Monday, May 07, 2007

Lovin' the Legal Stuff

Am I the only one who hears the screams,
And the strangled cries of lawyers in love?

Lawyers in Love” – Jackson Browne (Web site ; WCid ; Wikipedia)

In an thoughtful column, “Librarians and Licensing,” [excerpt] in the March 2007 issue of InfoToday, K. Matthew Dames (of CopyCense) discusses the surprising absence of offerings in library science programs of formal coursework in content licensing.

Dames laments “another yawning gap in contemporary information professional education: the lack of training in licensing electronic content.” (The “other” gap being a paucity of copyright education). Acknowledging that in the course of teaching independent content licensing seminars and a graduate seminar at Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies Dames has never met a single librarian (other than those attending his seminars) who “has completed a class or seminar on licensing or content procurement as part of his or her library science education,” Dames asks:

Assuming that the procurement mechanism for electronic content is a license, how can librarians fulfill the fundamental role of collection development in the 21st century if they can’t read, understand, and negotiate those contracts?

Overall he presents a well-rounded development of his theme, “Buying econtent is serious business.” Key points Dames makes:

  • It is common for agencies to spend $ millions annually across their econtent portfolio
  • Econtent procurement competence requires a varied skill set in privacy law, copyright law, digital rights management, and a grasp of the ever-changing publishing landscape and much more
  • Expertise in e-content licensing is unusual as a procurement competence outside the information profession: for many institutions and companies, in-house counsel will not have this expertise – the responsibility for the institution’s legal and financial investment and risk exposure will often rest squarely with the econtent procurement staff member(s) at the library
  • The position tasked with econtent procurement may have many names, but if “called a librarian, chances are it will not command the organizational respect, compensation, and resources it deserves.”

Dames offers suggestions for introducing the topic of procurement in far greater depth in library and information studies. I certainly commend the full article to your attention.

Thinking back on my own MLS, I had little graduate training in the legal end of librarianship. Yet looking forward through my professional work even unto now I have had to read, understand, and even help craft licensing agreements. Indeed, management of electronic products was assigned to me as one my first “duties as assigned” extras on my first day in my first professional job. From that point I have found myself studying and learning on my own by necessity, and I also have been fortunate to have persons with genuine expertise to coach me.

I think one might reasonably argue that librarians have long been “technicians of the intersections” – perhaps what distinguishes Librarian 2.0 from Librarian 1.0 is less the new tools applied and more the mix of new stuff. Econtent licensing expertise is surely one of the more richly textured intersections librarians must master. Are we giving the econtent procurement competency its due with respect to preparing professionals, or – as Dames asserts – is it something library science and information studies programs are failing to give the emphasis such deserves in a Web 2.0 world?

No comments: