October 26, 2010


Susan Brown, head of the Derry Public Library’s reference department, fires up the three computers dedicated to online research, available to the public whether they are library card holders or not. 
Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY — When the Derry Public Library decided recently to cancel some of its daily newspaper subscriptions, it was not meant to rob the reading public of its daily news.
Rather, said reference desk head librarian Susan Brown, it is a trade-off meant to give the people what they want, while sticking to an ever-challenging budget.
“We’re actually saving money, leveraging access for the public to a lot more quality material for a lot more people,” said Brown.
By doing away with print subscriptions to the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Nashua Telegraph and Concord Monitor, the library is saving $1,500 — which is over and above the $1,200 cost of expanding its subscription to NewsBank, an electronic clearinghouse of online publications.
Now, anyone with a library card — or anyone who comes into the library and sits at one of three dedicated reference computers, card or no card — can access newspaper archives, as recent as yesterday’s news, from any one of 1,400 national newspapers, magazines and seven New Hampshire papers.
The seven local publications are: the New Hampshire Union Leader, Concord Monitor, Derry News, Nashua Telegraph, Nashua Broadcaster, Eagle Times and Foster’s Daily Democrat.
Formerly, the library had a limited NewsBank subscription, which only included statewide library archive access to the Union Leader and the Concord Monitor. This expands its archival access of statewide news to seven papers.
“We decided to drop those papers that weren’t getting as much daily use,” said Brown. “And while we expect some people to be unhappy that there will no longer be a New York Times on the rack, we hope to get them excited about the fact that we have so much more to offer now.”
Times are changing. With the increasing use of handheld devices like iPads and smart phones, a growing segment of the population is opting to get books, newspapers and magazines electronically. But in an information age where only half the country’s population is online, the library is making sure that it is spending tax dollars on the print publications most relevant to its patrons while providing the most information to those who are scouting for news and knowledge on the Information Highway.
For instance, when Merrimack Library decided to spend the extra money for expanded NewsBank access, it was driven by its patrons interest in access to the Nashua Telegraph, which is not available to libraries through the state’s limited NewsBank offerings.
Part of Brown’s job is knowing exactly which databases are being accessed, and how often. As newspapers struggle with how much content to continue to offer the public for free, which includes archived editions, Brown feels strongly that the public library must continue to be a proponent for freedom of information when it comes to our culture’s most valuable information.
“In the big picture, the Internet has opened up accessibility.
But at the same time, it’s made people come to expect everything for free. Sure, you can find daily news information online from newspapers or magazines, but it’ actually not free — it’s costing some people a lot of money to create that news, and the general public doesn’t necessarily appreciate that,” Brown said.
“Making sure people still have free access to quality content is important to us as a library — otherwise, people will be left with the junk that is thrown up online, and the quality of news will be degraded over time,” Brown said.
Another consideration for the Derry library and its national counterparts is space. A month’s worth of newspapers takes up a lot of shelf space.
“We’re planning to redo the main library based mostly on our need for new carpeting and paint. We have to move the stacks anyway, but it made sense that, as the library continues to grow and change its offerings, our space is valuable; we need more space for other things,” Brown said.
This is not purely a decision made in deference to technology, said Brown.
The daily newspaper rack just got a little lighter,
after dropping some print editions in exchange for
a wider pool of online news sources.
“Those who are connected to the Internet and work with technology every day take for granted that U.S. Census statistics show 50 percent of Americans are not online. Whatever the proportion is for Derry, that proportion still needs access, which is why we have three computers dedicated for online resource access for anyone, regardless of whether they have a computer at home,” Brown said.
William McKeen, author, journalism professor and acting chairman of Boston University’s journalism department, said he prefers the handheld paper version of his favorite news products. He is no luddite — he’s just a fan of the serendipitous experience of discovering news that only comes when you read a newspaper by turning the pages.
What is lost to exclusive users of web-based information is the joy of discovery, said McKeen, of “turning the page and being surprised” at a gem of an article you weren’t looking for when you opened the newspaper to page A6 to finish a story from page one.
“I used to make my freshman students read a newspaper in print for the entire semester. Their reaction was, ‘Are you a moron? Do you know about the Internet?’ And my reaction to them was that if you object to paying for a subscription to a newspaper five days a week, maybe journalism isn’t for you,” said McKeen. “By the end of the semester, students were thanking me for making them read an entire newspaper.”
Derry Public Library Assistant Director Diane Arrato Gavrish said personal preference is part of the puzzle. But there is still a concern that, as content shifts to electronic delivery and the next generation of readers is more likely to carry their bookshelf around with them, stored in a handy electronic device, the library has a duty to maintain access to information that is free flowing.
“It’s a positive for the taxpayers of Derry. We’re giving people more access to more information for less money,” Gavrish said.

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