Monthly Archives: April 2020

Available, affordable? An interview with Johanna Anderson about eBooks in Academic Libraries

Much of the discussion about eBooks in libraries focuses on the situation for public libraries. With scholarly publishing having switched to digital formats relatively early, it can be easy to assume that all is well. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing academic libraries to close their doors, it has become clear that this is not the case.

To find out more about the situation, we interviewed Johanna Anderson, an academic librarian and public library advocate from the United Kingdom, to find out more. You can follow Johanna on Twitter.


1. How have you and colleagues experienced the closure of your buildings to the public?
Lectures and teaching were moved online over a week before our libraries were closed. We were not closed until the end of the Tuesday after the government’s instructions to close campuses, and before this saw a bit of a dash to the library by students to get books, laptops etc.

Since then we have been working to try to get alternative ebook titles of key texts not available in electronic format as we can’t get onto campus to do scanning, and have spent hours trawling provider platforms for affordable eBooks. We have also been doing literature search tutorials with students online, and have also compiled a list of additional resources made temporarily available by publishers.

This has taken quite a lot of work as they tend to be on unfamiliar platforms to us and the students. Students already find literature searching complicated so all of these additional platforms and the inherent difference in access limits has added to that complication. We are doing what we can to help students navigate them.

The most difficult thing is making students aware of the resources in the first place as they are pretty swamped with trying to adjust to the changes in circumstances already and they are pretty stressed – not ideal for processing new information

2. How much use was being made of academic eBooks before the crisis? What lay behind this?

It’s hard to get exact figures at the moment due to circumstances but students tend to prefer hardcopy books and our hardcopy stock circulation statistics are very high. This is partly due to the nature of the text heavy courses we deliver, e.g. social sciences and humanities.

Nonetheless, there is demand – where we do have eBooks available they are heavily used. Therefore, for ANY title we have on reading lists we will ALWAYS buy eBooks where possible rather than hardcopy. However, we did do an audit of one of our schools and for our computing courses only 17% of titles on the reading lists were available in electronic format. The figure is far lower on humanity courses.

3. To what extent are eBook versions of texts available for you to buy for the library?

This kind of ties into the above. We are about on par with the figures in the report prepared by UK Copyright Literacy on the value of the Copyright Licencing Agency (CLA)’s licence to UK Higher Education.

This noted, in particular, that “in an audit of most frequently scanned books, of the 904, 902 were recognised by the ProQuest database, and 94 (10%) were identified as ISBNs with an electronic alternative. This chimes with other estimates that only around 10% of current academic titles are available as eBooks.” (pg 24).

The table on page 26 is very useful in illustrating the issues we have with licencing models as it shows that single user licence eBooks dominated scan requests and were also the most available licence when ebook purchasing. The average costs are also pretty depressing.

There is a danger in seeing the CLA licence used to provide key chapters of  books to a large cohort of students, and equating that as a viable alternative to resourcing a library with complete books.

This issue is skimmed over in the report, but for me, this is just not a sensible collection management approach. We do currently make the best use of the CLA licence that we can, but it is not enough.

Of course, eBook versions of texts may be available through publishers’ own platforms, but this is not a realistic option given that we need to offer readers a range of books, from many different publishers. We simply cannot afford to buy into every platform going, so we have to rely on aggregate vendors who are currently not in a position to negotiate reasonable prices that libraries can afford.

4. To what extent have you come across contractual barriers, such as limitations on where copies can be accessed?

Previous to the COVID-19 crisis, eBook purchasing was a nightmare. We have had cases of vendors selling us licences which publishers have then restricted access to or withdrawn, which quite frankly, is disgusting.

A lot of the key texts e.g. research methods ones are not available in ebook format at all as discussed above. Many books, as CLA points out, are single user only books… which are often ten times the price of a hardcopy. Students will not use them if, when they click on a book title, they are told they cannot read it at that time.

Students, and indeed most academics, do not understand the restrictions – it is no surprise as this is so complicated. They think “e” = available to them anytime and anywhere.  We do not have the budgets to buy eBooks whatever the cost, so librarians spend HOURS trawling through complicated licences on different platforms.

Furthermore, the price of eBooks varies wildly with no obvious rhyme or reason.  More recently Taylor and Francis/Routledge have increased the price of their eBooks up to sometimes as much as 10x the original price (as I’ve highlighted on my Twitter feed) and some are starting to introduce “expiry dates” so the licence to a purchased eBook expires after a year. This is perverse!

Moreover, we cannot collectively complain because contract terms prevent us from sharing this sort of information. Who knows what they are charging other universities!

