Friday, March 4, 2016

"May You Live in Interesting Times..."

Information policy is a balance between completely legitimate but competing interests. On one hand, you have publishers who own content and who want everyone to have their content - as long as you pay for it. On the other hand, you have researchers (which here is loosely defined as anyone anywhere who wants access to information) who WANT all that information - well, at least part of it, anyway.  As shocking though it is, not everyone in the world is spellbound by articles on sexual selection and colonial breeding in cichlid fish (yes, there really is an article on this, not making it up OR making fun of it). But they believe that this knowledge should be free for everyone who wants to read it. And of course, this is an entirely black/white analysis of an issue with a whole lot of grey area - miles and miles of it.

Sometimes, one side or the other decides to do something extreme. A site called Sci Hub was created last year by a neuroscience researcher (follow the Wikipedia link for the basic details) using millions - yes, millions -  of articles that were behind paywalls but were "accessed" / "stolen" (depending on your point of view) by using compromised user accounts to access leading scientific databases, obtaining content, and then making it freely available on the new site. Of course, the publishers didn't think this was such a grand plan - and they sued to shut the site down and to pursue copyright violation charges against the site's founder.

In her typically excellent blog entitled Library Babel Fish on the Inside Higher Education site, Barbara Fister has written a piece on how librarians are caught in the DMZ of the struggle, and how that impacts both the work that we do and the way in which we are perceived by both of the competing interests. And how, in a very real way, the conflict is harming  the concept of the library as a common good. This is one of those things that keeps librarians up at night (well, some of us, anyway). And it is a subject that continues to make working in librarianship an "interesting" experience - both in the literal AND the pejorative sense.

It is expensive to provide access to online resources in MANY fields at nearly every level of use, including here at Lake Land. And at a time when our state is refusing to fund higher education, and every dollar being expended is being looked at carefully, this makes our continued ability to access these resources LEGALLY an interesting proposition. We routinely weigh the costs of a database service against its usage and assess how having - or not having - a given database might impact the students in the courses we offer. And like the broader information policy issue referenced above, the decisions that we make can have lasting impacts. So when a library resource disappears from our site, know that there have been a lot of conversations and analysis happening behind the scenes before that decision got made.

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