Moving Beyond the Printed Word

Another in-house news library closed today – this time, for ABC News. They canceled all of their print subscriptions, and are looking to donate all of their books. To this end, they are implementing a “state of the art research system” with an outside “research consultant” so that employees can do their own research from their desktops.


One can only wonder what this is, and can only speculate what this will mean for the future quality of reportage at ABC. Who could this outside research consultant be, and how could this affect ABC in the long run, or save money?

I blogged about this in April, around the time when the Wall Street Journal closed its library. It also reminds me of what happened at Forbes library, to a friend of mine who works there.

I contacted her because she posted on the SLA listserv that she was trying to get rid of most of her print collection. When the alarmed people on the listserv thought that Forbes was closing their library for good, she replied that the library was staying open, but, in the spirit of ABC, would have more of a digital presence than a print presence.

At the time, at my organization, we were considering moving towards a more “paperless” situation, and implementing print subscription cutbacks. We still are doing some of this, but we are not getting rid of our books entirely, as we first envisioned. For this reason, I reached out to the librarian at Forbes to see how they managed it – and learned a few things:

  • Transition to digital came about due to cutbacks and staff attrition. The librarian I spoke to is the only librarian left, and she has one support staff member.
  • Clippings files were abandoned before this librarian began working at Forbes, in the early ‘00s – they were called “morgue files” because they became out-of-date quickly (i.e. “dead information.”)
  •  They are moving to a new space that will be about the size of an office, and they were only able to bring a very select few print items due to space concerns. The rest were given to a Baruch College program that donates books to China.
  • Their “digital library” consists of online databases such as Moody’s, Lancer Analytics, Hoover’s, Thomson Gale databases, Investext, Nexis and Forbes archives. Each writer/reporter at Forbes has Factiva on his desktop, and most do their own research.
  • They are currently looking into digitizing Forbes archives from 1917-1975 (these currently exist in microfilm).

I don’t really know what to say about this except to mourn the state of news librarianship. By sidelining news librarians, I believe these organizations are making a big mistake that will probably affect them negatively in the long run.

In the meantime, more and more librarians are either losing their jobs or are, as in the case of my friend at Forbes, being overwhelmed with work and left with little or no support.

There’s no doubt that a lot of this has to do with the state of the economy, but it also has to do with short-sighted CEOs whose cuts may be too deep to easily recover from.


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