Copyright and the Academic Library: A Bridge between Administration and Faculty

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By: Jodi Oaks

At the beginning of this summer I was freshly married, back from my honeymoon, and excited to get to work at my recently landed summer job.  Throughout the year I work as a library support assistant at Milne Library at SUNY Oneonta.  Toward the end of the spring semester I secured an additional position in the Bibliographic Services Department at Milne Library.  During the summer I was invited by the Library Director to join a small, informal work group discussing copyright and the role of the library.  This group eventually developed into an across-campus work group with the complicated task of handling the topic of copyright compliance on the SUNY Oneonta campus.

Originally, our small group was formed under the discretion of the Library Director, and included just members of the library.  Over the past year, SUNY Oneonta has worked to switch the learning management system used by faculty, updating from ANGEL to Blackboard education software.  With this shift came a focus on faculty copyright compliance.  This was a result of concern over whether faculty members were regarding copyright laws in the migration of their teaching materials from ANGEL to Blackboard.  Therefore, members of administration looked to inform all on copyright law and how it applied to our campus community, and desired a way to diplomatically communicate with faculty about copyright compliance.  The administration turned to the library to help them with this project.  Consequently, our small copyright group grew into an across-campus work group, including members from all over the campus community.

The group included the Associate Provost for Academic Programs, the College Controller from Finance and Administration, the Library Director, the Head of Access Services, a member of the faculty, and me.  We met several times to discuss how this situation should be best handled for our particular institution.  These meetings can serve as examples of the interesting discussions and debates that exist in dealing with the topic of copyright.  One of the largest debates within the group dealt with the concept of sovereign immunity for members of the community, and how the college would handle a situation if a member was found in violation of copyright.  This was resolved by contacting the SUNY Office of General Counsel and having our group meet with the Assistant Counsel and Director of Compliance and Records Management Officer.  During this time, the library was tasked with creating LibGuides on copyright for faculty and on copyright and plagiarism for students.  LibGuides is a content management system, and is what Milne Library uses to create electronic educational resources.  I created the original two guides, and worked to add content to them throughout the summer.  These guides are now being fine-tuned and edited for final approval.

Through the research on content for the guides, and the discussions with the work group I learned about copyright law and the surrounding debates.  Perhaps the biggest lesson I learned about copyright is that this law, as applied to real life situations, can at times be incredibly ambiguous and opaque, leaving a lot of room for debate.  In addition to this, one of the most interesting parts of this experience was getting to see firsthand how an academic library fits into the complex environment of an academic institution, and the roles it might have to take on.  I learned that at an academic institution there is a delicate interplay of relations between faculty, staff, and administration (and for SUNY schools, the overarching SUNY system administration), which can have a very political nature.  Important skills to have in dealing with an academic community include tact and being able to handle situations diplomatically.  Within this environment, the library can take on the role of an information supplier.  At times this role involves the library acting as a bridge between administration and faculty, providing information that illuminates policy.  Overall, the academic library should strive to provide its community the resources needed to support and foster a healthy academic environment.

 

 

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