The Future is Now:
News Libraries in the 90's

A Project of The Press Room
Peggy Cunningham
Stacie Marinelli
Lisa Mittman


"We are the heartbeat of the station." (NPR) "The library is the brain of the company." (Washington Times)

These are some of the ways news librarians describe the role of the media center in their organization. While not always visible to the public, the news library plays an acknowledged and integral role in gathering information to further the goals of its media group. (Ward, Hansen, and McLeod, 1988, p. 143)

The Press Room news library team made visits to 17 news libraries over a two week period. In this paper we examine the organization and functions of these libraries as explained to us by library managers and researchers, and gleaned from our own observations.

The news libraries we observed comprised four categories: three magazines (including one bureau), two journalism advocacy associations, two television stations, one radio station, and nine newspapers (including one bureau). We found various differences between large and small newspapers, between main and bureau offices, and among the different media. These similarities and differences will now be explored by the Press Team's three members.

Staff Composition

Staffing ranged from a solo librarian (The Capital in Annapolis) to a high of 22 staffers (USA Today). Most news librarians we met had the MLS (with one newspaper staff being a major exception), and all had research experience and news sense. Some librarians also had advanced degrees and subject specializations. In general, the work of indexing the dayÍs print news for commercial databases was performed by non-MLS staffers, often called "enhancers."

Most library staffers, especially managers, had worked in several other news organizations before the present one. For a few, this had been their only news library job.

News librarians were described as flexible workers, accurate searchers, possessing journalistic instincts and an understanding of deadlines. They are curious about many things, especially the news, and read several papers each day. One manager mentioned the importance of a sense of confidentiality and the ability to remain issue-neutral even in private life, just like journalists. In fact, some news librarians consider themselves akin to journalists, according to some of our readings. Almost all of these libraries had at least one staff member attend news meetings each week in order to be able to more quickly serve the needs of reporters and to be clearly a part of the news staff.

Organizational Location & Mission Statement

Of the 17 news libraries we visited, not one was able to give us an organizational chart to indicate the libraryÍs placement in the hierarchy. From the interviews, though, we were able to conclude that most news libraries fell within the news/editorial division. This was the most appropriate placement, as they directly served that division. There are a few exceptions to this, such as the Lancaster newspaper library. This library serves three newspapers and thus three different news divisions, so the library reports directly to the vice president. Also, the National Press Club and the Freedom Forum do not have "news divisions" per se, so their organizational chart has a more traditional business structure. Their libraries report to a business manager or higher and up the chain to a Board of Governors (NPC) or Board of Directors (FF).

We did get four written mission statements, from CNN, Newsweek, USA Today and the Baltimore Sun, and a verbal statement from NPR and some other libraries. Both written and verbal statements contained similar themes. The following mission statement of the Newsweek Research Center is representative of all the libraries we visited: The primary mission of the Newsweek Research Center is to provide outstanding research and information service to the Newsweek editorial staff to ensure excellence in news reporting, editing and writing to support Newsweek MagazineÍs top position in U.S. and international news media. The Newsweek Research Center also lists a number of activities it must engage in to fulfill this responsibility.

Physical Facilities

Although the news libraries we visited varied greatly in size, they did share some common features pertaining to their physical facilities. The most important feature was location. It was extremely important for the libraries to be located in close proximity to the newsroom. This favorable location facilitated contact with the primary users of the library. It made it easier for editors and reporters to go to the library to ask their questions and to make use of the collection. It also made it easier for the library staff to interact with the users since they could more readily leave the library to work with reporters at their desks. The issue of physical placement was so important that most of the libraries had recently moved, were in the process of moving, or were planning to move. Getting closer to the newsroom was often a determining factor in the movement process.

Another common problem pertaining to facilities, and a second factor in the necessity to change locations, was the need for more space. Most of the libraries were cramped and in need of storage space. They employed a variety of features in order to accommodate the various portions of the collection (such as compact shelving or storage on other floors). The majority of libraries do still have a print collection, although size varied greatly. Libraries used standard as well as compact shelving units.

