Journalists vs Librarians

Tale of 2 polls: What do librarians have that journalists don’t?

America’s journalists, relentlessly attacked by President Trump, are also taking a beating in public opinion. However, their information-gathering cousins, librarians, are riding a cloud of popularity.

Is there something journalists can learn from librarians?

The Knight Foundation and Gallup gave the latest bad news to journalists on Wednesday, weighing in a mammoth poll showing only 33 percent of Americans have a positive view of the news media. Of 18- to 29-year-olds polled, only 22 percent trust the media.

By huge majorities, Americans see major problems with:

  • Owners of news outlets attempting to influence the ways stories are reported.
  • News organizations being too dramatic or too sensational in order to attract more readers or viewers.
  • Too much bias in the reporting of news stories that are supposed to be objective (only 44 percent can think of a news source that they believe reports the news objectively).

Contrast that with a Pew Research poll in August, in which 78 percent of Americans feel that public libraries help them find information that is trustworthy and reliable.Among 18- to 35-year-olds, that trust jumps to 87 percent, with 85 percent of Millennials saying librarians help them learn new things. Overall, 65 percent of U.S. adults say libraries help them grow as people.
The divergence in trust comes as some libraries have begun filling in the gaps left behind by shrinking traditional media, or gingerly taking over primary duties in areas abandoned by news outlets.

What explains the divide? Marilyn Johnson, author of  “This Book Is Overdue: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All,” says librarians have a head start. “Their mission is not to exploit us or make money off us, so they’re ahead of the game right out of the gate,” she says.

At a time when journalists are encouraged to engage with the community, librarians have been doing that for years. In addition to their day jobs, Johnson says, librarians help citizens find tax forms, navigate benefits, build resumes and complete job applications. One librarian helped Johnson learn how to incorporate.

Americans have been conditioned since they were kids to trust libraries and librarians, says Laura Saunders, an associate professor in library science at Simmons College.

“Kids who were taken to the library from a young age, who enjoyed story hour and remember getting their own library cards and borrowing their own books, will have positive associations,” Saunders says. At the same time, Americans “are hearing lots of criticism of news and media outlets, which again can color their thinking on those outlets as sources of information.”

Another advantage of librarians: Hosting GED and ESL classes, community circle meet-ups and providing temporary shelter for the homeless. These acts help libraries build trust among marginalized groups. As part of their job, librarians “are taught to help people access and evaluate information, but not to judge people’s questions or motives, but rather to support their intellectual freedom,” Saunders says.

GraphJournalists may be able to learn something that librarians themselves have been struggling with for years: How to quantify their value.

“Everybody loves libraries, that’s not a problem. Whether they value them, it’s another question. We’re perceived as free. You used to pay for news; now you get it online for free. You folks are feeling some of our pain,’’ says Mike Sullivan, who runs the public library in Weare, New Hampshire.

Sullivan knows both libraries and journalists have to do more outreach — and explanation. He has taken the lead in his community in publicizing events and reporting news as editor of a weekly town newspaper he began in March.

On the value question, his library has begun printing the acquisition cost of materials that card-holders check out. That way, citizens see how much they “saved” by using the library for books and DVDs, both for the current item and a total for the year. It’s much like a CVS receipt for savings-to-date; or, seen another way, what some Sunday newspapers have done with the value of the coupons in each edition.

But journalism’s value is much greater than coupons, and broadcasting a community’s distinctiveness is only part of the mission. Libraries cannot bring down a president, or regularly push accountability of government officials who may help fund the institution.

One thing news outlets should do is work more closely with libraries, says Tom Huang, who has done just that in spearheading several partnerships as assistant managing editor for features and community engagement at the Dallas Morning News.

In get-togethers or classes with librarians and patrons, journalists can show the work they do to provide accurate information. They could encourage patrons to follow them to a community meeting. The Morning News has helped train scores of high-schoolers on journalism techniques, Huang says.

Moving closer to librarians might enhance journalism’s standing as well.

In areas not served by traditional news outlets, libraries, already trusted by the community, could become a hub for news collection, Huang says. There would have to be training on one-on-one interviewing techniques or how to be an assigner or “editor” for events or stories done by community members — as well as the understanding that these are beginning steps to journalism, not involved investigative pieces.

“Ultimately, we could train librarians to do some of this stuff,” Huang says. “It’s not like it’s rocket science.”

Know of other library-journalism collaborations? Please email the author at beardwrites@gmail.com with examples.


Welcome to your local library, which also happens to be a newsroom

Its paper closed, one paper bounced back — with a librarian in charge

Where the buffalo roam, an idea to keep local news alive

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    David Beard

    David Beard is a research fellow at the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy


A Penny For Your Thoughts (on Meeting)

In these days of cellphones and Skype, FaceTime, GoToMeeting and other virtual gatherings, it’s nostalgic to remember a time when people actually met face-to-face to transact business and socialize. So it was in 1921 when the Bureau of Municipal Research was ferreting out corruption and teaching New York and cities around the country how to govern effectively. To do this it needed to meet which meant coordinating the schedules of a dozen or more very busy men (and they all were men back then). So the decidedly low tech-solution of the day was to give trustees pre-addressed penny (!) postcards with the date and time of the next meeting typed in. All the respondents had to do was cross out “can” or “cannot” and sign their names.