5. To what extent are they affordable? How do they compare to physical versions of the same books

As set out above and in the report about the CLA licence, it is not easy to answer because there is so much variation, not just by publisher but also by discipline.

For example, Sage doesn’t tend to publish things in electronic format (which is very annoying, given that their materials are heavily needed by teaching students etc who spend most of their time on placement). When they do, they tend to be single user licences only, but are a similar price to the hardcopy.

Then you get publishers like Taylor and Francis who will sell a hardcopy book for £30-40, but charge are £400 + for a single user ebook. Incidentally, these same titles were approximately £120-£180 before Christmas, which was already high. Nonetheless, as I said at the beginning, prices vary so much that it is difficult to give a straightforward answer to this one.

6. What reasons have you been given for the high prices?

Publishers say that promoting eBook formats leads to a reduction in their income because multiple hardcopies are no longer purchased, although this seems hard to square with the regular high profits that many of them continue to enjoy. It also makes no sense as we cannot afford these prices even if we wanted to, so I am not buying from them at all! I’m not sure how this will help their bottom line! I am told that much of the process of producing a book is often outsourced in order to reduce costs, so I can’t see how they cost more than hardcopy books.

If there was a single user eBook at the same price as a hardcopy I would buy a couple of licences, and I know that JISC have had some communications with T&F about this

7. Do these make much sense in the current circumstances? 

It doesn’t make sense in any circumstances. This has just magnified the issue! I have been complaining for months. People are only taking note now as it is making a difficult situation worse. Taylor and Francis announced to much fanfare that they are going to allow libraries to buy their single user eBooks with temporary unlimited access. This is no help at all as we still can’t afford them! I also have no intention of being stuck with single user ebooks I had to pay hundreds for after all of this. It just isn’t practical.

8. What impact does this have on you in your job, and on your budgets?

It has been very frustrating and stressful… things are tricky enough already! Students panicked and rushed to the library to get hardcopy texts before we shut down, which is absolutely what should not have had to happen in the current circumstances. As I have already said, I have spent hours and hours trying to find alternative eBooks, often to no avail. Taylor and Francis have not made their pricing more reasonable so I can see eBooks are there but I cannot buy them. It’s so frustrating!

There is a myth, particularly among university management, that everything is available in electronic format. This is often used as a reason for the reduction of physical space in libraries, but it really is not the reality. When things ARE available in electronic format the publishers can change the terms or withdraw items and there isn’t anything we can do about it. Currently, we simply do not have the negotiating power to change this.


Library Stat of the Week #16: Globally, having more public libraries is linked to lower inequality

Libraries have an important function in societies in promoting equity.

For those who do not have the resources to access books or who cannot afford a strong internet connection or hardware, they are a free (or low-cost) alternative.

For those who could not benefit from a good education, they provide another route back into learning.

Increasingly, libraries have expanded services – consistent with their overall mission – to find other ways to help members of society at risk of information poverty.

Given this, it is worth trying to understand what we can learn from statistics about levels of inequality in the world, and how these relate to libraries, using data from the Library Map of the World.

This post – the first in a sub-series – looks at some initial indicators of the relationship between different indicators of inequality or income distribution and the presence of libraries in a country.

While this is certainly a proxy, we will use the number of public or community libraries per 100 000 people as a measure of how well served a population is.

To understand inequality, we can take two approaches – one of the standard measures of income inequality – the Gini Coefficient – and then the percentage of the population living under national poverty lines (both using World Bank figures).

These allow us both to get a sense of how income is distributed across a population in general (i.e. how ‘fair’ or ‘unfair’ it is), and then what share of the population struggles to survive from day to day.

Graph comparing number of libraries per 100 000 people and the Gini coefficient

Looking at the Gini Coefficient first, as the above graph shows, there is generally an inverse relationship between the number of libraries per 100 000 people and the coefficient (a higher coefficient indicates higher inequality), indicating that the more libraries there are, the fairer a society is.

Interestingly, this relationship is less clear at the regional level, with the exceptions of North America and Europe, where there is a clear link (although obviously with North America, the sample size is small!). Globally, it becomes clear – sadly, that Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean seem to be characterised by both low numbers of public and community libraries (on the basis of the data we have) and higher levels of inequality.

Graph comparing number of public and community libraries per 100 000 people with the share of the population under the national poverty line

Turning to the share of the population under the national poverty line (see the graph above), there is a similar inverse relation between the number living in poverty, and the number of libraries per 100 000 people.

Again, this tendency is also reflected in Europe, where an extra 10 public or community libraries per 100 000 people is linked to a fall of 1.1 percentage point in the share of the population living in poverty.