In addition to the print sources, a large number of periodicals and newspapers must be also housed on the shelves, kept only for about two weeks to make continuing room for the latest issues. News libraries continue to maintain collections of archival material. Newspaper clipping, and microfilm and fiche of old magazines and journals must all be maintained because they are not available in any electronic format. (The New York Times clip collection is so large it had to be donated to the New Public Library, with open access to Times staff.) When the budget allowed, libraries planned to convert their historical collections to digital form, for preservation and space reasons. Many of the libraries house these collections in elaborate storage cabinets, filing mechanisms, and shelving units. Increasingly, libraries must contain computer stations for library staff and news room usage as electronic sources available through these stations are rapidly replacing print and journal collections.

Many news libraries contain reading and work areas for the users. These areas make the libraries inviting and accessible, thus possibly having an impact on usage and esteem of the library. The reference desk should ideally be located in the most accessible position within the library. In fact, it is often located at the entrance, interconnecting the library and the newsroom it serves.

Clients, Resources and Services

Reporters and editors are naturally the first and foremost clients of a news library. Depending on the situation and news setting, management requests may take first priority. Librarians also serve other departments, such as marketing and advertising. The Freedom Forum library also serves the Newseum exhibit staff. In general the public is served, though often only during limited hours, or referred to other departments for answers.

The news libraryÍs central task is to provide users with accurate information delivered on deadline. Information services include fact-checking, backgrounding, discovery of discrete facts, and longer term research for feature stories. The need for delivery of fast, accurate information was voiced by all interviewees, as in these statements: "Our job is to get it first and get it right. Never say no." (Washington Times) "We never say we can't get it." (National Press Club) "Whatever they need, we'll get it. It's 'One Stop Shopping.'" (Newsweek/ Washington Bureau) "Reporters will call and say, 'I'm crashing on a package and I need this information now.' And we have to get it to them right away." (CNN/Washington) "There isn't anything we can't get into their hands within 24 hours." (Freedom Forum) This urgency impacts on both resources and services of news libraries.

The variety of resources ran the spectrum from only electronic (Annapolis Capital) to a wide range of resources; from one database (usually Nexis) to a high of six. Often the library was the first department in the organization to get electronic resources. News reporters often still had only the news production system up on their monitors, and had to go to the research area to get onto the web, though the push to the desktop of direct users is in progress most everywhere. Commercial databases included Nexis, Dow Jones Interactive, Dialog, and DataTimes, with some unique services like Periscope, a military database.

The degree that database results were processed by librarians varied. While some media groups had the time or staff to "add value," through analysis and packaging, others were more concerned with getting the answers to the reporters or editors as soon as possible. Other research services we found included museum and book project research for the Freedom Forum.

Print collections include newspapers and journals, CD-ROMs, microfiche and microfilm, and news clip files. An Intranet, with links to websites, paid services, library and company updates, was available in most places, and on the wish list for others. Intranet development is a time consuming and essential job of the ñnewî news library. A push towards user-based desktop Internet and Intranets was in evidence in all companies that could afford it.

Print collections remain important and went up to about 2,000 volumes, including reference and specialized books, depending on the region and media. The Baltimore Sun library, for example, has a large collection of materials on shipping. Washington bureau libraries concentrate on government and politics. The National Press Club and Freedom Forum both had collections that centered around all aspects of journalism.

Differing types of archives were found in the different media types. Television and radio had large tape archives. Print media had photo archives, which were often a combination of photos taken by staff and purchased from free-lancers or commercial services. Print images are being digitized now as a matter of course in most places.

