Natalie K. Munn
December 15, 1993

(Tables have been removed and online windows have been presented as text rather than images in an attempt to keep the file size of this paper to a minimum. If you'd like a hardcopy of the paper, please send email to,

More and more newspapers are going on-line to offer daily news, back issues, and other services directly to home computer users.

Online editions of major newspapers recently blinked into existence in St. Louis, Chicago, San Jose, Calif, and elsewhere, and they are expected within months in New York, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Austin, Tex., and many other cities. . . . The move toward home-computer newspaper services has accelerated this summer as two of the country's biggest newspaper chains, the Times Mirror Company and Cox Enterprises, announced plans for electronic services at their newspapers, including Times Mirror's Los Angeles Times and its New York Newspaper, Newsday. These announcements followed decisions by three other major chains, the Tribune Company, Knight-Ridder Inc. and the Gannett Company(William Glaberson, NYT, 8/16/93).

Many newspaper executives see this as a step toward remaining viable in an upcoming age dominated by electronic media. Those in Library and Information studies question whether this is another step toward the disintermediation of libraries.[1] As the audience for these services grows, libraries in all sectors will begin to question whether to house and maintain their own newspaper collections. Simply put, for libraries it is a question of whether to offer access to information via computing resources or material collections.

Libraries have played a role in access to newspaper back issues for some time. Paper based conservation efforts, as well as elaborate optical/micro graphic solutions, have been developed and employed in an effort to accommodate researchers' need for information contained in back issues of newspapers. Librarians and other information professionals have also made an effort to develop and adapt digital storage of text based materials for access and retrieval. Unfortunately, many of these solutions have been very expensive to access and maintain and most are not used by the general public on a regular basis. Most newspaper databases "were designed more for professional researchers than for regular readers"(Mossberg).

These library mediated solutions are not very compatible with the habits of newspaper readers. "Newspaper reading is overwhelmingly an activity that takes place inside the home: 89% of all readership occurs there"(Bogart, 157). While the audience for newspapers has generally preferred to read the paper at home, most access solutions developed by libraries and other third parties, like database providers, has emphasized and relied on use outside the home by paid researchers. These services are marketed to professionals and while they "have powerful means for finding things in past issues," "searching can be complicated"(Mossberg). More importantly, "they lack the organization, attractive layouts and visual clues that paper publications offer for browsing and reading a current issue"(Mossberg).

In contrast to information professionals who use expensive equipment to access high-priced newspaper databases through third party vendors, household computer users offer a promising test market for enterprises that want to provide electronic information and entertainment services directly to the home. As the number of household computer users rises, there is an incentive to reach this new market and to provide information in a manner that is less expensive and more easily accessible than that in use by librarians.

Among the developments that encourage newspaper executives is a sharp increase in the number of households owning computers with the telephone -line hookups that are ne