February 8, 2022

First Insights Report: Albany Public Library News Access Pilot Project

Today, we are pleased to release our first insights from our joint pilot project with the Albany Public Library (APL), facilitated by Hearken and MakeWith and made possible by a grant from the Google News Initiative.

The goal of this engagement is to pilot an intervention aimed at providing more equitable access to local news for Albany residents and library patrons. In order to ensure that the proposed intervention is responsive to the needs and interests of those it intends to serve, we began by conducting initial research and listening with APL staff, librarians, patrons, and Albany residents. 

From November 3-16, 2021, we ran a survey in English and Spanish to better understand patron usage of local news and received close to 800 responses from Albany residents, librarians, and community members, which far exceeded our expectations. Thank you to all librarians and residents who participated!

The survey touched on multiple aspects of news access, including changes in behavior over the pandemic, types of news access offered, and expectations regarding the library’s role in local news curation and aggregation.

This insights report outlines the results of that research as well as our literature review into how library activities like Interlibrary Loan and Controlled Digital Lending could improve access to news resources through a cooperative approach. 

Key findings include:

  • Nearly 80% of respondents said they could find local news that was interesting and important to them, though many also had ideas about what they would like to see improved. Many followed this with comments that indicated they desired changes or improvements to coverage, quality, or access.
  • The Times Union (TU) is both the most used and most desired source of local news for APL patrons. 80% of respondents said they use Times Union, while 65% of people who did not use Times Union indicated that they had a desire but not access. The next most popular news destinations from survey respondents was WAMC or television broadcast news. Access to news in a variety of formats, including print and digital is important for meeting patron needs. 
  • Patrons and residents are most often accessing news via their smartphones, with laptop/desktop computers, TV, radio, and print close behind in terms of frequency. Patrons rarely accessed news via tablet. 
  • The topics people are most interested in for local news coverage include: ​​politics, news, events, weather and crime. 
  • The majority of respondents were familiar with  all of the local news sources included in the survey, except El Diario. Those that used local news sources overwhelmingly chose to access Times Union and the New York Times. The sources that respondents were most interested in but could not access were NYT (70%) Times Union (65%)  and Albany Business Review (60%). 
  • Subscriptions were the most cited need/desire to improve access, followed by requests for curation/aggregation, improved UX/UI and more and better coverage. Several people identified gaps in coverage that were not being filled by any source, especially local events roundups and topics previously covered by independent weekly papers.  
  • About half of people reported no change in their news consumption during the COVID-19 pandemic while 39% reported an increase. Only 5.5% reported a decrease.
  • Both research and APL librarians indicate that there is a role for the library to act as a resource/curator of local news for patrons.

In the next few months, we will be running a pilot to put these insights into action in cooperation with newsrooms and our partners at the Albany Public Library. This pilot will result in a toolkit and case study for other libraries looking to build new capacity in news access for their communities. We look forward to sharing the results of that research in the spring of 2022.

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