Our new use and reuse policy

The National Library and Alexander Turnbull Library have just agreed a new policy on use and reuse of collection items. This is an exciting development, so let’s take a look at some of the challenges we addressed to get here.

Use and reuse of documentary heritage and tāonga is a contested issue. There are a range of cultural, social, legislative and political frameworks which sometimes have conflicting expectations of what libraries and archives should or shouldn’t let happen to the collections they manage.

When it comes to use and reuse of collection items, there are a lot of improvements we can make. With this policy, we now have a path forward – an overarching suite of principles that supports consistency and transparency in our decision making and activities.

Concepts of access and use

Breaking off ‘access’ from ‘use’, conceptually, was an important early step that let us focus on our direction for use and reuse.

I’ve found that notions of online open access often get confused and conflated with issues of use and reuse. Access and reuse are different concepts, often governed by different mechanisms, and the lack of an agreed lexicon for use and reuse was a surprising first hurdle.

Conflating the two can give a disproportionate amount of authority to a permissions process – “You can only access X if you agree to Y restrictive usage terms.” Of course, there are times when permissions are necessary – more on that shortly.

Like most libraries and archives, we have been actively promoting online access for many years. We currently have over 25 million digital items accessible online (including Papers Past), and all collection items will be discoverable online once the catalogue of the oral history collection goes online shortly.

Use and reuse, on the other hand, is the employment of a collection item for personal, social, educational or commercial use. So in order for use and reuse to take place, this policy assumes that access has already been enabled.

Agreeing to these concepts meant we had a clear idea of how we would move forward.

Staff of the Alexander Turnbull Library moving the book collection out a window.Previously unconventional methods for getting collection items outsdide of the walls of the Library. Staff of the Alexander Turnbull, 1955. Ref: EP/1955/1551-F.

Negotiating expectations

The digital age has created a tension for libraries and archives. We want to meet the needs of many different kinds of users, who have different takes on use and reuse from different perspectives. Sectors of the research community (anyone with an information need that can be met by the Library) now have legitimate expectations that heritage materials will be available, online, and reusable. At the same time, many content creators, donors (and their families and heirs), and communities have a legitimate ongoing need to protect their intellectual rights and privacy.

Keep in mind that the Library does not hold the copyright or other intellectual rights for most of the collections we look after. The use and reuse permissions of both the published and unpublished collections are determined by the rights owners (which is automatically asserted under New Zealand copyright law), or are agreed to when we acquire or receive the items. Conversations with donors about the Creative Commons suite of licenses will help us out here.

Furthermore, the Library has a kaitiakitanga responsibility (most closely translated as guardianship, for international readers) to protect, preserve and make accessible the tāonga relating to Māori. Kaitiakitanga sits alongside western concepts of intellectual property and acknowledges that tāonga have a mauri, or life-force, by way of the people that were involved in their creation. This means it is incumbent on the Library to form relationships with Māori on how to care for tāonga and to determine the role that iwi play in relation to spiritual care.

Within these frames, the Library acknowledges that notions of intellectual property, appropriateness of use and reuse, and privacy can look different from different perspectives. The amorphous concept of trust becomes increasingly important in the digital age and is especially relevant for developing the unpublished collections, as the Library relies on generous donations from individuals, families and organisations to build the manuscript, photograph and oral history collections, among others.

At the same time we wanted to remove the permissions barrier where possible, and open up collections that are appropriate to be in the public domain. The New Zealand Government Open Access and Licensing Framework (NZGOAL) recommends the ‘no known copyright restriction’ statement for government departments, so we needed a policy statement to support the intention for more ‘no known copyright restriction’ collection items.

So how did we deal with these apparent conflicts? Three principles form the heart of the new policy, addressing these issues and providing a path forward for the Library.

Principle 3: NLNZ will adhere to the terms, conditions or restrictions for use and reuse as agreed when collection items are acquired or received.

Principle 4: Negotiations with rights owners and donors will promote and be informed by the Creative Commons licensing framework as a mechanism to facilitate use and reuse of in-copyright works.

Principle 5: Where no copyright restriction applies, NLNZ will seek to provide the items for use and reuse with a statement of ‘no known copyright restrictions’, after careful consideration of cultural and ethical issues relating to the items.

Further explanation of the principles is provided in the policy document.

Aspiration and reality

A good policy helps an institution move forward and shouldn’t just codify and entrench current practice. The Library acknowledges that when it comes to use and reuse, our current practices require some improvement.

For example, there are some items that have three or four different rights statements on different online channels. I used these items through the process as examples of the difference between our current and preferred practice. There are some reasonable explanations about how it got this way, but it’s clearly not a good way to continue. The relevant principle in the new policy is:

Principle 2: All collection items will be delivered to researchers with clear and consistent statements on use and reuse rights and permissions.

It sounds simple but there are a lot of current, past, and future permissions and rights statements we have to be able to reflect, cutting across sizeable and diverse collections, in different systems with differing technological capability.

We’re currently in the process of mapping all of our permissions and rights statements across all collection management databases and online channels. It’s complex, but it will let us develop a system that at least looks simple from the user’s side.

Bookplate showing a man wrestling a bull, and the text 'E libris Alex H Turnbull. Fortuna favet audaci', or 'From the library of Alex H Turnbull. Fortune favours the bold.Looking back sometimes gives us the inspiration to move forward. Alexander Turnbull’s bookplate with the motto ‘fortune favours the bold', 1891. Ref: BOOKPLATES-Graham-NZ-Turnbull-1891-01.

Getting more items into the public domain

Most of the initial implementation energy is going into increasing the amount of material with no known copyright restriction – this means free downloads at an appropriately high resolution.

The emphasis is on quality over quantity – to find the collections with no known copyright restrictions that best support the research and education agenda, and the online researcher. Our objective is to make the release of more items into the public domain part of our regular processes in the Library. The first collections released under the new policy will relate to the First World War.

Importantly, we have started to document our cultural and ethical issues (from principle 5), how they relate to our kaitiaki responsibilities, and why they might result in some restriction on use and reuse.

The ongoing challenge remains balancing the desire to push more collections into the public domain, with retaining the status of the Library as a trusted place where individuals, families, organisations and communities feel comfortable depositing their personal records, so we can continue to build the documentary heritage and tāonga of New Zealand.

The onus is on us to document and be transparent about what we are doing. This policy is another step in addressing the contemporary reuse agenda.

Stay tuned for more information about the Library’s activities as we work through implementing this policy.

By Mark Crookston

Mark is the Digital Collection Strategy Leader at the Alexander Turnbull Library.

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