The Library Report
WHAT: An online public journalism project will explore the essential role played by libraries as they face an uncharted future. The project will examine their past, present and future functions and will encourage public support for libraries through professional, fair and comprehensive coverage. Stories will examine the evolving range of services libraries provide and the financial and technical challenges they face in a digitizing world. We will hear the voices of those working to keep libraries alive and those who benefit from this unparalleled resource.
WHO: Professional journalists will lead the project, seeking broad participation of library patrons, professionals, volunteers, benefactors and organizations to help chart the direction of the project and produce multimedia stories for online distribution. The project website will serve as a public square for the exchange of necessary information, from State House budget battles over library funding to listings of public activities at libraries.
HOW: A nonprofit corporation named “The Public Square” and modeled on efforts like ProPublica, the Internet-based journalism project, will produce articles, videos and audio reports, while partnering with existing media to produce and display its reports. The Public Square platform will be set up as a flexible format suitable for similar projects in the future.
WHY: Libraries have traditionally been a major route up the educational (and social) ladder for those with few resources. Today strained public resources threaten Rhode Island’s traditionally robust support for libraries, at a time when rapid changes in technology, such as electronic books, together with new reading patterns and evolving community needs, are redefining the role of libraries. At the same time, shrinking print and broadcast news budgets have reduced coverage of libraries and long-form journalism in general, leaving this story untold.
WHEN: The Library Report will last between one and two years and begin when adequate funding is obtained from foundation and private sources. Other funding possibilities will be vigorously pursued with an eye towards ultimate sustainability.
Here are some of the ideas we came up as we discussed the project originally. Our thinking continues to evolve. And we welcome suggestions.
* The Library Report's interactive Web site will be the core showcase for the project’s work. The Web site will demonstrate the Internet’s potential as a multi-media delivery system, and the project will be built using technology that is easy to use by producers and consumers.
* A news unit will report on breaking news, such as library mergers, local and state library budget making, with written and video reports. This unit also will document the current work of libraries, producing features about patrons, librarians and programs.
* A history division will create and update existing histories of every Rhode Island library. The project will organize and support volunteer teams to produce individual histories, and the project also will produce a history of the Rhode Island library movement.
* Live videocasts will broadcast events such as library workshops, trustees’ meetings, lectures and book discussions. The project will experiment with evolving technologies, such as use of “Skype”style videoconferencing to create “virtual” book clubs, whose members participate from home via computer.
* Best practices by individual libraries and organizations will be documented, as will innovative services, such as helping the jobless find work, providing a safe environment for latchkey kids and the use of libraries as centers of community activities.
* The future of libraries will be a central focus of the project, which will report about on-going efforts by libraries to address new needs. The project also will be a catalyst to promote innovation and discussion of libraries’ evolving roles.
* Innovative features will include the opportunity for library employees and patrons to speak in their own voices, whether in personal blogs, essays, or oral histories related to the overall project. Patrons can be encouraged to set up virtual book clubs, using Skype or similar technology.
* The goal is to enable libraries to have a higher public profile through increased publicity and interaction with patrons - both of which should increase the public's appreciation and support for libraries, which in turn could influence local and state budget-making priorities.
Dave has worked with his wife, Jody McPhillips, for more than a decade on projects to train journalists in emerging democracies. During 2009 through 2011, he was academic consultant in establishing the World Media Academy in Delhi, India. Prior to that he worked in East Timor, Georgia and Cambodia. A graduate of Pennsylvania State University, he has been the former sports editor of the Providence Journal, assistant managing editor of the Evening Times of Pawtucket, and a sportswriter for Brazosport Facts, Clute, Texas and the Pennsylvania Mirror, State College, Pa.
Linda is a retired news librarian with over thirty years in journalism, including 17 years as the Library Director at the Providence Journal. She has been active in the library community in Rhode Island for over 20 years.
She served on the Governor’s Task Force for Libraries and was president of the Rhode Island Chapter of the Special Libraries Association (SLA). She was also Chair of the News Division of SLA, which awarded her its highest honor in 2010. Linda is currently President of the Board of Trustees of the Jesse M. Smith Memorial Library in Burrillville. Linda has a BA from St. Lawrence University and earned her MLS at Rutgers University.
A freelance writer, Brian is the author of The Miriam Hospital, A gift to the city, a history of the Providence, R.I. hospital. He was a reporter for 35 years at the Providence Journal, where he served as a general assignment reporter, manager of the newspaper's Newport news bureau, banking writer, environmental reporter, TV critic and special writer covering the economics of health care. For several years, he wrote a feature-column, "Side Streets." Previously, he worked at the Springfield Union in Massachusetts and United Press International in Hartford, Conn.
Gina Macris worked as a reporter and bureau manager at the Providence Journal for 42 years, retiring in July, 2012. Her coverage has spanned the range of public discourse in Rhode Island, with a focus on issues affecting children and families, including the Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth and Families; the Providence school system, and most recently, Rhode Island’s public college system.
A graduate of Brown University, she has won several awards, including best series from the New England Press Association in 1986 for the account of the medically-fraught infancy of her first son, Michael, born with Down syndrome three years earlier.
For a decade Jody, and her husband, Dave Bloss, have worked to train journalists in emerging democracies. Most recently, she was a founder of the International Media Institute of India in New Delhi, a MacArthur and Knight foundations-sponsored program. Her other work has been in the Republic of Georgia, Timor-Leste, and Cambodia. Previously, she was a reporter at the Providence Journal, including four years in the paper's Washington bureau. A graduate of Smith College, she also was an editor at the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, Rochester, N.Y.