Library Nears Deal on Newspaper Archives

Agreement with Ann Arbor News could serve as model
Thousands of clipping files like these will be turned over to the Ann Arbor District Library.

Thousands of clipping files like these will be among the material turned over to the Ann Arbor District Library, after a deal is struck with owners of the former Ann Arbor News. (Photo by the writer.)

Ann Arbor District Library board meeting (Nov. 17, 2009): Board members were briefed on Monday about a pending deal with the Herald Publishing Co., owners of the former Ann Arbor News, which is allowing the library to digitize the newspaper’s archives of photographs and newspaper clippings dating back decades. The 174-year-old Ann Arbor News closed in July of 2009.

Josie Parker, AADL’s director, said that accepting the agreement is likely the most important decision the board would make during its tenure, and could serve as a model for other libraries in the future. She also cautioned that though the library isn’t paying for the collection, it’s not free. “From the moment we get it, it’ll cost us,” she said.

Several library employees who are keen to get started on the project attended the meeting, including one librarian who gave Parker a high five when the meeting ended, to celebrate the board’s decision to move ahead with the project.

The board also spent a portion of the meeting reviewing and modifying a draft of its strategic initiatives, and got an update on AADL’s financial performance via a report on the financial audit for fiscal 2009. And performance of a different sort was reflected in two awards that the library recently received, which Parker described to the board, earning her and the rest of the staff a round of applause.

Ann Arbor News Archives

Mark Malven, an attorney with the law firm Dykema, was on hand Monday evening to review a draft copy of an agreement between the library and the Herald Publishing Co. The board was asked to vote on a resolution that authorized AADL director Josie Parker to sign the agreement when it is finalized, which Parker expects to occur later this month.

The Herald Publishing Co. is part of Advance Publications Inc., the New York corporation which closed the Ann Arbor News this summer and which subsequently agreed to give the library, with some strings attached, a large portion of the newspaper’s archives. The collection includes photographs and photo negatives (except for those related to University of Michigan football and basketball), clipping files and bound copies – complete sets of the newspaper editions, some dating back more than 100 years. At Monday’s meeting, Malven explained that the library would get the right to digitize these materials, excluding the bound copies. Herald will retain ownership of the originals.

Mark Malven, an attorney with the law firm Dykema, briefed the library board on Monday night about a deal being negotiated for the archives of the Ann Arbor News. (Photo by the writer.)

Mark Malven, an attorney with the law firm Dykema, briefed the library board on Monday night about a deal being negotiated for the archives of the Ann Arbor News. Malven is representing the library in the negotiations. (Photo by the writer.)

The deal has been in the works for months. At their Aug. 17 meeting, the board approved a resolution authorizing up to $63,000 to lease a maximum of 3,500 square feet (at $18 per square foot) to store the collection.

One of the final pieces being worked out is a way to protect the library’s rights if the Herald decides to sell the collection or if the firm goes into bankruptcy and its assets are sold.

Board member Prue Rosenthal expressed some skepticism about the agreement. “It does seem like they’re giving it then taking it back in about 12 different places.”

Malven responded, saying that he was pleased with the deal, and surprised that the library was getting rights as broad as they are. From Herald Publishing’s point of view, he said, the library isn’t paying for the use of these materials. He said it’s common to have arrangements between two commercial entities, but not between a company and a library.

Board members almost immediately began asking questions, which prompted Malven to say that it felt like the Supreme Court, when an attorney begins a presentation but doesn’t get far before being questioned by the justices. “Welcome to my world,” Parker quipped.

