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University of Michigan Library

Open Education

Over the past year, the University of Michigan Library has shown itself to be particularly sensible in regards to open content licensing, the public domain, and issues of copyright in the digital age. The U-M Library has integrated public domain book machines, adopted CC licensing for their content, and independently had their Copyright Specialist, Molly Kleinman, articulate the importance of proper attribution in using CC licenses. We recently caught up with Molly to learn more about these efforts – primarily how they came to be and the results they have yielded – as well as discuss CC’s place in educational institutions at large and how CC and Fair Use interact in the academic sphere.

Book, Suzanne Chapman | CC BY-NC-SA

What is your role at the University of Michigan Library? How does the University Library interact with the rest of the University?

I’m the University Library’s copyright specialist. I provide copyright and publishing assistance for faculty, students, researchers, staff, and librarians throughout the University of Michigan, and occasionally to the community at large. I handle questions on both sides of the copyright universe: people come to me as users of copyrighted works and also as creators with concerns about their own rights. At a university just about everybody is both a user and a creator, so I think it’s important to promote a balanced perspective on copyright. A big part of my job is teaching workshops and providing one-on-one consultations about copyright and scholarly publishing basics. I work with librarians all over campus to raise awareness about topics like fair use, Open Access, and author rights. I also support a number of the Library’s activities, including our institutional repository Deep Blue, the Scholarly Publishing Office, and Special Collections exhibits. People always ask if I’m an attorney… I’m not. I’m a librarian by training, and have a background in publishing. A law degree is useful when dealing with copyright, and it’s certainly necessary when you’re providing legal advice, but in many other situations it’s not essential. Copyright is messy and confusing and it makes a lot of people nervous and scared. Approaching these issues as a librarian allows me to explain things in “human readable” language instead of legalese. My goal is to demystify the law and empower students and faculty to advocate for their rights as both users and creators.

As for the role of the Library in the University, I think it remains true, if a bit cliche, that the library is the heart of the university, both physically and intellectually. At the University of Michigan we have a flagship building at the middle of the central campus in Ann Arbor and many smaller libraries located in the hearts of the departments and campuses throughout the University, and we’re also at the heart of scholarly activity and information on campus. The difference now is that so much of the information to which we provide access is online. We still have millions of print books, and our physical spaces remain tremendously important, but more and more our buildings are gathering places for group work, studying, and instruction. This means our interactions with the rest of the University are increasingly distributed. Many scholars use the Library every day without ever entering one of our buildings, and at the same time the information services that the Library offers are expanding. We continue to answer reference questions, but in addition to staffing the reference desk we answer questions via phone, email, and instant message. Librarians teach classic bibliographic instruction and also classes on Google searching, citation management software, PowerPoint, and Photoshop. We have three locations on campus where people can get assistance scanning documents, building websites, and creating posters, and we have facilities dedicated to supporting patrons who use spatial data, numeric data, and statistics. And for the last two and a half years my office has made copyright and publishing support services available. The role of the library in universities has grown as human access to information has grown. We do much more than just keep track of a bunch of old books.

Can you explain the Espresso Book Machines? What kind of impact has on demand printing had in the UM libraries? All the books printed in the machines are public domain – would this sort of system been possible if the works had been All Rights Reserved?

The Espresso Book Machine can produce a perfect-bound paperback book in less than ten minutes. The U-M Library got one last fall. The technology is still very new and there aren’t very many of them, but the premise is that you could distribute book production to point of need, which in many contexts would be cheaper and more convenient than the current system. All you would need is a network connection and a few terabytes of storage somewhere to hold all the digital files. For now, the machine is still a sort of proof of concept. It’s wonderful for the long tail of books, the rare or obscure books that are long out of print and hard to find. The Espresso Book Machine can give these books new life, and give the two or three people to whom these books might actually be important a copy of their very own. The fact that it’s networked is key, because it allows us to print much more than just books digitized from our Library; it means that someone a thousand miles away can print copies of books held by the University of Michigan. We currently print books digitized by the Open Content Alliance, and in the future we imagine printing CC-licensed books as well, provided the license permits it. My understanding is that On Demand Books, the company that produces the Espresso Book Machine, is working out a royalty-payment system so that it will be possible to print books that are still under copyright, but so far at U-M we’re only printing public domain books. Eventually we’d like to partner with people from the University community to experiment with printing new works, things like poetry collections from a writing class, or textbooks.