One service unique to some newspapers and magazines is the creation of clip files. Hours are spent each day cutting and indexing news clips, often for quick reference on popular topics or because the clipped sources were not indexed by any database service. Another news service is indexing ("enhancement") of each issue's articles for commercial databases, a process that serves to produce revenue, promote the company, and further education and research around the world. Television and radio broadcast transcript preparation is most often outsourced. Enhancement is outsourced by some smaller magazine or newspaper libraries.

Maintenance of resources (cataloging, indexing, archiving, preservation, etc.) is yet another service that all news libraries must perform along with research. Smaller newspaper libraries find themselves doing so much of this traditional library work that they may not be able to concentrate on news research. A few small organizations voiced the opposite problem: the press of daily news research limits such traditional library functions as cataloging, preservation, and disaster planning.

Proactive services is happening now and is the wave of the future! Some of the proactive services practiced by the "ideal" library includes the collection of thematic information packets. USA Today reported that the morning the library staff heard about Frank SinatraÍs death, they began researching in preparation for the reporters. They were split up into teams that researched different aspects of his life, such as his singing career, films, and personal life, and they had information waiting for reporters when they came in to make requests.

Another form of proactive delivery is the kind of packaging done by the Newsweek/Washington Bureau librarian, who searches the Internet early each morning for breaking government news and scandals and prints it out in the form of a newsletter that's placed on reporters' desks. Some other papers had staff who arrived early to clip articles of interest to certain reporters and put it on their desks before they arrived. Then there is electronic PUSH technology, which is used by this "ideal" news library, and other forms of selective dissemination to users.

Another very popular and increasing service is end-user training of reporters and editors on database use, usually Internet searching. All librarians we spoke to asserted that a request from reporters for more access to commercial databases is not on the future agenda. Paul (1997b) quoted one reporter as saying: "I wish I had gotten direct Nexis access earlier. Our librarian recently gave us direct access and it was amazing to me how much more stuff I found than I used to find when a librarian was doing the searching for me..." However, the paper goes on to describe how "(a)ll news researchers have horror stories of reporters searching databases without allowing for truncation or alternate spelling or appropriate logical connectors between search terms who end up missing key stories."

In only a few of our host libraries were a few top reporters given passwords to Nexis. As NPR's Alphonse Vinh suggests, good end-user training includes teaching reporters the best times to use databases themselves and when they would be better served by calling the library. Clearly, end-user training on intranets and web searching is the wave of the future, going along with the push to put networked computers on all reporters' desks. One of the primary goals of the journalism advocacy organization, the National Press Club, is to train journalists in the proficient use of the Internet and in statistical databases for news analysis.

Information Access

The collections in the news libraries we visited were organized and accessed in a variety of ways, often varying by size. The smaller libraries often had uncatalogued collections, often arranged in a "loose-Dewey" order. For the most part, these libraries had very small collections that were well known to the library and news room staff. For the most part, everyone knew how the books were arranged and no one had trouble locating material.

Other small libraries had cataloged their collections, but were still using card catalogs to access them. None of the smaller libraries had any kind of OPAC. Some of the libraries had developed their own cataloging system.

Larger news libraries did catalog their materials and did utilize OPAC systems. The majority used the Dewey Decimal Classification system, with the exception of The Baltimore Sun, which was in the process of cataloging a very large collection following the Library of Congress Classification System.

All of the news libraries had internal databases which provided access to archival material. Many of these internal databases were available to the news staff from their desktops. In the smaller libraries, with fewer staff, the creation and maintenance of this database is a major portion of the libraries workload.

Development of Intranets was a growing trend in news libraries. The libraries were playing major roles in the development and maintenance of the Intranet. Intranets provided access to internal databases and web-based services. They provided links to valuable sites on the Internet, thus serving as jumping off spots for research. They served as access to references and services offered by the libraries.

Budgets, Charge-Backs and Revenue-Producing Services

As would be expected, small newspaper libraries (except for one linked to the Gannett chain) have small budgets that changed little from year to year, apart from increases in standing orders. One paper claimed to have no budget at all. Bureaus and larger papers, and both associations, seemed able to command adequate budgets for services and acquisitions.

