.
As with many companies, the librarian here is also seen as the in-house expert in that broad category known as “archives.” Our own content is arguably the most valuable asset we possess. It has taken on new importance with the ability to serve up related information as additional context without having to write it into the story. In addition to maintaining an encyclopedic backfile in my memory, developed through both researching the stories and archiving them post-publication, I have also noticed a trend toward more intelligent ways of indexing, classifying, and arranging information. When information is outside the printed page, it can move from being static to dynamic. While this is exciting, it requires planning a taxonomy for site users as well as external agents. I quickly found a continuing education course and learned all I could about this in the time I had.
I have also been an active participant in many conversations about the future of journalism. These have been taking place off and online, and I’ve become a volunteer in an organization that holds these sessions to teach people about ways of doing journalism online.
3. How am I connected to business development? What more can I do to contribute to it?
Most media organizations traditionally contributed to the information economy: a huge and complex business, difficult to understand, and now in the midst of massive change. Some activities within this context have been handled by librarians who have been involved, as I am, in maintaining data quality for their organizations’ archives, as well as sending large vendor databases of news content to aggregators — not my responsibility. Or maybe they have been involved, as I am, in photo sales or syndication or an “information store” of some scale. The newspaper business has to diversify its revenue streams or find totally new ones, since depending on the individual subscriber paying for a newspaper to land in their driveway at 6 a.m. is a vestige of the 20th century. Today, new ideas are much needed and welcomed.
Since librarians are aware of the many information sources available and not only use them directly but also negotiate contracts for their usage, there are many ways they can use this knowledge to support business development. One of the activities I do is evaluating how our own content is arranged on any third-party service, as well as suggesting other places, whether commercial or on the open internet, where it would be an appropriate fit.
With so many more contributors, journalism has a vibrant future and, therefore, so do information professionals working within the media industry. Many of the newer entities may not have the infrastructure to archive and syndicate content or there may be a learning curve in the ethics and practices of research and storytelling. Existing media organizations may not be fully aware of the many contributions that librarians make, particularly related to off-page elements, metadata, and taxonomy. In my opinion, the science of information is more important than ever.
I’ve found that by regularly asking myself these three questions, I can continue to change with and contribute to my organization as it changes.
—by Leigh Montgomery
Librarian, The Christian Science Monitor
|Organization||Effective Date||Number of positions cut||Number of positions remaining||Notes|
|ABC News Research Center (Washington, D.C.)||6/2006 and 2009||13||0||Research Center dismantled and the collection dispersed. See memo, etc. |
|Albany Times Union (Albany, N.Y.)||7/2008 and 3/2009||2||1|
|Arizona Daily Star (Tucson, Ariz.)||11/2009||2||0|
|Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (Little Rock, Ark.)||5/1/2009||1||3|
|Atlanta Journal Constitution (Atlanta, Ga.)||4/2009||15||0 ||Research discontinued, archiving outsourced.|
|Baltimore Sun (Baltimore, Md.)||4/2009||1||2|
|Capital Times/Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wis.)||6/2008 and 9/2008||2||2|
|Charlotte Observer (Charlotte N.C.)||9/2008||3||2|
|Chicago Tribune (Chicago, Ill.)||2008, 2/2009||9||5|
|Cincinnati Enquirer (Cincinnati, Ohio)||7/2009||1||1||Remaining position is part-time|
|Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)||6/2006, 3/2007, 6/2007||3||4|
|Corpus Christi Caller-Times (Corpus Christi, Texas)||Spring 2007||2||1|
|Daily Camera (Boulder, Colo.)||6/2007||1||0||Archiving automated.|
|The Daytona Beach News-Journal (Daytona Beach, Fla.)||6/2008, 9/2009||4||1|
