Fisher: Our newspapers have moved

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Photo by Darell Koh.

Last week, seeking respite from my busy shopping schedule, I decided to visit my favorite room at Yale. I discovered this room the summer before my freshman year when I wandered into Sterling Memorial Library and was a little disappointed to see a grand hall rather than rooms filled with books. Then I found something better.

In the back, tucked into a corner, was the most glorious room I’d ever seen: the Newspaper Reading Room. That day, I spent an hour touching newspapers from Ghana, Thailand, Kansas. What a pleasure it was to find my home paper here, at this overwhelming university where I was to spend the better part of the next four years. I could touch it, open it, read it, just as if I were home at my kitchen table. Or I could read a copy of the same newspaper a Parisian had perused that morning over his baguette.

I knew, when I found that room, that I could like this school.

That room is no more. I walked in last week and saw lonely wooden shelves lining the walls, their stacks of newspapers and even their labels — once an index of every important place in the world — gone.

The newspapers were removed in the first week of July after a February study of building use revealed insufficient use of the Newspaper Reading Room. The room was “used very little for study, and even less for actually reading the newspapers,” Associate Librarian Ken Crilly told me.

So the Library’s subject specialists picked which newspapers to keep and eliminated the rest. University Librarian Frank Turner and the provost’s office are discussing the room’s future use.

A sign taped on the door (“Our Newspapers Have Moved!”) directed me to the Franke Periodical Reading Room. The room is centered around computers, and academic periodicals abound. On the day I visited, one table held 42 newspapers deemed important enough to survive the move; dark metal stacks behind the reading room hold about 50 more.

The newspaper room is still open for reading, though. Kem Edwards ’49, who audits classes and comes to Sterling often, sat at a table one afternoon reading Dickens.

He never really read the library’s newspapers when they were around, but, when asked about the dying industry, he said, “Probably for journalism that’s okay, but there’s a great pleasure in having something to hold on to instead of reading it on a screen.”

That’s right, Mr. Edwards.

Crilly and Head of Access Services Brad Warren stoically told me the library’s purpose is to support teaching and research. The library actually expanded its collection of electronic papers, even as it decided to cut its print collection. Among students, of course, Crilly said, “there’s a great preference for accessing newspapers electronically.”

And that’s it. No nostalgia, no lamenting the future of the industry, not even any thanks for the habit, truth and trust newspapers have given us. Use of the room has dropped; goodbye, newspapers. Is this an economic decision? No. A cultural one? No. It is pragmatism at its clearest and cruelest.

If Yale students want to read the paper online, so be it. I have trouble with electronic media, but I’m a Luddite. I tend toward the fatalistic, so I’ll worry about the demise of democracy with the loss of society’s main conduit for a mainstream culture, while everyone else gets his news on his laptop or Blackberry. But when Yale University, one of the world’s foremost institutions of learning and culture, eliminates newspapers without a second thought, I’m less forgiving. Maybe the Internet will complete its takeover soon. But newspapers are not dead yet. They should at least be available for both those who love them and those who want to occasionally page through them.

Newspapers unite. They create a shared local identity, a common basis for facts. If we are to become “citizens with a rich awareness of our heritage to lead and serve in every sphere of human activity,” as Yale College’s mission statement suggests, we must be rooted in the world we live in. So we should be able to pick up a copy of yesterday’s Wall Street Journal (still available in the Franke room), but we should also be able to hold the Indianapolis Star (no longer available in print).

The Internet is useful, but it can’t ground us in our homes across the world. Print newspapers land with a thud on our doorsteps as we sleep. Something about the electronic versions — all those signals flying through the air — doesn’t cut it. No longer can a scared freshman walk into a room and know, however far away home may be, that things are just the same here, that the world is connected by the regular men whose stories lie in the pages of the newspapers we all read.

Instead, as Kem Edwards said of the paperless newspaper room, “it looks kinda bare now.”

Julia Fisher is a sophomore in Berkeley College.

Comments

  • FailBoat

    I was into LPs before they were cool.