You can see a video about MLibrary’s Espresso Book Machine here.

You wrote up a great piece on how to on how to use CC licenses and CC licensed works – how important is proper attribution in your line of work? For culture at large?

Attribution is tremendously important in academic research. Without properly cited sources, it is impossible for future scholars to follow the line of thinking that led to a given conclusion. Attribution is the trail of breadcrumbs that gets us back to the beginning. There is something of a plagiarism panic on college campuses, and while I think some of it is overblown, citation and attribution remain some of the first skills we teach undergraduates.

Attribution is also important from the perspective of scholars who are trying to build their careers. Young scholars want credit for their work so they can get tenure-track jobs and eventually tenure. Tenured faculty want credit so they can get more research funding. I see this as one of the selling points for Creative Commons in academic settings. U.S. law doesn’t have the framework of moral rights that exist in the U.K. and elsewhere requiring that an author always be given proper credit for a work even if she has signed away all the other rights. The attribution requirement that is the baseline in all CC licenses provides some reassurance to academic authors who may not expect to profit financially from their work but for whom credit is very important.

How can CC licenses and CC-licensed material help instructional librarians?

CC-licensed material is an incredibly valuable resource for all kinds of instructors. Creative Commons has supported the creation of a wealth of new works that are available for use without permissions or fees, which means that instructors, librarians, and students don’t have to rely on the public domain for materials that they can repurpose without fear or risk of copyright infringement. This is a huge thing. I have a hard time not using superlatives when I talk about what a wonderful resource it is. We can even use the tool we’ve always used – Google – to find Creative Commons-licensed photographs, illustrations, music, video, and educational resources.

I know instructional librarians who use CC-licensed works in a number of ways: many use CC-licensed images to spice up their workshop slideshows, one colleague uses music from ccMixter for instructional videos he posts on YouTube, and a handful use CC-licensed teaching materials as the basis for creating their own classes.

For librarians who write and teach, Creative Commons-licensed resources are a windfall, but there is much more to our work than just our own writing and instruction. Though it’s not usually framed this way, academic librarians spend a lot of time assisting people with the production of scholarship. Everyone knows that librarians help people do the research, but we may also help them with the writing and the teaching, and guide them through the publishing process, too. In those roles, Creative Commons-licensed material is a gift we can give our users. One of the most common copyright questions librarians get is, “Is it okay for me to use this copyrighted thing in this way?” With Creative Commons, we can say, “Well, it might be really hard to clear the rights on that random picture you found on the internet, but look, here are hundreds of pictures of the same thing that you are free to use without asking!” I’ve had consultations with faculty that ended abruptly when I showed them how to search Flickr for licensed images. The faculty member was so thrilled by the realization that she wouldn’t have to spend the next six months tracking down permissions, and so distracted by the discovery of this treasure trove of usable photographs, that all she wanted to do was be left alone to browse.

Most of the people reading this blog already know about the benefits of licensing their work so I won’t go into it too much, but needless to say those benefits apply to librarians as well. Many of the works that librarians create, like bibliographies or technology guides, are useful across many institutions, so CC licenses make a lot of sense for us. Licensing our work is also a great way to connect with colleagues at other institutions and to get our names out there.

How do librarians balance CC licensing with fair use rights?

I’d like to say that librarians as a profession are all staunch defenders of fair use and that we all promote a balanced view of copyright that takes full advantage of all the exceptions and limitations available to us. But unfortunately many librarians have been as terrified by the content industry’s scare tactics as everyone else, and they interpret fair use and other exceptions narrowly and with great caution. As a result, some librarians don’t make all the uses they could of copyrighted material, and the guidance they provide to their patrons is similarly limited. One of the things I love about CC is that it provides content that people can copy and build upon without relying on fair use. If you already have permission, you don’t need to worry about four factor analyses or risk assessments. CC-licensed content is such a valuable resource because people can use it without fear. Still, I always make it a point to explain that CC licenses are permissions that have been granted above and beyond the fair use rights that everyone already has, and that those fair use rights are broader than most people realize.

