Libraries in Mass Media:
A Content Analysis


This paper will attempt to explore mass media patterns in which libraries are associated with specific topics. In this study, we examine the number of times the term library, singular and plural, occurs in major U.S. newspapers over a span of 5 years, determine the subject matter in which they are linked, categorize major topics and present relationships. Lexis-Nexis General News index was database used to retrieve articles from major newspapers over. Terms searched in this study were: censorship, filters, pornography, web, Internet, online, program, funding, expansion, and cut. Super categories where created and included these terms under Internet, content, and monetary issues. The results suggest relationships between headlines and the subject matter contained within the text itself. Such relationships serve as indicators of trends in coverage as well. Preliminary data suggest trends in libraries that can be associated with the economy, current technologies and public perceptions of libraries


This study developed out of a concern for how libraries, as institutions, are portrayed in mainstream media. Previous research has focused on libraries and librarians in entertainment media such as movies and literature. Little attention has given to the image of libraries in media news outlets. Dialog searches performed in the INFOSCI database retrieved no articles related to this topic, as well as literature reviews through hard copies of library literature index.

Due to the publication of mass media news outlets, a content analysis approach was chosen to examine the nature of libraries in news outlets. Disciplines such as Artificial Intelligence, Linguistics, Informatics, Communications and Education have extensively utilized content analysis to examine a variety of subjects such as computer models, media bias and literary criticisms. Through this examination, we hope to survey the results and establish trends.

Implications for libraries go beyond image of libraries and library professionals in news media. In viewing trends and relationships between current events and library related issues, we may be able to determine greater issue affecting libraries. For instance, there may exist a clear association between libraries, technology and funding levels. Perhaps expansion projects rose in correlation to the number of outreach programs. This study attempts to explore the possibilities of these relationships and determine if correlations exists and if so, to what degree.


Using Lexis-Nexis, news articles were retrieved from major U.S. newspapers for a span of six years beginning with the year 1995 and ending with 2000. Search criteria included the term library, truncated to account for plurality, the year being examined (i.e. 1995) and one other the following terms: censorship, filters, pornography, web, Internet, online, programs, funding, expansions, and cuts. The each term would be controlled using truncation. From the initial data set, super categories were chosen to display the results.


The term library is defined as place where books, periodicals, films, records, and other materials are housed for access or study, and from which they may be borrowed. The term is used to refer to all libraries, whether private, public or special, and was truncated to allow for plurality. Due to the nature of the search and the search software, it was not possible to differentiate between types of libraries.


Pornography is a questionable term as it is not easily defined and often subjective. Here it is defined as written or visual material intended to be sexually stimulating. The association with libraries can be the access or selection of materials that may meet this criteria and the controversy surround such activity. The term was truncated to allow for the terminology porn, porno and pornographer.


Censorship, defined as the examination of written works, films, plays, and the like in order to delete portions that are considered objectionable on political, moral, or other grounds. For this study, censorship refers to the debate of the removal of objectionable materials from the library, including online materials. The term was searched using truncation to account for the terms censors, censoring, and censorship.


Akin to censorship, filtering in this study is defined as the act of adding software to public access Internet computers in an attempt to restrict access to questionable content. As mentioned earlier, filtering here is not classified as censorship to illustrate potential differences in coverage or correlations between the two in light of increasing technology. The filter was searched using truncation to account for filter, filters and filtering.

Internet, Net, Web and Online

The terms Internet, net, web and online were search in association with library to determine electronic network issues over the span of six years. The terms Internet and net were searched separately and the result were combined, as the term net is a contraction of the term Internet. The terms web and online were used as a control to determine if the same patterns of usage of the term Internet were reflected in these terms. If there are similarities, then a pattern may potentially be established.

Internet is defined in this study as an electronic communications network that connects computer networks and organizational computer facilities around the world. The terms web and online are defined in this study as being synonymous with the word Internet.


The term programs is defined as organized events, presentations, exhists, shows and productions associated with the library in that they are produced by the library or simply held at the library's facilities. The intent here is to retrieve the level of programming or outreach libraries are giving over a course of time.


The term funding is defined as a supply of money or other resources that are held for a particular purpose. In the case of association with libraries, the term is meant to reflect the level of funding issues over a particular of time. Funding can be associated with either the actual or potential increase or decrease in contribution to libraries. Contributions can come in the form of public taxation, grants or donations, or a combination of these.


The term expansion here is defined as the act or process of expanding or making something larger or more extensive. In regards to libraries, the term is meant to reflect fluctuations in funding levels. Unlike the term funding, expansion generally refers to an enlargement of services or capacity, in this case physical buildings or hours of operation.

