Legal Beagles

All I’m thinking about today are legal issues. Is this what library collection development has come to? And are they teaching students about this in library school? There are, of course, the usual license agreements for subscriptions and electronic resources, but I have some other more specific issues on my mind:

  • Hathi Trust: we’ve been thinking about joining this collaborative organization. I think they are doing important work to ensure the preservation of digital collections. They started with a base of materials digitized by Google from libraries in the Big 10 (and some others), but Hathi is managing these digitized materials with more of the librarian’s concern about preservation, more than Google, certainly. But now there is the sword of Damocles, in the form of a lawsuit from the Authors Guild, hanging over Hathi’s head. I don’t really know all of the ramifications of the suit, or how much it might affect the benefits of joining the organization. But it gives one pause.
  • WEST: this is another collaborative organization that my library HAS joined. The organization is working to create a distributed print repository of print journal holdings. The idea is to ensure at least one print copy of selected journal titles exists within the member libraries of the organization. In order to make the print holdings as complete as possible, some libraries will ask others to contribute journal volumes to fill out a complete run. Here is where the legal issues come in. My state has specific laws about disposing of state property (including library collections of state universities). Can I convince our legal counsel that sharing some volumes from our journal holdings with another library in another state is legal and in our best interest? If we can’t contribute toward the collective holdings of the organization, are we even valuable members?
  • Costco v. Omega: who would have thought that a lawsuit between a mega-store buying club and a Swiss watchmaker would have any impact on an Academic library? This issue came up because someone donated a 6-volume British publication to my library. I mentioned it online and someone suggested that Costco v. Omega may come in to play, especially for a donated book. You see, the Supreme Court ruling (or none-ruling) in this case upholds a lower court ruling (at least in the Ninth Circuit Court) that libraries do not have the protection of the right of first sale regarding materials not manufactured in the United States. What that means is that libraries may not even have the right to circulate foreign publications. Sheesh! Some legal beagles are saying not to worry. There are other protections the cover library activities (beagle1.pdf and beagle2.html). Some of the protections suggest that if you bought the material in a legitimate way, there is a presumption that permission to do library stuff with it is understood. That also presumes, however, that you can demonstrate how you purchased the material. Because of the vagaries of our ILS, we do not even maintain purchase orders for books in our system for more than 2 years. We still have copies of the invoices. But how would we match a particular book purchased 5 years ago with its corresponding invoice? We also do not have title-by-title records for most donations. Extra Sheesh!  I wonder what libraries in the Ninth Circuit are doing.

Thus, I spend the day worrying about the law and not thinking about how to build a good library collection. Maybe I should go to law school.




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