  • jocelie

    Yes, a sad commentary on what some may call “progress.” And a diminution of a great library. Perhaps if enough students and alum care and let others know they care, the newspaper reading room will reopen.

  • FailBoat

    You know what we also don’t have enough of at Yale any more? Papyrus scrolls. Darn kids and their printing presses, ruining it for the rest of us.

  • FailBoat

    You know what else is terrible for our society? Paperbacks. Before you know it, all the peasants will be reading trashy novels.

  • Jaymin Patel

    I echo Failboat’s remarks. This commentary is nothing more than meaningless romantic nonsense that defies all reality. The library didn’t “eliminate newspapers without a second thought”, it did so because no one gave a dang about the print newspapers, rendering the entire collection nothing more than expensive, paper-wasting decoration. And this idealized notion of print newspapers as the beakon of democratic ideals must stop – for all their history, newspapers, despite their merits, have been biased, products of clear agendas by monied people, and have been the root of wars (the Spanish American war, for instance). If anything, the dialog enabled by the internet is a step forward – I can now go on the Wall Street Journal’s website and read comments on the merits of the piece, and often these commments will give me links to alternative perspectives of the issue at hand.

    Yes the print industry is dying, but I don’t see you lamenting the death of stone tablets or traveling muses.

    Now I sympathize with your remark that you personally find it more pleasurable to read print. That is understandable; you grew up with print and people generally are more comfortable with what they are familiar with. But I really doubt the next generation will feel the same. Growing up with ipads and kindles, they’ll look back at books as bulky and cumbersome. Prefering something just isn’t an argument for its objective superiority.

  • wyldebill

    While Jaymin has excellent points about how newspapers have historically been biased (and employed to manufacture consent of crappy agendas), I am still deeply sympathetic to the author’s attachment to the print media. Digital/cybermedia will simply never be as personal, will always seem, feel, and be transitory and fleeting; it reeks of impermanence. So, right on Julia! Her POV may be romantic but nonsense it is not.

  • FailBoat

    I agree with wyldebill. Gutenberg’s newfangled invention will simply never be as personal as monk-transcribed texts once were.

  • newsboy

    They did the same darned thing at my alma mater, Columbia journalism school. What a pity!

  • theantiyale

    *And this idealized notion of print newspapers as the beakon of democratic ideals must stop – for all their history, newspapers, despite their merits, have been biased, products of clear agendas by monied people, and have been the root of wars (the Spanish American war, for instance).*

    @ Jaymin Patel,
    You may be too young to remember but in the last 40 years the *New York Times’s* so called “UNCONSTITUTIONAL” printing of the *Pentagon Papers* on its front pages may have saved the country from chaos, and the *Washington Post’s* reporting on Watergate mya have kept a U.S. President from undermining the Constitution.

    PK

    [link text][1]

    [1]: http://theantiyale.blogspot.com “The Anti-Yale”

  • Jaymin Patel

    @PK

    Sure, I can’t argue that Newspapers are bad – that would just be plain silly. I just take issue with the implication that newspapers are superior to online media. The 70′s had their pentagon papers and today, we have our Wikileaks. And in the process of this transformation, I see no democratic values that have been lost.

  • dannybloom

    where is my comment

  • dannybloom

    This was a great oped piece, I loved it, as a 61 year old lifelong freshman, yes yes yes. I also loved the newspaper reading room at Tufts in the 1960s, I could read papers from all over the world. Well said, Ms Fisher. Now I feel we could as a term of endearment call print newspapers as "snailpapers" — really, like snail mail, and as term of endearment — because yes, they arrive on your doorsteps with a thud but they news inside is 12 hours old, stil……I prefer print to digital and will never never subscrine to what i call frankenpapers……digital newspapers. Yuck. Long live snailpapers, and Ms Fisher has hit the nail on the head. This should be an oped in the New York Times. In print. I love what you said. Sadly, we neo Luddites, me 61 and you 20ish, we are done for. The frankenpapers are taken over, any day now.

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