Here are some elements of the deal, as drawn out by board members’ questions:

  • Though Herald had some of its employees go through the collection and pull out photographs and negatives that it wanted to retain – specifically related to University of Michigan football and basketball, which have commercial value – they’ve asked that if AADL comes across something in that category, the library will turn it over to Herald and not digitize it. Parker said that because there is so much material – roughly 1 million photographs and negatives – it was possible that some things had been overlooked.
  • Herald retains copyrights to the material. The library will store it, organize it, and digitize it, with certain exceptions. AADL has the rights to control the use of the digitized content, but doesn’t have the right to sell the digitized work.
  • Herald can ask for the original material back, but not until after the library has digitized it.
  • The library’s current insurance will cover the collection while it’s in AADL’s possession, but there will likely be additional insurance required to cover the material that will be kept in a separate storage facility.
  • The bound volumes, many of which are damaged and in fragile condition, can be used by the library, but not digitized. That’s because Herald owns microfilm copies of those volumes and plans to digitize the full newspapers. Parker described the bound volumes as an incredible research tool. For one thing, it will allow librarians to figure out which photographs were actually published. Typically, only a small subset of the total number of images taken by a photographer on assignment made it into print.
  • The library company will pay to move the material, which is located in the former Ann Arbor News building at the corner of Huron and Division. It will cost less than $10,000 to move, Parker said. She hopes to take possession of the collection by the end of the year.

There was some discussion of the library’s legal exposure. Board member Carola Stearns sought to clarify who was liable if the library digitizes a photograph and puts in online, and the photographer who took that photo sees it and decides to sue. Malven said that Herald Publishing wasn’t making any warranties on the material – there’s concern about taking on exposure that might be caused by the library’s actions, he said.

Malven said that typically, in a situation like the one that Stearns described, an attorney for the photographer would simply issue a cease-and-desist letter, asking the library to take down the photograph. The agreement with Herald Publishing makes it clear that it’s the library’s responsibility to respond, he said. Parker pointed out that there’s a collaboration clause in the agreement too, meaning that the company would help out if it and the library are jointly sued.

The board also discussed the cost of taking on this project. Margaret Leary pointed out that library staff will be required to do a huge amount of work to organize and digitize the collection. There are opportunity costs associated with it as well, she said – things that the staff won’t be able to do, because they’ll be working on this project. Parker added that there might be things that the library has to stop doing as well, because of staff resources that will be diverted to the collection. “This is a big responsibility that we, the board, are taking on,” Leary said.

The board voted unanimously to give Parker the authority to finalize an agreement for the newspaper archives.

Though all board members had copies of the draft agreement as it was reviewed by the attorney during the public meeting, Parker declined to release a copy to The Chronicle, saying it was still in draft form.

Director’s Report: Proposals for Top of “Library Lot”

Parker told the board that city officials had not yet made public the six proposals they had received on Friday, Nov. 13, for development above the city-owned parking structure next to the library’s downtown building. On that site, known informally as the Library Lot, the Downtown Development Authority is building an underground parking structure. The city issued a Request for Proposals earlier this year, to solicit projects for the top of the structure.

Parker said that as soon as those proposals are made available, she’ll take a look at them and report back to the board.

She also told the board that there was nothing new to report regarding negotiations with the city over easements requested for that project. [See Chronicle coverage: "Navigating Library Lane: Library board asks for easement on city-owned 'private' road"]

Awards for AADL

Also during her director’s report, Josie Parker described two awards that the library recently received, and how they reflect the work of the AADL.

The library was one of 10 systems nationwide in its budget category – and the only one in Michigan – to receive a 5-Star rating from the Library Journal, the highest rating awarded. AADL is in the category of libraries with an annual budget of between $10 million to $29.9 million. The rating is based on 2007 data that was reported by libraries to the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences, and includes circulation transactions per capita, visits to library buildings per capita, computer sessions per capita and program attendance per capita.

Since 2007, the library’s numbers have grown considerably, Parker said. Annual circulation is up 30% to 9.2 million transactions, for example, and event attendance has increased 27% to 58,752.

The measurements used in making this award reflect how patrons actually use the library, Parker said, and as such are more important than other data – like the number of books that the library buys or the square footage of its branches. “Those are not outcomes,” she said, “but this is.” This is the second year in a row that AADL has received a 5-Star rating.