Clearly, as ever, correlation is not necessarily causation. It is likely to be the case that societies that invest more in libraries also invest more in other measures to tackle inequality. In other words, more libraries can be a symptom of a more pro-equality stance, rather than the reason for this.

Nonetheless, it stands that more libraries remains linked to higher equality and lower poverty.

To explore further, given that different countries take different approaches to the number of libraries they have (fewer, bigger ones, or more, smaller ones), we’ll look at the links between the number of library workers and indicators of equality and poverty.


Find out more on the Library Map of the World, where you can download key library data in order to carry out your own analysis! See our other Library Stats of the Week! We are happy to share the data that supported this analysis on request.

Something Old, Something New: COVID-19’s effect on documentary heritage professionals

The shock of cultural institutions shuttering is beginning to wear off. The world of social distancing might begin feeling like the new normal, even as, depending where in the world you are, there is talk of memory institutions re-opening.

For the past months, we have been living in a world without cultural institutions as public spaces.  We’ve seen museums close their doors, libraries exploring online engagement, and many cultural professionals furloughed or navigating their work from home.

Through this crisis, UNESCO maintains the importance of culture, including a call for greater support to documentary heritage during COVID-19, co-signed by IFLA.

How is the crisis affecting the professionals that are working to preserve and provide access to the world’s cultural heritage? We’ve reached out to documentary heritage practitioners in our international network of Preservation and Conversation (PAC) Centres to reflect on their experience of working through the pandemic.

Q: How have stay-at-home measures affected the preservation work at your institution?

 Library of Congress, USA

Stay-at-home guidance has had a major, and predictable, impact on our work with the physical collections. We have had to stop conservation treatments and laboratory research, along with our collections maintenance projects like shelf reading and condition surveys. We are fortunate to have dedicated staff who are able to make weekly rounds in our storage areas to ensure collections are safe, which has paid off several times. The weather is not on lockdown and accidents can always happen.

Many of our digital preservation activities are not only active, but have taken on special significance. We are working on COVID web archiving projects along with several international partners, for example. Our digital resources, and the infrastructures for preservation and access that support them, are more in demand than ever. Our digital content management projects continue more or less as before.


National Library and Information System Authority (NALIS), Trinidad and Tobago:

 Trinidad and Tobago has taken emergency measures to curtail the spread of Covid-19. A Stay-at-Home order has been in effect since 27 March with only essential services asked to report to work.

The National Library and Information System Authority (NALIS) has closed its facilities to the public, ramping up its online services and permitting only designated staff access to the National Library Building which houses the Heritage Library and the Preservation Lab.

The hands-on work of conservation and preservation, that is, the direct work with collections – the assessment, diagnostic and treatment phases, as well as cataloguing and digitization – have all been placed on hold.


Library for Foreign Literature, Russia:

The mayor of Moscow announced a regime of self-isolation from 30 March to 1 May.

During this period, only organisations and business that cannot stop their activities due to production and technical conditions, those providing citizens with essential goods, those providing warehousing and logistics services, emergency response, and construction are able to continue working. Therefore, until 1 May, the Center for the Conservation and Restoration of Documents at the Russian Library for Foreign Literature does not work. It is not yet clear whether such instructions will be extended.

The regime of self-isolation was introduced gradually, at first only for a week, and then extended. It was therefore difficult to prepare for it.

It’s important to note that the situation differs between Russian regions. For example, our colleagues from Siberia are making videos instructing readers on how to repair books themselves.


National Library and Documentation Service Board of Sri Lanka:

 The lockdown in Sri Lanka has certainly affected the preservation work at the National Library. The National Library has completely closed for staff and visitors from 23 March.


National Library of Australia:

We are continuing preservation work at the National Library of Australia through a variety of means, namely those staff working from home are working on procedure review updating processes and completing research that often we don’t get time to do as part of our day-to-day business.

Two tasks we are looking into are a complete review of our care and handling training we provide Library staff and researching new approaches to exhibition furniture and material off-gassing needs.


Q: Is your team working remotely, still on location, or a mix of the two?

 National Diet Library, Japan:

In Tokyo, people are asked to stay home but it isn’t as strict as in some other countries for now. Staff in the preservation division of the National Diet Library are split between remote working and on-location.  About one third of staff members work at home or take a day off in rotation.


Library of Congress, USA: 

We are almost entirely remote agency-wide, though the details vary group by group. We do have essential staff on site to ensure the safety of the buildings and collections, but the number is strictly limited and they are scheduled to minimize contact.

About half the Preservation staff have full time telework projects to carry us through the next several months, and others have part-time projects or training they can complete online.