|Denver Post (Denver, Colo.)||6/2007||1||4|
|The Des Moines Register (Des Moines, Iowa)||2/2008, 12/2008, 5/2009||4||1||Archiving automated.|
|Detroit Free Press (Detroit, Mich.)||6/22/2009||3||0||Research discontinued, archiving automated.|
|Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville, Fla.)||11/2008||2||4|
|Fort Worth Star-Telegram (Fort Worth, Texas)||6/2008 and 3/2009||5||1|
|Fortune||Spring 2008||4||2||Business Information Center serving Fortune, Money, FSB and various Time Inc. corporate departments eliminated.|
|The Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, Va.)||1||2|
|The Fresno Bee (Fresno, Calif.)||6/2008||1||2|
|The Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ont., Canada)||4/1/2009||6||8|
|Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.)||7/2008 and 3/2009||2||2|
|Houston Chronicle (Houston, Texas)||11/2007, 11/2008||11||2|
|Knoxville News Sentinel (Knoxville, Tenn.)||6/2007||1||0||Archiving automated, other library functions eliminated.|
|Lexington Herald-Leader (Lexington, Ky.)||5/2009||4||1|
|Los Angeles Time (Los Angeles, Calif.)|
|Miami Herald (Miami, Fla.)||2008||4||3|
|The Morning Call (Allentown, Penn.)||1/2008 and /2008||2||2|
|NBC InfoCenter (New York, N.Y.)||4/2009||4||3||Two other positions lost through attrition in 2004 and 2007.|
|New York Daily News (New York, N.Y.)|
|New York Times (New York, N.Y.)||2007, 2008||13||7||The NYT still has additional part-time positions.|
|News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)|
|News & Record (Greensboro, N.C.)||1/2006, 6/2007, 1/2009||3||1|
|Newsday (Long Island, N.Y.)||3/2008||1||11||Staff reduced from 23 through attrition since 2002.|
|News-Gazette (Champaign, Ill.)||5/2008||1||1|
|Newsweek||1/2006, 12/2007, 2008, 2/2009, 11/2009||9||1|
|The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.)||2007 and 2008||5||2|
|Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)|
|Ottawa Citizen (Ottawa, Ont., Canada)||2006 and 2008||2||2|
|The Palm Beach Post (West Palm Beach, Fla.)||8/12/2008, 9/2009||8||2|
|The Patriot Ledger (Quincy, Mass.)||2/2008 and 11/2008||2||1|
|The Patriot-News Company (Harrisburg, Penn.)||11/2008||1||1|
|Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, Penn.)|
|Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio)||4||5|
|Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram (Portland, Maine)||6/2009||1|
|Providence Journal (Providence, R.I.)||10/2008||2||1|
|Reno Gazette-Journal (Reno, Nev.)||7/2009||1||1||Part-timer will be brought in to replace long-time librarian.|
|The Republican (Springfield, Mass.)||1/12/2009||2||2|
|Richmond Times-Dispatch (Richmond, Virginia)||4/2009||8||2||Need verification on numbers.|
|Rocky Mountain News (Denver, Colo.)||2/2009||Newspaper closed. Archives to Denver Public Library and Colorado Historical Society.|
|The Royal Gazette/Mid-Ocean Newspapers (Bermuda)||7/29/2008||1||1|
|San Antonio Express-News (San Antonio, Tex.)||10/2007 and 3/2009||2||4|
|The San Diego Union-Tribune (San Diego, Calif.)||12/2006 - 5/2009||13||3||Includes 5 cuts through attrition.|
|San Francisco Chronicle (San Fancisco, Calif.)||12/2008 and 3/2009||4||2|
|San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.)||11/2005 - 6/2008||6||2|
|Seattle Post-Intelligencer (Seattle, Wash.)||3/18/2009||2||0||Newspaper ceased operations.|
|Sporting News||7/2008||1||0||Research center closed.|
|St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis, Mo.)||2008 - 2009||7||4|
|St. Petersburg Times (St. Petersburg, Fla.)||2||12|
|The Star-Ledger (Newark, N.J.)||5/2006 and 12/2008||6||4|
|The State (Columbia, S.C.)||1/2006 - 2/2008||3||0||Library positions eliminated through attrition. Archiving automated.|
|Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)||7/2008, 4/2009, 5/2009||5||2||Library dismantled.|
|Syracuse Post-Standard (Syracuse, N.Y.)||2005, 2006, 2009||4||2|
|Tampa Tribune (Tampa, Fla.)||5/27/09||5||3|
|Times-Herald Record ( Middletown , N.Y. )||5/15/09||1||1|
|USA Today||12/2007 and 12/2008||9||4|
|Vancouver Sun / The Province (Vancouver, BC, Canada)||12/2008 - 2/2009||4||6|
|Wall Street Journal (New York, N.Y.)||3/2009||2||0|
|Washington Post (Washington, D.C.)||2006, 2008, 2009||9||7||Includes 2 positions lost through attrition.|
Quigley, Michelle, “News Library Layoffs and Buyouts” [http://docs.google.com/View?id=dhsmznc3_18g3b8jqgh]; last accessed Jan. 3, 2010.
