Library Charged $1.5 Million for Journal Archive
Library turned down NewsBank offer; Journal Sentinel promises archive, but when?
Last Tuesday, when more than a century’s worth of historic on-line archives of The Milwaukee Journal and Milwaukee Sentinel abruptly disappeared from the internet, it came without warning to City Librarian Paula Kiely, she said in an interview in her office in the Central Library Monday. “I spent 60 per cent of my day today working on this,” Kiely said. Much of that was gathering files relating to the archives, and in communications with parties involved in the situation.
The library was originally a key player in the digitization of the newspaper archives. Kiely says she was approached by Journal Sentinel digital news editor Alan King in late 2008 to have the papers digitized by Google, and she offered to assist. She contacted Torilo Verme of Google who explained that the company would provide free access to the archives for the world. Revenues would come from advertisements, she was told, which would be split between Google and the original publishers of the work — not the library.
Google said the program “would be a great benefit to the community,” and that it had “no plans to sell it to a third party.” Intrigued, Kiely asked if her colleagues on the Urban Library Council, a national trade group had heard of the digitization. “Nobody had experienced it at that time. We were one of the first.” Kiely took the novel proposal to her board, which gave its approval.
“It seemed like a win-win situation at the time,” Kiely said Monday. “Now, not so much.”
Google would digitize microfilmed versions of the paper held by ProQuest, an Ann Arbor firm founded in 1938 as University Microfilms.
Library Owned 30 Per Cent of Issues Digitized
The work was soon underway when a catch developed — the ProQuest archives were incomplete. Milwaukee Journal images from 1910-1920 were unavailable, as were Milwaukee Sentinel images from 1837-1909. This amounted to about 30 per cent of the total. But Kiely and the library let Google digitize the films it owned from those years, and a new resource was made available to the public.
By 2011 Google had digitized nearly one million pages from 2,000 papers worldwide when it called off the project with little explanation. Some felt that the company was facing possible copyright issues, which it thought it had resolved by making scanned images — and not text — available. Google made this statement at the time, mentioning specifically a Milwaukee paper:
“As part of the Google News Archives digitization program we collaborated to make older newspapers accessible and searchable online. These have included publications like the London Advertiser in 1895, L’Ami du Lecteur at the turn of the century, and the Milwaukee Sentinel from 1910 to 1995.
“Users can continue to search digitized newspapers at http://news.google.com/archivesearch, but we don’t plan to introduce any further features or functionality to the Google News Archives and we are no longer accepting new microfilm or digital files for processing.”
However, the Milwaukee files remained accessible for searching until last week.
Was Approached in May
At the request of Gannett, the Journal Sentinel’s new owner, the newspaper asked Google to hand over the keys to the archives to NewsBank, and Google acquiesced.
Then, in spring, a salesperson from NewsBank came calling to Kiely, offering on May 3rd to sell the rights to the database to the library, this same database which had gotten 30 percent of its materials from the library. The offer would expire on May 30th.
“The price they were asking for the database was a surprise, so we chose not to act on it,” Kiely said.
For the Journal archives alone from 1841-1960, the company was asking for a $1.5 million payment! — with an additional one per cent assessment for the next three years. “We would own the database,” Kiely said.
Kiely says she contacted Journal Sentinel executives who were not aware of the sums asked by NewsBank; nor, she said, were they aware that 30 per cent of the archive was based on library-owned documents.
And, here the matter stands, unresolved, with many questions raised, and a huge loss to the community of a valuable resource. The Milwaukee Sentinel is the only paper of the two to have been indexed by the library. It has a card catalog that covers the paper from 1837-1890 — hardly a search tool of much use, but the only one left.
Kiely says she spoke to Sherman Williams of the Journal Sentinel who told her that the entire archive would soon be available.
I wrote to Journal Sentinel president Chris Stegman, who spoke of a “solution” to the paper’s self-inflicted problem. He responded:
“Our archives should be available again soon — as we switch over to our new parent company’s systems we are also switching our archiving system from Google to NewsBank. There is a delay in the process but we hope to have them available again shortly. I apologize for the inconvenience and hope our solution is up and running soon.”
But it would appear some kind of negotiation is going on between NewsBank and the Journal Sentinel. Kiely, who spoke to NewsBank Monday, says a representative told her they would “bring up the database as soon as they have an agreement.”
Journal Sentinel Not First NewsBank Hostage
Although the Milwaukee papers were among the first to be digitized, they were not the first to be held hostage by NewsBank, which charged other public libraries the following prices, according to Kiely.
- The Seattle Public library paid $400,000 for the digital rights to the Seattle Times
- The East Baton Rouge Public Library paid $800,000 for the rights to the Baton Rouge Advocate
- The Sacramento Public Library will pay $1.2 million over 5 years for the Sacramento Bee records.