Alarmed by “news deserts,” librarians propose own news operations
Massachusetts librarians, journalists discuss joint concerns
By Dave Bloss
R.I. Library Report writer
MARLBOROUGH, Mass. - Twentieth Century library scene: At the big reference room desk, a reader leafs through back copies of the local newspaper, looking perhaps for that one article needed to finish a term paper, buttress research for a new business plan, or simply to confirm a memory of the past.
Twenty-First Century library scene: Seated around the big reference room desk are a group of library employees and citizens, writing, editing and designing the local newspaper or Website.
Across America, libraries have long depended on local newspapers to publicize library acquisitions and programs. Newspaper coverage and calendar listings have become more important as government aid to libraries shrinks. Libraries that are seeking aid are often judged by attendance at library programs.
But in recent years newspapers have either been closing entirely, or shrinking or eliminating local coverage.
At an April 27 seminar hosted by the Massachusetts Library System at its Marlborough offices, librarians, community activists and journalists learned about two libraries that are taking local news production into their own hands.
Manor Ink (www.manorink.com) has been founded by the Livingston Manor (NY) Free Library as a newspaper/website produced by local students under the guidance of library employees and Barbara Gref, a retired newspaper editor. In addition to coverage of library events such as a community college offering advice to prospective students and their parents, the student-journalists gather news with a particular eye on environmental stories in their Catskills region known for its world-renowned fly-fishing streams.
Gref suggested the program to library officials after the local weekly newspaper folded. She admits it would be easier to simply run a website, but says both the students and the community enjoy having a print product. Students talk about their work in a YouTube video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IsyNz0O6Vo4
Haverhill (MA) Public Library Director Carol Verny and a group of concerned citizens have organized Haverhill Matters www.haverhillmatters.org to fill a gap in local news coverage. Verny calls Haverhill a “news desert” as regional media organizations continue to reduce coverage of the city.
The group is currently surveying citizens to see what news the community needs and wants. Haverhill Matters plans to use this data to develop a local online news product. Among the group’s ideas are creating a community events calendar and organizing easy access to public records and other data base addresses. Verny said she wants the library to serve the growing number of users who access information from home computers and mobile devices instead of visiting the library.
Other librarians in attendance spoke of making access to information easier. Jennifer Belton joined the Woodstock (VT) Library in January after working for 20 years at the Washington Post where she says she transformed a “news morgue” (or library) into a true online information center. Now she is working on how best to collaborate with the local newspaper.
Leigh Montgomery, news librarian at the Christian Science Monitor, spoke of the dangers of news organization archives being lost and of work being done by a Massachusetts Library System task force on the problem.
Two Massachusetts librarians showed that even in the age of computers, the human touch is vital to connecting with the community. Monson (MA) Free Library Director Katie Krol hired a local newspaper reporter as a part-timer at the library to strengthen the connection with local media. Veteran Warren (MA) Public Library Director Sylvia Buck shared her decade-long experience working with out-of-town journalists covering the Molly Bish abduction-murder case.
The seminar was co-sponsored by the New England News Forum and Journalism That Matters Inc. with help from the New England Newspaper & Press Association.
For more information about the Marlborough, Mass. meeting, “Common Goals: New Projects for Connecting Libraries, News, and Communities,” including notes by moderator, Bill Densmore, director of “Journalism That Matters,” go to: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1Eg1npEBxu5b_VIfHrDbYkejIQvQU-cT-N16UbMR73bA/edit