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Won’t Get Fooled Again: Day 34

Jim, James, Dan: Dan, you are right, I should have used “fair use” rather than “public use.” in my blog entry. Sorry about the confusion. However, my observations still stand. Libraries do not act on behalf of individuals in terms of “fair use.” It is up to individuals to be responsible custodians of how they might use library material. Most, if not all, libraries warn their community that there are limitations on ways library material can be distributed or duplicated. And these limitations are often embraced by agreements with vendors. These limitations govern how libraries lend material through interlibrary loan, circulate material to non-primary users outside our communities, reproduce or digitize material for reserve collections in academic libraries, and libraries post clear warnings on photocopiers that certain forms of duplication and redistribution are illegal. The burden for responsible license and copyright use still rests with the individual. It is in this context that I frame my comments about the library’s role.

And James, I understand the essential link between the legal and economic nature of licensing and/or copyright — and surprisingly, we both agree libraries abandoned their role and lost an opportunity to recreate a critical public service role in the matrix when their collections began to digitize through a complicated public/private partnerships. And we both agree the future of the FDLP depends on how well we manage this collections/service responsibility.

Jim and James — I think we can all agree that the future of libraries depends on how they deploy the dynamic between collections and services in a digital world. Where reasonable people can disagree, I hope, is the relative importance of one or the other. One faction might argue collections are still paramount; other perspectives may consider collections to be not as important (or differently important) for the future. It is clear the four of us will disagree about where this set point might rest. However, to equate the difference between our two perspectives as a measure of how the opposing perspective advocates the destruction of libraries … well, I do not think we need to go there. My observations, speculations, and rhetoric does not advocate destruction. They are supposed encourage debate, reflection, and exhortation to action. Judging from your thoughtful responses, this goal is being achieved.

I am going to step back from this rhetorical point and get back to commenting on the future possibilities of government information in our libraries. I am sure we will join forces again over these considerations, but I think all of our perspectives have been underscored enough for the moment.

See you on Day 35.

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  1. shuler says:

    James — your point is taken.

    Perhaps my views of libraries as agents of change is somewhat tempered by current events and disputes over open access. None of my comments suggest that the historic role libraries played in facilitating public access (and fair use) to communities is something to belittle. My statements focused on individuals and “fair use.” As a collective tool deployed by a community of users, yes — libraries facilitate this individual right. And we both agree that libraries (or should one say, more properly, the communities that support the libraries?) need to get back into the game with advocacy, economic savvy, and proactive education. Though we have been batting this ball back and fourth for almost five years now, we can agree that passivity is not an option for any library’s survival in this digital churn we call government information.

    The federal depository library system is a perfect example of this. We could wait for technology to dictate our choices, or for that matter, a once and future Public Printer. We do not have to wait. As a community of over 1200 institutions we can take the moment and a influence the direction of the program. Here again is a shameless plug for all those interested in the future of the federal depository library system get involved now — if we don’t do it, some one else will.

    Now let’s mark this task done. Other agenda items await — next up, for instance, is who wants to be a public printer?

    See you on Day 35.

  2. jrjacobs says:

    Yes yes yes, I’m glad to see that we’re in complete agreement that libraries need to take a more proactive role because — to tweak your phrase — if we don’t do it nobody else will. There are so many issues to which libraries need to advocate — open access, open source, open standards, open education (sensing a theme right?!) etc.

    If the docs community advocates for these issues and works collaboratively, we’ll set an exciting course for the FDLP AND help change our institutional culture — which desperately needs it! I also completely agree that 1250+ depository libraries can do amazing things with the right administrative perspective and support. That’s one of the reasons we’ve pushed so hard on collaborative GODORT projects and Birds of a feather project ideas and tried to get our message out to the the documents community and beyond.


  3. jrjacobs says:

    Hi John. thanks for clarifying. I’d like to raise one more issue for your consideration. Hopefully this will be one more actionable point to add to your list :-)

    Fair use is an extremely important concept to educators, artists, students, researchers etc. I think you’re missing an important piece of the puzzle with your comment that “Libraries do not act on behalf of individuals in terms of “fair use.”” It’s true that assertion of fair use is ultimately done by individuals; However, libraries DO facilitate “fair use” simply by having accessible collections. Libraries need to re-assert their role in fair use or else it will be completely lost. Libraries can do that by reminding digital content vendors about the importance of fair use and strongly advocating for the building of digital systems that take fair use into account.


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