Separately, the library received a 2009 Voice of the People award for excellence, based on a survey conducted by the International City/County Management Association and the National Research Center. The award is based on responses to a 2008 National Citizens Survey of nearly 1,000 Ann Arbor residents. The library and the city of Ann Arbor’s recreation services were cited by residents who rated the quality of life in Ann Arbor as “excellent” or “good.”

Parker said the two awards reflect how well the library performs, measured in two totally different ways. The board and staff who attended Monday’s meeting gave a round of applause following her remarks.

Strategic Initiatives

At their Sept. 30 retreat, AADL board members had a wide-ranging discussion, with input from senior staff, about the library’s future, in part with an eye toward updating their strategic plan. At Monday’s meeting, the board reviewed a draft of AADL’s strategic initiatives, looking at six categories: organizational development, communications, services, products, finances and facilities. They are not substantially different from the library’s current strategic initiatives, adopted in 2004.

The board’s planning committee – consisting of board president Rebecca Head, Carola Stearns and Margaret Leary – developed a draft document of revised initiatives, with input from AADL director Josie Parker as well as Celeste Choate, AADL’s associate director for services, collections & access, and Eli Neiburger, associate director for IT and production.

In revising the strategic initiatives, Head told her colleagues that the planning committee focused on four areas: 1) the need for more space – and larger venues – in which to hold events, 2) the shift from print to non-print resources, and how to handle that transition, 3) how best to communicate with the public, and 4) how to make library accessible to variety of people in community.

Stearns commented that within the library’s broad strategic initiatives, it was important to give staff the flexibility to adjust to the changing environment – including changes in the economy and in technology – while maintaining their leadership role within the community and the profession.

Over the next few months, the library staff will develop some specific goals designed to implement those big-picture initiatives, Head said. The planning committee will meet to discuss those goals, then bring the final version back to the board at their Feb. 15 meeting.

Financial Audit

Tracey Kasparke, a CPA and manager of governmental services for the accounting firm Rehmann Robson, walked the board through the audit report for AADL’s fiscal year ending June 30, 2009. “Overall, it was a smooth audit, as it always is,” she told the board.

Board member Barbara Murphy noted that this was the eighth consecutive year that the library had received an “absolutely clean audit.” The remark was likely an oblique reference to financial issues under the library’s previous leadership, including a deficit of nearly $1 million in 2000. Later that year, the library’s former financial director, Don Dely, was found guilty of embezzling $119,387 from the library from 1997 to 2000, according to a report in the Ann Arbor News.

Present: Rebecca Head, Margaret Leary, Barbara Murphy, Jan Barney Newman, Prue Rosenthal, Carola Stearns, Ed Surovell. Also: Josie Parker, AADL director.

Next meeting: Board meetings are typically held on the third Monday of the month, with the public portion of the meeting starting at 7 p.m. in the library’s fourth floor meeting room, 343 S. Fifth Ave. The board expects to cancel its December meeting, however, and meet again on Monday, Jan. 18, 2010. [confirm date]


  1. November 18, 2009 at 5:49 pm | permalink

    Congratulations! This is a big achievement for the library. I do share the concern that this not consume too much of the library’s resources. This should come out of the “local history” bucket and not dip into other buckets. If digitizing this stuff takes a long time, that is ok. IMHO keeping the general collection current is a higher priority.

  2. November 18, 2009 at 5:57 pm | permalink

    This is absolutely wonderful news and I feel so privileged to live here with this excellent, visionary district library. Thank you, Josie.

    The archives are important to researchers and they are also important to retaining our history. I hope that the board stays on track to make this happen.

    November 19, 2009 at 12:29 pm | permalink

    I’ve read through the article a few times, but it is not 100% clear to me what exactly will be archived. For instance, we will end up with a fully searchable database, where I could input August 6, 1948, and retrieve the full newspaper for that day? Would the full paper still include the U-M sports pictures, like it does if I go through microfilm?

    Or, could I input “Eberwhite School” and return a page of hits from articles mentioning the school over the last 50 years?

    Will article text be fully searchable, or only headlines?

    I suppose that there is a planning activity in progress, but I’d like to know a bit more about the vision for using these materials.