1 Gapper, John, “Charge for News or Bleed Red Ink,” Financial Times, Jan. 21, 2010, p. 9.
2 Ibid. Gapper refers to an Outsell, Inc. research report that quoted this number.
3 Newslib posting, Oct. 2, 2009.
4 Kirchoff, Suzanne M., “The U.S. Newspaper Industry in Transition,” Congressional Research Service (CRS), July 8, 2009.
5 Kirchoff (2009).
6 Interview with Dan Kennedy, assistant professor of journalism, Northeastern University, Sept. 15, 2009.
8 Interview with John Cronin, Sept. 22, 2009.
9 Bird, Kate, “Librarians as Technology Trainers — A Dispatch From the Front,” Wired West: Web Journal of the SLA Western Canada Chapter, vol. 12, no. 4 [http://units.sla.org/chapter/cwcn/wwest/v12n4/article_bird.shtml] (last accessed Nov. 27, 2009).
10 Sims, Damon, “Tighter Copyright Law Could Save Newspapers: Connie Schultz,” Cleveland.com, June 28, 2009 [http://www.cleveland.com/schultz/index.ssf/2009/06/tighter_copyright_law_could_sa.html] (last accessed Nov. 2, 2009).
11 Paul, Nora and Kathleen A. Hansen, “Reclaiming News Libraries,” Library Journal, April 1, 2002, p. 44 [http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA201862.html] (last accessed Nov. 2, 2009). Also see Kathleen Hansen, Nora Paul, and Betsey Neibergall, “Survey of Large Newspapers Studies Information Practices,” Newspaper Research Journal, 24(4):36–48.
12 Ibid., p. 44.
13 For more information on disconnects between information professionals’ views of their value/role and that of their customers, the authors refer you to data from the SLA Alignment Project: http://www.sla.org/content/SLA/alignment/portal/index.html.
14 Bramucci, Gina, “News Researchers Play Key Role in Fast-Strike Terrorist Coverage,” The IRE Journal, 25(1):26.
15 Interview with Kevin Convey, August 2009.
16 Interview with Martha Regan, August 2009.
17 Interview with chief librarian, Midwest newspaper, Oct. 9, 2009.
18 Interview with John Yemma, editor, The Christian Science Monitor, Aug. 26, 2009.
19 Kirchoff, Op. cit., pp. 9–10.
20 Day, Mary, “Special Libraries in Time of Depression,” Special Libraries, vol. 27, December 1936, p. 329.
21 Alexander, Mary, “Presidents’ Page,” Special Libraries, vol. 25, March 1934, p. 62.
22 Woods, Bill, “Foreword,” in Directory of Special Libraries and Information Centers, Anthony T. Kruzas, Detroit: Gale Research, 1963, p. 8.
23 Cupp, Bertha (pseudo) “Fired,” Special Libraries, vol. 61, September 1970, p. 362.
24 Strain, Paula, “When a Library Job Ends … Find Another!” Special Libraries, vol. 61, September 1970, pp. 363, 368–373.
25 McKenna, F. E., “The Special Libraries Association,” The Bowker Annual of Library and Book Trade Information, 1971, 17th ed. New York: R. R. Bowker, 1972, p. 37.
26 Strable, Edward, “Special Libraries,” The ALA Yearbook, 1975, p. 329.
27 Matarazzo, James, Closing the Corporate Library: Case Studies in the Decision-Making Process, New York: Special Libraries Association, 1981.
28 Matarazzo, James and Joshua Clarke, “The Influence of Private and Public Companies on the Special Library Job Market,” Information Outlook, vol. 12, April 2008, pp. 10–16.
29 Krueger, J., “Special Libraries Job Postings at Simmons College, 1985–1986,” The Boston Chapter News Bulletin, vol. 54, pp. 16–20.
30 Perry, P. M., “Employment Opportunities in For-Profit Special Libraries … Positions Posted 1985–1989,” Service and Technology Libraries, vol. 12, 1991, pp. 123–133.
31 The authors have analyzed the data for this period to arrive at this conclusion
32 Matarazzo, James and Toby Pearlstein, “A Review of Research Related to Management of Corporate Libraries,” Advances in Librarianship, volume 31, 2008, pp. 93–114.
33 Fletcher, Arlene, et al., “Saving Special Libraries in a Recession: Business Strategies for Survival and Success,” Information Outlook, July/August 2009, vol. 13, no 5 [http://www.sla.org/io/2009/07/735.cfm] (last accessed Oct. 26, 2009).
James Matarazzo (firstname.lastname@example.org) is
Dean and Professor Emeritus, Graduate School of Library and Information Science, Simmons College. Toby Pearlstein (Toby.email@example.com ) is former Director; Global Information Services, Bain & Company, Inc.