Among the news libraries we visited, the overwhelming majority did not charge any fees for their services to their primary users, the news room staff and the organizationÍs departments. The case of the Lancaster Newspapers, Inc. News Library, which serves the staff of three interdependent newspapers, is somewhat different. All three are owned by the same organization, but they are published separately. When the staff of the library performs searches on on-line databases, the charges incurred are charged back to the individual budget of the newspaper requesting the search.

Costs savings in the form of donations are possible for the two associations, who received donations of journals and databases, and in the form of barter for broadcast media who were at times able to barter ad space for free or lower cost commercial database service. Many of the libraries did charge fees for services that were performed for customers outside of the organization. Use of the libraries by the general public was often officially discouraged, but was tolerated when the request was not too demanding or involved. Fees for photocopying were often passed on to the individual in these cases.

More in-depth research for individuals and organizations was often done on a fee basis. Charges per hour of services and database charges were passed on to the client. For example, the library at The (Annapolis) Capital charged $25 for a five minute search of the internal archives database when clients, often lawyers working on a case, asked for their services. If a member of the general public wanted a copy of a specific article, they were only charged $.25 for the photocopying. USA Today offered a fee-based research service to outsiders. They would do original research, not limited to the archival database, for interested clients. For its members, the National Press Club has begun a $65 "premium research" service that involves lengthier research, with retrieval from databases and outside agencies.

All television and radio stations market their audio/videotapes, although in general sales are made by marketing departments. The National Press Club library sells its memberships to journalists. The Freedom Forum's new book projects may generate sales, and its Newseum markets products in its gifts shop. These are some of the current methods the media libraries we visited are generating revenue that will offset their costs and promote their services.


When asked how he markets his library services to the NPR broadcast community, Vinh indicated that he did not need to do any marketing, that the NPR library is the heart of the stationÍs operations. All librarians we interviewed felt that the libraryÍs capabilities are well-known and well-respected within the organization (apart from some reservations from the librarian of a small regional newspaper library). USA Today's Maxwell is of the opinion that the best marketing her library could do is simply providing the best service possible. Her researcherÍs work speaks for itself.

One important way many of our libraries promote their services is to provide orientations to new reporters. This way the reporter knows from the beginning what the library can do for him or her. Training users on electronic resources is another way to showcase the libraryÍs services.

Some libraries employ brochures and newsletters to provide updates to their users. Both association libraries published extremely professional brochures describing services and goals of the organization. The National Press Club markets to gain members, while the Freedom Forum promotes attendance at the Newseum and its international programs.

Many of our libraries do proactive marketing, by attending news/editorial meetings. This way not only is the libraryÍs presence made known, but it allows the librarian to return to the library with an idea of the information that may be needed. Armed with this knowledge, the staff will organize sources in order to be prepared for anticipated requests or even to implement a form of PUSH technology (like Nexis' Eclipse) to forward information directly to the reporters desktops.

Most of the libraries we visited also maintain their own intranet for use by anyone within the organization. These intranet pages not only provide promotion for the library, but also a wealth of internet sources for reporters, editors, and other staff.

Although the news libraries we visited did not voice awareness of threats, the picture is not as rosy within the newspaper world in general, according to surveys conducted by Kerr and Niebauer in 1987. Times have changed, but doubtless there are still some reporters who feel as these did: "I'm a better researcher than the library staff. I don't like to wait for information and I don't want to rely on their judgement of what's useful." (Kerr and Niebauer, 1987, p.30) Other researchers found that reporters often preferred phone calls to background research (Weinberg, 1992), or neglected to come into the library for research or training (Nicholas and Martin, 1997).

Calls for marketing services may not seem convincing to most of the librarians we visited, but doing nothing may not be a good alternative, according to NPR's Alphonse Vinh: "You can't be complacent. You can't have a happy marriage unless you maintain it. Libraries decay or grow, so we have to be proactive, anticipate needs, make sure the information is top quality, so they can "'blindly depend on us.'"

