Like many institutions of our size (or larger), my library has a large collection of commercially produced VHS tapes. Many of these titles are out of print, yet still heavily used for teaching and research. And as technology is ever-changing, what used to be a collections bragging point has now become an albatross, and for years we haven’t had much of a notion of how to address the issue. However, developments in the archival and fair use circles in the past two years have slowly revealed a possible solution.
I’ve written before about the Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Academic and Research Libraries, and wondered how this new set of guidelines would support the work and processes already in play. At the time, entities such as the Chronicle for Higher Education predicted that the Code would “solve the problem” of VHS, however it is not clear that this document has had such a direct impact. Institutions have remained slow to publicly adopt and advocate for a change in practice.
Interestingly, New York University was quietly working on their own, more direct solution to the “VHS problem,” supported by a grant from the Mellon Foundation. In 2012 they published Video at Risk: Strategies for Preserving Commercial Video Collections in Research Libraries. The guidelines [PDF 406KB] provide more specific interpretation on the clauses within the copyright law that allow for archival preservation of copyrighted materials. I had reviewed the project information when I heard about it from CCUMC and other mailing lists last year, and was further interested after hearing Howard Besser speak about the Video at Risk project at the National Media Market last fall.
Although the preservation allowance within copyright law isn’t a complete solution for our VHS problem, the Video at Risk guidelines in combination with the Code present a groundwork I hope we can use to build a collections policy around these items. We’ve already begun to replace VHS titles in other formats when possible. The next step will be weeding the VHS collections to remove items that are no longer meeting current needs (including federal government documents on VHS and films about computer technology from the 1980′s). We will also develop a framework for justifying digital preservation of remaining out-of-print VHS titles where damage can be proven. Hopefully, within the next year or so the VHS format will become officially obsolete, which will further allow libraries and archives to justify long-term preservation of these materials in an accessible form.
This month we have two articles on the topic of interlibrary-loan practices for electronic information. While the practice has become common for individual articles or book chapters, libraries have been blocked from circulating eBooks for a number of reasons.
As Jennifer Jenkins mentions in her recent C&RL News article, Last sale? Libraries’ rights in the digital age, libraries are permitted to loan purchased physical copies of works under the “first sale” doctrine, an official part of copyright law. However, this provision does not apply to electronic works, and most publishing contracts actually specify the transaction in terms of a license of the material, rather than a purchase. Under these types of licences libraries have even less control over their electronic collections. Until recently, no academic institution has been ambitious enough to attempt a method of “lending” entire eBooks to consortial partners.
The gridlock over eBook lending may change if a new pilot program from Texas Tech University and the University of Hawaii-Manoa is successful. As reported in the Chronicle of Higher Education (Library Consortium Tests Interlibrary Loan of e-Books), the Greater Western Library Alliance partners have successfully recruited major academic publisher Springer to allow them to test a newly developed system for loaning eBooks via ILL.
The developers came up with a straightforward, frills-free solution. Using the web-based Occam’s Reader software, a lending library takes a stripped-down version of an e-book and loads it onto a secure web server. (Publisher metadata is removed in the process, Mr. Litsey says, to keep the feel of a print-book loan and—more important from a marketing perspective—as a compromise to preserve the potential sales appeal of publishers’ enhanced versions.)
The fact that universities and publishers are willing to work together to tackle the thorny issue of inter-library eLending is encouraging, since it has been a debacle from the moment the first eBook was created. And the approach is intriguing – as noted, the Occam’s Reader software passes only the raw content of the book to the inter-institutuion borrower, thus removing tools like bookmarking, note-taking, and citation management interoperability. The “owning” library is able to lend the whole book, and the publisher maintains a proprietary hold on the financial incentives that make eBooks more attractive to purchase (or subscribe to) in the first place.
As a media librarian at an institution that is moving to subscription-based acquisition of online streaming media collections, I have to wonder if a similar model could work for eLoaning videos. Like the Occam’s Reader model, there should be an easy way to serve a stripped-down video stream, without the fancy publisher features like interactive transcripts, clipping tools, playlists and annotations. Would Alexander Street Press, Docuseek2 contributors, or heavyweights like Swank be willing to negotiate contract terms so that we could lend individual films to partner institutions? Given the restrictive terms currently present in these licensing agreements, I have my doubts. But someone has to start the conversation in order for it to gain momentum.
Meanwhile, it will be interesting to see how the Occam’s Reader project influences policies and actions for other institutions and publishers. Ideally, libraries will be able to retain some kind of right-to-lend, even if the context justification happens differently than outlined via First Sale. After all, lending is what we are here for, and without the ability to lend between institutions, collections budgets will not be able to keep up with user needs. As much as voluntary cooperation is useful, without the rule of law to back up our actions, most institutions will be hesitant to break new ground into legal grey areas.
Speaking of inspiration, here are a few new guides and pages that I found to supplement the coding skills I’m learning.
Digital Inspiration: tech à la carte – Amit Agarwal gives you useful snippets for doing a variety of tasks, from automatic mail-merge in Gmail to capturing screenshots on dynamic web sites.
Although not interactive like the CodeAcademy tutorials, w3Schools has a nice set of browsable exercises and examples. For those of you who know what you’re doing this is helpful for finding a snippet that you can customize to whatever task you need.
Five Life Jackets to Throw to the New Coder – next step challenges to try after I complete some of these tutorials and courses.
Other answers to this question on Ask MetaFilter are also helpful.