  4. By Mary Morgan
    November 19, 2009 at 1:26 pm | permalink

    Re. #3: My understanding is that the level of detail you describe hasn’t yet been determined, given that they don’t have the collection in hand.

    The library will not be given permission to digitize full pages of the newspapers – the company plans to do that itself, eventually. The clipping files, which the library will be digitizing, contain articles that have been cut out of the newspaper and filed by category.

    November 19, 2009 at 5:18 pm | permalink

    If Herald will not give AADL permission to digitize full pages, I hope that they actually carry through and do it themselves. It would be a treasure trove of local history.

    The clippings are nice, but those have been selected by someone as worthy of keeping, and that person may not share my views of what was important.

    As much as I hate microfilm, one of the advantages is that you really feel like you’re back in the era of when the paper was originally published. You get to see the advertisements, the layout, everything.

  6. By Dave Askins
    November 19, 2009 at 5:26 pm | permalink

    Re: “You get to see the advertisements, the layout, everything.”

    Indeed. For example, in any version of The Ann Arbor News archives that stripped out the ads, you’d miss [this].

  7. By Mary Morgan
    November 19, 2009 at 11:01 pm | permalink

    Re. “The clippings are nice, but those have been selected by someone as worthy of keeping, and that person may not share my views of what was important.”

    From what I observed during the 12 years that I worked at the A2 News, clips were made of all local articles, letters to the editor, opinion pieces, etc. – it was comprehensive, not a matter of someone’s judgment. Typically, multiple copies of the same article were filed. For example, if someone wrote an article about a local technology business, that article would be filed in at least three places: 1) the reporter’s byline file, 2) a file for the individual company, and 3) a general “local business” file. If it included an extensive interview with the company’s CEO, another copy would be placed in a file of articles that quoted or profiled him/her.

    I completely agree about the benefit of having the paper in its entirety, for the context it provides. I too hope that the company follows through and actually digitizes the full run. The main difference between that and the library’s work, however, is that the library will provide free access to the material it digitizes. In contrast, it’s almost certain that the company will be looking to make money off of its digitization efforts, whatever those might be. Assuming that more newspapers will close in the coming years, let’s hope there are similar arrangements that keep at least some of the archives in the public domain, as is the case with this project.

  8. November 20, 2009 at 9:33 am | permalink

    I’m having a hard time visualizing Herald making all that much money from selling access to the digitized copies of the bound volumes. Just how many of these volumes are there? Maybe a reader from Google Books @ UM or ProQuest could weigh in anonymously with estimates of how much it would cost to digitize 100 years worth of back issues and how much they could possibly make from selling them. Who would want to pay premium $ for archives of the A2 news? maybe a few libraries in Michigan, a couple of government agencies, a law firm or two — but who else?

    Although the U of M sports photos and news *sound* valuable, I remember seeing comments to the effect that the A2 news special football books, etc. were usually not very profitable.

    So my question is whether it is likely that the digitization of the bound volumes will ever happen …

  9. November 20, 2009 at 10:16 am | permalink

    A couple of thoughts related to the story, comments and to the News archives in general.

    You are correct, Fred, that the News struggled to sell the two recent football books, but I’d blame that more on its approach than anything else. In each case, the paper team with amateurish partners who didn’t know what they were doing in terms of selling the book. The first project, based around the 100th anniversary of the UM-OSU rivalry was very well done, but the man in charge of distribution was a local real estate agent (seriously) who never put together anything resembling a national or regional distribution deal.

    It’s interesting to me that they’re severely limiting the library’s access to athletics-related content, because that’s where a ton of the interest has always been. I don’t understand why they couldn’t just give it all to the library but retain the commercial rights. My prediction is that this information will simply be lost, because Newhouse will eventually misplace it.

    On the other hand, the sports archives have been extensively looted by former employees. We were often extremely disappointed when researching a project to find out how much stuff had been cut out and stolen, or was just completely missing. A real tragedy from a historical standpoint.