None of this is to say that fair use isn’t tremendously important to librarians and academics; it is. When patrons come to me with a specific work that they’d like to use, I help them through the process of making a best-guess fair use determination, and I always encourage people to take advantage of their rights as users. If we don’t fight for a robust fair use exception we will lose it.

In October of 2008, the University Library decided to release all their own content under a CC BY-NC license. What was the motivation behind this decision? What kind of outcomes have there been? Have you seen any interesting cases of reuse?

There were few motivating factors behind the decision to use Creative Commons licenses for Library-created content. The biggest was that it aligned well with our overall commitment to openness and access. Part of the Library’s mission is “to contribute to the common good by collecting, organizing, preserving, communicating, and sharing the record of human knowledge.” We promote open access publishing models, we have a strong history of digitizing public domain works and making them available online, and we partnered with Google to scan all of the books in our collection, even the works under copyright. Adopting a Creative Commons license for our own content – things like study guides, bibliographies, and technology tutorials – seemed like a logical next step. In part we were inspired by the story of Otago Polytechnic University, which was a Featured Commoner a while ago for making all of its open educational resources available under the CC-BY license. We don’t produce as much content, but what we do produce we wanted to make freely available for reuse.

There was also a more practical consideration: we receive permission requests to use Library-produced content with some regularity, and those requests often go to people who have no idea what to do with them. They get bounced around until someone finally just says yes, and these requests can take a lot of time to handle. Creative Commons licenses were made to help reduce transaction costs, and we saw that as a potential benefit for the Library. It turns out that we still sometimes receive permission requests, but now it’s very easy to point the requester to the CC license. It can even be a teaching moment, a chance to introduce a person to Creative Commons for the first time.

We have only had the licenses up for a few months, but I am aware of a couple of instances of reuse so far. There is a liberal arts college that is building a website of copyright and publishing resources based on the U-M Library’s copyright website. I also heard recently about a scholar who is publishing a paper on digital libraries and plans to use screenshots of our digital collections. That’s the kind of use that would probably be considered fair, but publishers sometimes ask authors to clear the permissions anyway. Now she can just point to the CC license instead.

Can you explain the mission of the HathiTrust? What is UM’s invovlement?

HathiTrust is a collaborative trusted repository for digital book and journal content. It was launched by the 12 university libraries that are a part of the Committee for Institutional Cooperation (CIC) and the 11 University of California libraries. At the moment it’s composed primarily of books that were scanned by Google as a part of the Google Digitization Project, but it will also include works digitized by the partner libraries. Even though much of the content in HathiTrust is duplicated in Google Book Search, the models are very different. Google emphasizes access and search, while HathiTrust is dedicated to long-term preservation, stewarding the files through changes in format and hardware. HathiTrust also has an interest in serving scholarly research needs, and developed a system to serve users with print disabilities that provides access to screen-reader-optimized versions of the OCR files, even for works that are still under copyright.

U-M has been the primary developer of the software platform for the repository, much of which was based on existing open source projects. The U-M Library also recently received a grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services to create a Copyright Review Management System, the result of which will partly support HathiTrust. HathiTrust only provides access to books in the public domain. The Copyright Review Management System is dedicated to reliably identifying books that are in the public domain that were published in the United States from 1923 to 1963. Those works may be in the public domain if certain requirements weren’t met, but it each book has to be researched individually. This grant will help us set up a reliable and collaborative system for identifying books in the public domain so that we can make those books available to the world through the HathiTrust, and share that information with other organizations that are dedicated to improving access.

Is there anything else our readers should know about the University Library? What are your plans for the future?

We have an event coming up that might of interest to your readers in or near Ann Arbor. From March 23rd – 27th we’re having Open Access Week, a series of events promoting and investigating the Open Access movement and its impact on scholarship. Creative Commons licenses play an important part in open access publishing, and I expect we’ll be talking about CC a lot that week. It’s primarily for a local audience, but all events are free and open to the public. A full schedule of events is here.

Molly, Libby Hemphill | CC BY

Posted 19 February 2009