A ‘Code’ to work by?

ARL CoverLast year the Center for Social Media released The Code of Best Practices for Academic and Research Libraries (the Code or #librarianscode), a publication co-sponsored by the Association of Research Libraries.

Recently, the Consortium of College and University Media Centers (CCUMC) not only endorsed, but officially adopted the new guidelines, replacing their previous in-house document on the subject. CCUMC joins ALA, ACRL and other major national associations in support of the Code.

It makes sense that these major sponsoring organizations, which provide support to library and media center activities, are consolidating their use and backing of the document, as it was developed in consultation with library practitioners and legal experts, and sponsored by ARL. A year on, I was curious how the Code has been put into practice. Not surprisingly, the interpretations and policies at institutions vary, for example:

Brigham Young University – Uses a much more restrictive set of guidelines around use of video in their I-Learn course management system. Although Fair Use and the Code are mentioned, they are listed at the bottom of the document and couched in a context of “exemptions”.

California Polytechnic State University – First refers users to several Fair Use checklists, then to older documents written by other educational institutions, and again mentions the Code at the bottom of their page without including a supportive statement of the Code.

Duke University – Although discussed in a blog post, the Scholarly Communications group does nothing to address or even mention the Code on their Copyright page, and neither do the Duke Libraries on their Copyright Tools page.

On the surface this seems a rather lame effort by academic libraries to respond to and make use of a critical document designed specifically to help them in their work. (I spent about 30 minutes searching for specific examples and came up with only a few references to the Code, and no outright endorsements from individual libraries.)

However, as one commenter on this topic noted, academic libraries tend to move at a very slow pace when updating their policies and practices. That seems especially true when said practices revolve around copyright and other “risky” issues. To paraphrase and extend the comment from the same poster, those institutions that rely on Fair Use to do their work may use the Code to justify their current practice, but those that are risk-averse may take a much greater length of time to update their policies, if they address them at all.

Interestingly, my employer is among those that have not directly acknowledged or addressed the Code. At the Dartmouth College Library we have for years followed the College guidelines for the use of media, a policy that is likely one of the most liberal interpretations of Fair Use and Copyright Law in higher education, based on many conversations I’ve had with colleagues at other library and media centers. The policy was put in place long before the Guide was published, so I can see us making use of the document to strengthen established practice.

Finally, I found an analysis of the Code written by Nancy Sims of the University of Minnesota Libraries at the time the Code was originally published. A year later, her comments are relevant and do well to debunk some of the fear-based reactions to the Code and similar guiding documents released over the past five years. I hope that the authors of the lukewarm policy statements linked above, as well as those at other institutions that rely on simplified checklists and other narrow frameworks, will carefully reconsider the Code and modernize the implementation of Fair Use at their institutions.

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