or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk



Reference Question of the Week – 11/2/14

   November 8th, 2014

wall street journal signI like reference interactions where the initial question really just ends up being an ice-breaker for a series of bonus tangents. Well, sometimes I like those.

In this case, a patron came up to the desk carrying a back issue of the Wall Street Journal and asked,

Can I check this out? I want to take it home to compare it to the online version, because I think they're not giving me everything online that they are in the newspaper. I cancelled my newspaper subscription and just do the online now, but an online subscription is the same price as the newspaper and I don't think they include all the articles that are in the real paper.

I don't know the specifics of the WSJ's pricing structure, but I suspect that this patron is correct. I noticed this years ago with our online subscription the Lowell Sun database - articles people swore they saw in the print paper were not coming up in the database (and it wasn't hard for me to verify).

At the time, I called Newsbank to ask them about it, and they said that yes, that is correct. They only have the rights to put Lowell Sun-generated content into their database - so, any syndicated content like AP articles, comics, puzzles, etc, will not appear online. This was a few years ago and in a different context, but the Newsbank person said we'd never see an online version of anything that has everything the print edition has.

I relayed this to the patron, and he appeared to feel vindicated.

He also was extremely interested in the previously-unknown-to-him fact that we had online access to the Lowell Sun - and the Boston Globe, and the New York Times. I showed him how to log in from home with his library card, so that was a happy little tangent. Then he had another tangent for me:

Well, that's okay anyway about the Wall Street Journal articles. Sometimes what I can do is look at the headlines on the Wall Street Journal website, and if an article I want to read is one you have to pay for, then I just search for that headline in Google and usually it links to the full article for free. I don't know why, and it's not all the time, but usually.

So then we had a little talk about paywalls and Google access, for which I had no good answer. But while listening to him, I suspect that some of the articles he links to from Google weren't actually on the WSJ website, just news articles from other sources that had very similar headlines.

What I did not tell him about was the Element Inspector trick - a method for editing a website's code to remove the "sign in to read the full article" blocking mechanism. However, after the patron left I did try out both that trick and his search-for-the-headline-on-Google technique, and I couldn't get either of them to work for WSJ.com articles. Which isn't too surprising - if anyone is going to put a lot of effort into making sure casual circumvention can't be used to access their content, it'll be online newspapers.

Anyway, so instead of taking the back issue of the newspaper home, he just sat down at one of our computers and spent some time comparing the print headlines to the articles available on WSJ.com. I didn't talk to him again though, so I don't know what he discovered.

But another delightful bonus from this question is the idea of letting patrons take home old issues of newspapers. We don't catalog them at all, so all our newspapers are in-library only. I've never been asked this before, but it's certainly a good one for our No Log, to see if we get to yes on it. We already use the honor system for our collection of Cliff Notes, so it might work for old newspapers too.




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5 Responses to “Reference Question of the Week – 11/2/14”

  1. Dave Combe Says:

    See also New York Times Co. vs Tasini
    The Supremes ruled that as employers own the copyright of the work of their employees, employers do not own the work of freelancers, stringers, etc.: the authors own them. This created issues with what newspapers / magazines put on their webpages and what goes into online indexes. Justice Ginsberg wrote the opinion. There was at the time a massive effort to remove material from online indexes as the papers / mags did not have the copyright and thus could not offer the material to third party indexers.
    I am not a lawyer nor do I play one at the reference desk…

    Dave

  2. Amelia Says:

    We let patron’s check out old issues of the newspapers. You can check out the papers that are a week old.

  3. katie Says:

    I’ve tried the WSJ/google trick and it always seems to work for me. Just now, I was able to get the full text of one of their paywalled top stories by googling it (“Banks Reach Settlement in Foreign-Exchange Probe”).

  4. katie Says:

    Just found this (an old article, but possibly still somewhat relevant?): http://searchengineland.com/wsj-pulls-back-on-what-google-searchers-can-read-for-free-112922

  5. Brandy Says:

    I have seen one-off type items put into a special cataloged/bar coded pouch just for check out. You just change the item notes when you assign the item to the pouch.