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Why School Librarians and Teachers Need to Understand Copyright Law

Carrie Russell at a radio interview.
Carrie Russell at a radio interview.

Last week, the American Library Association (ALA) released Complete Copyright for K—12 Librarians and Educators, a copyright law guidebook specifically written for school librarians and educators. Below, Carrie Russell, author of the book and director of the ALA’s Program on Public Access to Information, talks about the challenges that school librarians and teachers face concerning print and online materials in schools.

Why did you decide to write this book?

I wanted to more broadly reach the school librarian community. I occasionally provide copyright workshops for school librarians, but you can only reach so many people this way. I knew that school librarians would benefit from a book that explains what librarians and educators want to know, as well as what librarians and educators need to know. More important than knowing the copyright statute section by subsection, librarians need to understand the policy implications of the law. An understanding of why we have a copyright law in the first place is very critical.

The ALA Office for Information Technology Policy, where I work, focuses on this type of understanding to inform policy decisions that affect libraries and library users. Librarians have a professional responsibility to take a leadership role regarding copyright. Access to information is one of the fundamental tenets of librarianship. Copyright is directly linked to this value since it serves to enhance the wide dissemination of knowledge essential for learning which is the purpose of the copyright law.

What can school librarians and educators learn from the book?

The book attempts to respond to the common situations librarians and educators face on a daily basis — including protected material in classroom assignments, what students can lawfully do with protected materials in extracurricular activities, what librarians should do if their attempts to educate the school community about copyright fail and more.

What are some common misconceptions that school librarians and educators have about copyright law?

School librarians and educators believe that the risk of copyright litigation is high when it is almost non-existent. They believe that there are specific rules that “answer” copyright questions. They believe that making a fair use determination is too hard or too time-consuming to do when really it is just critical thinking. We might want short-cuts, but they do not serve the educational community well, are short term solutions and ignore the longer term implications, are arbitrary and are incorrect.

How can schools better prepare school librarians and educators about copyright law?

Schools of information, library schools, and professional certificate curriculums should include a required course on legal issues that impact the library and educational communities. This course would cover issues such as intellectual freedom, privacy, access to information for people with disabilities, telecommunications, e-rate, copyright and licensing, government information, etc.

Learn more about the book at

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Jazzy Wright

Jazzy Wright is a former press officer of the Washington Office.

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