One Step Forward and Two Steps Back?

There has been a troubling development in the world of news periodicals. These periodicals are moving to a less print, or online-only format, but in such a way as to leave libraries and their large readership out in the cold.  The “progress” of moving to an online-only format means that readers who depend on library subscriptions now have less or even zero access. A well-informed population is critical to a functioning democracy; all citizens should be concerned about this development.

For example, our local newspaper, the Patriot News moved to a three-day per week printing schedule and is putting most of the news into an online-only format. They tout this as providing better access to their subscribers, which is true in most situations. However, they do not have a feasible library subscription option. The Archives on their website is nearly impossible to find and has limited advanced searching features, which makes historical research more difficult. The archives content does not include photos, charts or other visual materials. Our library now only provides access to the limited three-day print. Our online subscription stops in 2009 when Patriot News pulled out of our newspaper database, Newspaper Source. Even then, coverage and indexing in this database was spotty. Unfortunately the limited print editions with no library subscription option to online content actually makes library access more difficult. Readers who depend on libraries to provide access to news have lost a valuable resource the other four days per week.

Similarly, Newsweek moved to an online-only format this month. Again, this may provide better access and content for the typical individual subscriber. In fact, I have an individual Newsweek subscription; I added the Newsweek app to my ipad, and I really love the new format! However, the publisher has not made any concessions to libraries so that we may continue providing this important news vehicle to our readers. Instead, Newsweek suggests that, like an individual subscriber, we should provide the single userid and password to our readers. I’m sure all of you know how difficult it is keeping track of one set of userid and password for a single publication for just one person…. you! Now imagine doing that for 3,000 or so students, faculty and staff on our campus! That is just one magazine. Now imagine if that were the requirement for the 50,000 periodicals to which we have access! Their suggestion is simply impossible to scale to a library setting. We do have online access to Newsweek through our Academic Search Complete database, however access is typically several weeks behind the current issue and is html-format rather than pdf-format.

These single newspapers and magazines need to consider and provide subscription options such as IP address and EXProxy access (don’t worry, my librarian and IT friends know what I mean!) to their library constituents, particularly when libraries provide open and democratic access to information for all residents. As a news provider, this should be a requirement when they move to a predominantly online or online-only format.

Moving periodicals such as newspapers and magazines from print to online formats should cause celebration in the library world. It typically allows us to provide better, broader and quicker access to important news and research materials. However, when the publisher does not provide a feasible subscription option to libraries, we really do take one step forward and two steps back.

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