The New York Times is available online to Citrus County library patrons now.
You can’t actually get to the Times homepage through the library’s website. Select stories are available through a search engine, but the trick there is you need to be looking for something specific and the results are not necessarily timely.
Example: I can search the Times database with keywords and stories will pop up (I’ll explain how below). But searching for “impeach Trump” through the library search engine did not give me the same results as on the Times website — namely, Thursday’s House of Representatives vote on the impeachment resolution came through searching the Times’ website but not the Times’ search engine through the county library system.
Library Director Eric Head walked me through the process. Basically it works like this:
• Go to the library’s website: www.citruslibraries.org.
• Click on “research” and then “databases.” Then click on the Florida Electronic Library logo that comes up.
• Now it gets interesting. What you’re seeing is a database provided by the Florida Department of State to public libraries. Citrus County doesn’t buy it or really have anything to do with it. The database is from 15,000 news sources, including magazines, newspapers, online publications and TV.
I don’t want to scroll through all that stuff, so the page allows me to narrow the scope by clicking on “browse by” and choosing “magazines and newspapers.” Then, because I’m a newspaper guy and this is a story about a specific newspaper, I click on newspapers and see that there are eight offerings including three newspapers: New York Times, Washington Post and USA Today. Four of the other five are not newspapers, though they are news sources (one is Washington Post for kids).
I clicked on the New York Times and see a selection of dates. Today (Thursday, Oct. 31) is not one of the dates. The most recent date is Wednesday (Oct. 30). When I clicked on Oct. 30, nothing came up that I would expect to see as the Times’ top stories that day. Nothing about impeachment or al-Baghdadi or even the Washington Nationals.
The top most recent story was about the crowd at the World Series game Sunday booing President Donald Trump. Most of the other “stories” that popped up were op-ed columns or letters to the editor.
(I did notice that more up to date stories were available later in the day, but still not same day or even the day before. And still much of it was op-ed.)
So it’s not exactly in real time. And the stories themselves are like the raw versions of what you’d find on the actual Times website. Just copy — no photos, graphics or links to speak of.
I thought maybe a specific search might bring up something newer. So I plugged “fake news" (the term Commissioner Scott Carnahan used before saying, "I do not want the New York Times in this county.") into the overall library search engine and it resulted in 2,196,267 hits, including 1,517,738 from newspapers. Again, didn’t want to scroll through all that, so I clicked on “news.” Still too many results, and I’m only interested in the New York Times.
On the right side of the page where it says “filter your results,” I click on “publication title” and can go directly to the New York Times (again … not to the page itself, but to the search mechanism for the Times. There is a huge difference). There are other ways to filter stories based on subject and type of article, or search within the publication, which is what I did for “fake news."
The Times has 1,852 articles, opinion pieces or letters to the editor that mention “fake news” in the copy, according to the search engine, which seems like a small number.
As with my search earlier in the day, none of what came up was fresh so I decided to search “impeach Trump,” because I knew that was timely. The result was awful: 25 mentions with the most recent being an Oct. 2 letter to the editor. So I tried just “impeach” and it wasn’t much better: 340 results and nothing from the last 10 days.
Then I went to the New York Times website itself and, whoa, it’s a world of difference.
I’m not a NY Times reader, but this is pretty impressive. It wants me to create a login even though I'm not subscribing. The Times gives readers numerous options of interest, along with signing up for newsletters on subjects as sports, politics, cooking, books, parenting — you get the idea.
I tried the same search — “impeach Trump” — and of course it was much different than the library’s server. With the House vote story breaking all day Thursday, my search results brought up stories that were measured in terms of minutes, not dates. So, yeah, it was fresh.
Obviously, there’s a ton of difference between getting the New York Times as a digital subscriber and picking through scraps provided by a search engine. Whether that’s worth about $2,700 a year to give digital access to the Times for 70,000 library card holders is up the public to decide.
Commissioner Brian Coleman has asked the matter be brought back to the board at its Nov. 19 meeting when Coleman is expected to be named board chairman. You can give him and the other commissioners your views by sending them an email.