Some opted to add a note of explanation. For the meeting of Jan. 21, 1921, as the Bureau was transitioning to the National Institute of Public Administration (later just the IPA), Henry Bruère, one of the BMR’s legendary “ABC” founders, wrote in that I “hope to” attend. “But I shall be later as it is too early for me,” he scrawled in pen. He had another meeting at 4:30. (See how busy?)

Sam A. Lewisohn, lawyer and philanthropist and son of Adolph Lewisohn who donated the money for City College’s Lewisohn Stadium (built in 1915, demolished in 1973) wrote I “will try to” attend. R. Fulton Cutting wrote he would simply attend.

What would they have made of today’s online calendars?


Inventing a Science of Government

The “Father” of the Research Bureau


The Times They Are (Not) A-Changin’

You all know what this is, right?

Of course, it’s a New York City subway Fare Decoder Circuit,– Heavy Duty Type, circa 1952. Don’t feel bad if you can’t make much sense of it — we can’t either.

So what’s the point?

Bear with us.

The diagram comes from a 65-year-old report of the Mayor’s Committee on Management Survey, that mouthful of a municipal reform effort that consumed New York through the early 1950’s and was instrumental in reshaping the city for the modern era.  You’ll remember, no doubt, that the executive director was Luther Gulick. Of course. We’ve written about the MCOMS before. It began under Mayor William O’Dwyer (who resigned in a police corruption scandal), continued under Mayor Vincent Impellitteri, and concluded under Mayor Robert Wagner.

Road Rage, 1952: An Overnight Parking Tax

The Rich Blue Line: NYPD, 1952

Gotham Gridlock — Then and Now

The management survey examined every aspect of the city’s operations, including its vital transit lifelines. Then (as now) the subway and bus system was in crisis. Subways in particular were jammed, (or let’s say rapid transit because the Third Avenue El was running until 1955 in Manhattan, the elevated lines on Second, Sixth and Ninth Avenues having previously been torn down). One plan was to extend the length of trains from the usual seven cars to as many as fourteen.  (Most now run eight to eleven cars). That would have required a lengthening of some stations. Or a complicated system of stopping only some cars (front or back) at certain stations. Planners considered skip-stop service, by-passing certain emptier stations at rush hour. Some of the innovations were adopted over the years.

But what caught our eye (and why we were moved to write this) was a little notation in the decoder circuit diagram — did you catch it?

Change Dispenser.

Yes, the train turnstiles actually provided change! The fare was a nickel from 1904 to 1948 — a nickel in 1904 was equivalent to about $1.33 — and doubled to a dime in 1948 ($1 today), rising to 15 cents in 1953 ($1.34).

But you got change for, say, a quarter. How cool was that! Bus drivers made change until 1969, when you had to start dropping in the exact fare — 20 cents.


How quaint. How civilized.

Perhaps the end of the era came in 1953 with the arrival of the subway token — and a disgusting practice. Scam artists would stuff the turnstile slots with paper and later suck out the trapped token. To stymie them, cops would sometimes sprinkle the slots with chili powder.


That all ended with the arrival of the MetroCard in 2003. But ahh for the days of the change-dispensers.


Tennis, Anyone?

Say what you want about Luther Gulick, just don’t joke about his faults — those on the tennis court, anyway. Newsweek tried it light-heartedly in a wartime profile, and found itself…well, shall we say, ill-served? Here’s how it started, (with thanks to our intrepid digitizer-in-chief, Sarah Rappo, who spotted the material in a catch-all alphabetical file, “N” for Newsweek):

You’ll notice, by the way, that Gulick helped Governor (not yet Prez) Calvin Cooledge straighten out the Massachusetts budget. Also that among the triumvirate who reorganized the executive branch for FDR, Louis Brownlow was the idea man, Charles Merriam was the brakes, and Gulick was the one who ran around doing the hard work — the leg man.

Anyway, back to tennis.

In its profile of Gulick on July, 13, 1942, Newsweek mentioned he “hates publicity” — prompting the indecipherable friend of Gulick’s who saw the article to scribble in the margin in red pencil But not doing so bad.

The piece went on to note that Gulick was the father of two boys, a lover of modern music and painting, and a rather bad tennis player…

The wielder of the red pencil was moved to scrawl, I’d sue ’em.

Gulick went him one better. He challenged all editors of Newsweek, male or female, within ten years of his age (which was then 50) to a deadly duel. “Weapons: Tennis raquets [sic] and so-called Victory balls.”

Gulick also took modest issue with the magazine’s characterization of his role in reorganizing the Army’s Services of Supply division. In truth, Gulick protested, he played a “very, very minor part.”

The tennis challenge left Newsweek officially quaking but actually unfazed, replied Managing Editor Chet Shaw.  The 40-to 60-year-old staffers in Gulick’s bracket either didn’t play the game “or else would collapse after a few minute of exercise.”

Advantage, Gulick.