Frequently Asked Questions
about Newspaper Libraries

The Mission of News Libraries

Q1. What is the general mission of libraries at newspapers?
A1. The primary purpose of newspaper libraries is to support the reporting, editing and illustrating of news stories by making available to journalists information and graphic materials, both in print and electronic forms. The scope of a library's services depends a good deal on the size of the library staff, which can range from a part-time person in a smaller paper to over 50 people at the largest national publications. Generally, most libraries keep collections of reference books, magazines, photographs (print and electronic), and an archive of published stories either in a clipping file or in a computer database. In addition, libraries offer their patrons access to information located outside the company, particularly material which can be retrieved fast to meet the quick deadlines of daily journalism.

Q2. What types of people are served by newspaper libraries?
A2. Reporters, editors, news photographers, and news artists are the main users of newspaper libraries. But occasionally other company members (advertising sales people, business office personnel, production staff, etc.) call on librarians for research and access to clippings and microfilm copies of the paper and other materials. Libraries often help the general public with reference questions related to the news. At larger papers public service is handled by an "information store," fee-based operations which sell copies of stories and photographs that ran in the publication.

Q3 How have newspaper libraries evolved over the years?
A3. The development of newspaper libraries parallels the evolution of technology used to edit and produce the newspaper. The first libraries, known as morgues, were places that housed clippings and photographic plates. (The term "morgue" could have refered to the collecting of material for future obituaries or to the idea of clippings being old or "dead" news.) Over the years, newspaper libraries grew in size and sophistication. Filing cabinets gave way to mechanical file systems with brand names such as Lektriever or Kardex. Bound copies of newspaper were supplanted by microfilm reproduction of the publication. The adoption of computers for writing and editing news stories made possible the archiving of published stories in electronic systems. Most large newspapers have been collecting stories in computers since the early 1980s. And now many smaller papers use desktop computers for text archives. Likewise, the development of electronic scanning and editing of photographs has led to the establishment of image databases--containing both photographs and news illustrations--at most newspapers.


Q1. How do news librarians decide what to file?
A1. To decide what to file, news librarians must first determine whom the library serves and what are these users' needs. There are two ways to find out: surveying library users to see what they would like to see clipped and filed from the newspaper, and/or keeping a log of information requests. News library users are generally members of the news writing, editing and photographic staffs in the main office as well as in the bureaus. But sometimes members of other departments, such as marketing, circulation and advertising may also use the news library. Clients' needs, as well as the budget, dictate what should be clipped and filed. Large newspapers archive most materials that are published. Smaller papers, limited by small budgets and staffs, tend to be more selective in what they file.

Q2. How do news librarians process clippings? What tools and standards do they use? And how are clippings filed?
A2. Processing of clipping is a time-consuming and labor-intensive task. It includes the following steps:

2.1. Preparing the paper for marking. Depending on the newspaper's number of editions and its news library's filing system, between six to 10 copies of the paper are needed. The paper is cut into single sheets for easy handling.

2.2. Marking, or classifying (also called "indexing") the paper. Marking is one of the most important steps in the clipping procedure as it specifies how each article is to be filed and how many copies of each are be needed. The marker should ask herself when marking each article: How would she or anyone look for this specific article? And where should this article be filed so that it can also be found when needed? Generally articles are filed under topical, or subject, and biographical, or people, headings, and the marking process reflects this division. As such, the marker indexes each article accordingly as she proceeds with the marking.

Marking can be done either with a ball-point or felt tip pen using different colors for different editions or sources; or with a pencil for easy corrections. Marking symbols vary at each news library. Some librarians simply underline or circle a heading or write the heading in the area of the headline. Others circle the major heading, underline the first subhead and double underline the second subhead. Other symbols, such as a dotted line, parenthesis, different colors, may be used for subheads.

2.3. Stamping, or dating articles to be clipped. Some librarians prefer to date stamp articles before cutting them; others choose to stamp them after the cutting. Some just stamp the publication date on each article; others also put in additional information, such as the section, edition and page number where an article appeared. Whatever information that goes with the article should be stamped where it, or at least part of it, can be seen after the article is folded.

2.4. Cutting or clipping. Many news librarians use a system of tearing the clippings against a straightedge. Others use razors mounted on handles or long-bladed scissors. The choice of tools depends on what the librarian feels is comfortable and efficient. When joining clippings to their jumps, news librarians should consider whether a jump could be attached to the article's main body with the reverse sides together to permit one-page photocopying without taking the articles apart.

2.5. Folding and sorting the clippings. Clippings should be folded so that the subject heading, date stamp and lead paragraph of the story are all visible. How small the clippings should be folded is dictated by the size of the filing envelopes used. The most common size is about 4 by 6 inches. However, some news libraries prefer letter-size folders to file clippings, or even paste clippings in scrapbooks. The most commonly used clipping containers are open-ended 4 by 6 envelopes.

2.6. Sorting and filing clippings involves assigning clippings to their destinations, topical, biographical or obituary. Clippings must be alphabetized and filed accordingly for easy and fast retrieval.

Q3. How are old clippings preserved?
A3. To save space and search time and to maintain the integrity of the files as well as to preserve old clippings, some libraries weed clippings every two years or so. Old clippings are put on microfilm or microfiche. Some libraries are preserving old clippings using optical scanning. The use of either method -- microfilming or optical scanning -- depends on available funds.

Other Types of News Librarians

Q1. Do news librarians work in other organizations besides newspapers?
A1. Yes! Magazines employ libraries, some radio stations have librarians on their staff (like National Public Radio (NPR)) and television stations also employ librarians to help with news broadcasts (CNN, for example). News librarians also work in the libraries of journalism departments at universities. There are also several colleges and universities that employ news librarians in their communications/public relations offices.


Q1. What do news librarians make?
A1. Salaries for news librarians vary on a number of factors, like where they work, what geographical area of the country they're in, what their skill levels are, what their duties are, and how many years of experience they have. It has been a while since there has been a comprehensive salary survey of news librarians. A 1994 Newspaper Guild survey of librarians salaries is one salary that targeted news librarians. The Special Libraries Association, which has a division for news librarians, does an annual salary survey of their membership, which includes a variety of librarians and information professionals.

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Last Updated: 04/29/03
Carolyn Edds