Evanston Public Library switches online research database

Patrick Svitek

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The Evanston Public Library is replacing its online research database with one that excludes the city’s only weekly newspaper after considering costs and dissatisfaction with its current content provider.

Digital archives from the Evanston Review will be sacrificed in the transition from NewsBank to ProQuest for fiscal year 2011, a changeover in content providers that will save the library approximately $5,000 annually, said Lesley Williams, head of Adult Services. She said ProQuest is far more expansive and is “taking advantage of social networking in ways NewsBank never did,” with in-text tools for sharing articles and multimedia.

“You always lose something, but we gained something much better,” she said. “I don’t think we’re seriously affecting people’s ability to research Evanston history.”

To remedy the reduction in local history sources, the library is considering drawing on its Fund For Excellence to digitize Evanston Review issues dating back to 1922, Williams said. The process of converting microfilm copies and bound volumes to computerized indexes would cost $7,000 per publication decade, she said.

“I’m sure that will happen within the next few years,” Williams added.

Meanwhile, Evanston Review Managing Editor Gary Taylor is advising library patrons to consult the facility’s print compendiums for research needs. Full-text documents in the Pioneer Press Archive are also available on the newspaper’s website for $2.95 per article.

The library’s withdrawal from NewsBank represents the culmination of mounting frustration regarding its diminishing inventory, Williams said. She estimated that the Naples, Fla.-based information vendor was displaying only 300 newspaper titles last year, a significant drop from the 500 promised periodicals when the library first subscribed.

As of Monday evening, NewsBank had not replied to an e-mail request to confirm its up-to-date portfolio of news product.

Williams said that NewsBank’s aggregated coverage of the Evanston Review was historically “idiosyncratic and not consistent.” For example, only the obituaries and sports section were delivered to database users for some weekly editions.

“We were starting to wonder, ‘Is this really worth the investment?'” Williams said.

These reported lapses in newspaper content were most likely irrelevant to the average library visitor and never a noticeable issue to Pioneer Press editors, Taylor said.

“That anything was missing has never been brought to my attention over my 20-plus years as the editor of the Evanston Review,” he wrote in an e-mail Monday.

The recently installed ProQuest Newsstand can be accessed with a valid card number through the library’s website at http://www.epl.org.