Reduction and Cuts

The terms reduction and cut were used to measure drops in funding or services for libraries. Here the term reduction is defined as the act of reducing or state of being reduced and the term cut is defined as shorten or otherwise diminish. Each term was truncated to account for variations such as "library reduces, cuts, cutting".


Search statistics were calculated and entered into corresponding coordinates on an excel spreadsheet. Data totals were tabulated and a listed in table 1. Three super categories were created and the data for these are reflected in Content Issues (table 1.1), Internet (table 1.2) and Monetary Issues (table 1.3). These tables are presented for discussion.



Content Issues

The term library associated with the terms related to censorship, filters and pornography demonstrates some of the most substantial increases in this study. These increases are not only dramatic, but seem to be steady over the six-year period (See chart 1.1). Articles related to censorship start with minimal occurrences, increase substantially in the mid 1997-1998 area and then return to previous levels. In contrast, articles related to filtering are non-existent in the years 1995 and 1996. When articles that contain the term filters do appear, they immediately surpass the number of articles related to censorship. Over the time period of four years, articles containing filters increase 61 percent compared to the first year they appear. Articles related to pornography start off at minimal levels as well, but increase the most achieve the most consistent numbers over the six year span. In fact, pornography increases 900% from 1995 to 1997.

Internet Issues

The term library associated with the term Internet and individual terms referring to the Internet appears to rise sharply from 1995 through 1997 and then level off through 2000. The term web seems to have made the most dramatic increases. In 1996, web jumps eight hundred percent in occurrence and then doubles the following year in 1997 (see Chart 1.2). This pattern reflects the overall striking increase in Internet related articles. As a whole, Internet related articles increase 156% from 1995 to 1997, but decrease from 64% in 2000 from 1997.

Monetary Issues

The term library associated with the terms program, funding and expansion demonstrate the most constant levels of occurrence over the time period examined. The terms program, expansion, and funding increase 6, 12, and 23 percent respectively. Relative to previous categories, these increases appear minimal. The term cut, however, decreases substantially during the mid to late 1990s from a high of 108 occurrences to 31 occurrences, a drop of 72 percent (see Chart 1.3).


Initially, the study began as a content study of library related news articles. After a few preliminary searches and an initial investigation, the study shifted to more of a headline content analysis. To catalog of each articles' content proved too complex for a study this size. Many of the articles overlapped in subject matter. For instance, one article discussed the withdrawal of federal funding if libraries did not filter Internet content as required under the recently enacted CIPA act. While the subject matter related mainly to filtering, it contains issues regarding the Internet and funding as well. This is in part why the keyword strategy was chosen and the idea of super categories developed.

The idea of super categories emerged after reviewing initial search results. Though not perfect, the categories help put similar topics together and assist in revealing patterns. They also support in controls. For example, while the terms filtering and pornography increased over time, the term censorship did not. Examining censorship alone could lead one to think that first amendment was no longer being assailed in libraries to any great degree. Now one only has to look at the combined terms to get a better sense of how the subject has shifted to electronic resources.

Obviously, the information extrapolated from these types of studies can only be qualitative and open to interpretation. The intention of the study was to explore trends in libraries via the examination of newspaper headlines. In this, the study succeeded. Some trends were not surprising. The increase in articles regarding libraries and the Internet were somewhat expected. We can theorize that perhaps articles about the Internet in general have the same pattern regardless of the term library or perhaps, the Internet in libraries is an simply old news. One could draw a correlation between the increase in articles regarding content and the decrease in articles regarding the Internet. It could be suggested that the proportion of Internet articles related libraries and content issues like pornography and filtering are making up more of the news stories.


This type of research was not only entirely enjoyable, it appears to hold great promise in demonstrating current and past issues in the field of Library and Information Science. The possibility of exploring this subject matter in more detail is tempting. If newspaper articles from smaller areas were aggregated in a similar way, organizations such as A.L.A. might get a better sense of the issues facing small libraries. In addition, trends could be recognized and there lies an opportunity to forecast potential areas of concern for libraries.

Chart 1.1

Chart 1.2

Chart 1.3

Resources consulted

Stone, Philip J. (1966). The general inquirer; a computer approach to content analysis. Cambridge, Mass., M.I.T. Press

Roberts, Carl W. (1997). Text analysis for the social sciences : methods for drawing statistical inferences from texts and transcripts. Mahwah N.J., Lawrence Erlbaum

LEXIS-NEXIS® Academic Universe. Available at: (2001)