Evaluation of Services

One way to evaluate the efficiency and value of a library is to track the progress of requests, determine how quickly and how accurately they are fulfilled, as well as the sheer numbers. Within these libraries we found a spectrum of efforts in this direction: Some libraries keep no record at all of the requests filled, either because they did not have the time or did not feel compelled to track their efforts in such a quantitative way. Some keep paper logs of the requests as they came in. One library had started using a computerized tracking system. This system essentially consists of an electronic request form filled out by the librarian, which includes the requesterÍs name & department, deadlines, and of course as many details of the request as possible. This form is fed into a database, from which various statistics can be divined.

Another way to evaluate the services provided by the library is to benchmark your library against other similar libraries. Barbara Maxwell at USA Today regularly visits other news libraries in an effort to determine where her library stands in relation to others. These visits tell her that she has good reason to be proud of the strides her library has made in the past few years.

Most media libraries, large and small, did have some annual report due to a manager, reporting on services. At this time, all contributions the library had made to newsmaking during the past year could be shared with management. During the course of the year, Washington Times reporters had been known to tell editors that the library had helped them with an important story. There were also some cases where staff in some news libraries would get byline credit for making a significant contribution to an article.

The News Library of the Future

The competitive edge will go to the newsroom with the quickest and ablest access to the facts, background and sources that can give them the freshest angle, the deepest understanding and the broadest interpretation of news events... (O)ther roles ... will grow in importance as the need to utilize the full range of information resources grows (such as) conducting complex or complicated research, coaching end-user searchers on search strategies, and compiling information packages for use in the newspaper, on the electronic news product, or as background material on a newsroom intranet. None of these tasks range far from the librarian's traditional roles of selector, evaluator, maintainer, instructor, and user of information resources. It is the scope of their role and its merging with the newsroom's functions that will be different. - Nora Paul, Media libraries and new media, July 1997 NetMedia Conference seminar (SLA website link).

Many of the features of the news library of the 21st century are already beginning to be seen in the libraries. There is an increasing dependence on and utilization on electronic as opposed to print resources. Online databases can provide more up-to-date information, in an extremely timely manner, especially when used by a properly trained professional.

News libraries are integrally involved with pushing sources on to the desktops of their users. Librarians of the future are interested and must be proficient at training the news room staff to properly use the available electronic sources (databases, CD-ROMs, the Internet). Part of this training must be in when to attempt to search themselves and when to ask for assistance.

Librarians will become more involved with the stories the news staff are working on. They should be very proactive in their gathering of potential stories and sources for stories and should encourage the selective dissemination of information whenever possible.

Efforts to maintain archival collections and make them more accessible will result in massive digitizing projects. Archives of text, clippings, photographs, and videos would all benefit from digitalization. Indexed and searchable databases would provide immeasurable benefits to the library and news room staff, as well as to the community as a whole.

Participation in the development and maintenance of Intranets, as described in the ñOrganizing materialsî section, would provided the users with relevant, authoritative, and evaluative assistance with their day-to-day research and work.

The development and maintenance of CAR, or computer-assisted reporting, databases is another area for future consideration by news libraries. The manipulation of public information into a readable and relevant format, would be useful to reporters in unlimited ways.

Additionally, more and more news librarians will specialize in subject areas relevant to their media organization „ and begin to collaborate with subject-specialist journalists. "Specialists „ whether their area of expertise is nuclear physics, urban planning, or writing or gathering information „ can accomplish important work faster and better together than any can alone." (Bennett, 1995)

The approach of the 21st century should be embraced by news libraries everywhere. The incorporation of so many exciting technological projects into the daily exhilaration of assisting the news staff with their reference needs, is a worthy challenge to the profession. It is a challenge that must be met head on in order to continue to provide the most authoritative support of the organizational mission.