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Envisioning copyright education

Hole in a brick wall, overlooking waterI have been an ALA employee for a while now, primarily on copyright policy and education. During that time, I have worked with several librarian groups, taught a number of copyright workshops, and appreciate that more librarians have a better understanding of what copyright is than was true several years ago. Nonetheless, on a regular basis, librarians across the country, primarily academic but also school librarians, find themselves tasked with the assignment to be the “copyright person” for their library or educational institution. These new job responsibilities are usually unwanted, because the victims recognize that they don’t know anything about copyright. The fortunate among them make connections with more knowledgeable colleagues, or perhaps have the funding to attend a copyright workshop here or there that may be, but often is not, reliable. In short, their graduate degree in library and information science, accredited or not, has not prepared them for the assignment. Information policy course work in library school is limited to a discussion of censorship and banned books week.

Sounds a bit harsh, doesn’t it?

I don’t expect or recommend that graduate students become fluent in the details of every aspect of the copyright law. What they do need to know is the purpose of the copyright law, why information professionals in particular have a responsibility for upholding balanced copyright law by representing the information rights of their communities, why information policy understanding must go hand in hand with librarianship, and of course, what is fair use? They need to understand copyright law as a concept, not a set of dos and don’ts.

Recently, this void in library and information science education is being investigated. I know several librarians that are conducting research on MLIS programs, the need for copyright education, how copyright is taught and the requirements of those teaching information policy courses. More broadly, the University of Maryland Information School published Re-envisioning the MLS: Findings, Issues and Considerations, the first year report of a three-year study on the future of the Masters of Library Science degree and how we prepare information professionals for their careers. If you already have your masters’ degrees, don’t feel left out. Look forward to new learning, knowing that not all of the old learning is for naught.  The values of librarianship have survived and will continue to be at the heart of what we need to know and do.

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Carrie Russell

Carrie Russell is the director of the Program on Public Access to Information in the Washington Office. Her portfolio includes copyright, international copyright, accessibility, e-books, and other public policy issues. She has an MLIS from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and an MA in media arts from the University of Arizona.

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