Our digital content management staff have shifted to full telework mode, with some significant adjustments having been made to allow teamwork to continue using a variety of tools to support remote collaboration.


National Library of Australia:

 Our Digital Preservation team is working solely from home which has impact on their technical ability to process collection items. All of this work continues, just a little more slowly. Some work, such as the processing of obsolete carriers, has pretty much ceased.

The rest of the lab team is working on a roster system, part of the week at home, the other at work. This enables our core treatment work to continue and provide support to the Library’s digitisation programme. While the Library building is closed, we have also taken the opportunity to undertake a comprehensive condition report and clean of all objects on permanent display. This task otherwise gets scheduled into the small hours before the building opens to the public or after hours, so it is a good opportunity to do this now.

It also provides the team with good social distancing opportunities as we aim to have a Team A working in the morning, Team B in the afternoon.


Q: What work has been possible to achieve? How have priorities shifted during this time?

National Diet Library Japan:

Naturally, conservation works are slowing down, as conservators cannot take library books home, but haven’t stopped. We will need to cancel or postpone training workshops and other events unless the situation improves dramatically.


Library of Congress, USA: 

First and foremost, in times like these we are very much the Library of Congress, with many of staff fully engaged in providing information to our legislators to support their work in the face of this pandemic. I am sure that many of our colleagues in IFLA national and parliamentary libraries are doing the same and it certainly makes me proud of our profession.

This period has allowed many preservation staff a welcome opportunity to dig into research and to do thoughtful, uninterrupted work to create research guides and educational materials, or to work on complex problems.

This crisis has been valuable in helping us stress-test both our priorities and our procedures. So, while our ultimate goals and major priorities remain, we have learned a great deal about how to achieve them. I see this as a good time to ask which processes were resilient and which need to be refined, retired, or redesigned.


NALIS, Trinidad and Tobago:

Even though direct work with the collections have been paused, staff are focussed on outreach and professional development. Outreach efforts are being ramped up via social media outlets with events such as tutorials on preserving family heirlooms, pictures and documents and other community engagements planned via Facebook and the NALIS website.

Events such as ‘this day in history’ for Trinidad and Tobago are ongoing and online tours of our large catalogue of exhibits and displays are also planned. Programmes that would have been held, such as our First Time Authors, celebrating newly published authors in commemoration of World Book and Copyright Day, will now be featured online.

Some consultative work is still being done, but these pertain to collaborative projects in train before the shut down and these are via the usual communication media and a limited reference service is in effect using NALIS’ online heritage resources and askNalis facility.

One of NALIS’ priorities has always been the financial sustainability of the PAC Lab and the preservation projects and efforts. It is even more so now in the straightened economic circumstances that would exist in a world battling with the pandemic.


Library for Foreign Literature, Russia:

At the moment, there is a process of editing the translation of IFLA guidelines and working on the National Program for the Preservation of Library Collections. Due to the fact that restorers cannot work remotely, the focus was shifted towards methodological activities.


National Library and Documentation Service Board of Sri Lanka:

 The National Library has strengthened digital services during lock down period. This includes assistance offered to our communities via the telephone, and on social media like the National Library Facebook page.


National Library of Australia:

We are maintaining some focus on our main treatment programmes but these will experience delays because of the reduced time at the bench to undertake treatments.

We have been able to address a lot of tasks we just never got to previously and as discussed above – procedure review, some professional reading. Digital preservation work continues – just at a slower than normal rate due to the technological issues of working off site.  

Q: What comes next? Has there been discussion in your region over what will come next for preservation, or over lasting changes to the field after COVID-19?


National Diet Library Japan:

We haven’t yet discussed possible changes to our work after COVID-19, but I am not expecting any significant changes for preservation.


Library of Congress, USA: 

The initial deliberations about how to reopen are starting and preservation experts have been important contributors to the working groups on this topic. The Institute for Museum and Library Services has convened several Federal agencies, including the Library of Congress, to work with medical and public health experts to develop guidance for the field.

In preservation, there is always a long future to look forward to. The Library of Congress is celebrating its 220th anniversary this month and we look forward to sharing our beautiful spaces and great collections for another 220 years and beyond.


NALIS, Trinidad and Tobago:

The NALIS PAC Lab – as an IFLA PAC Centre – has reached out to its regional partners in the form of a simple survey to discuss preservation in the time of COVID-19. We are awaiting feedback.


Library for Foreign Literature, Russia:

At the moment, this is unknown. However, I think that work will continue ahead in the usual manner.

We collect information about the processing of books after the pandemic, but for ourselves we have so far revealed the main idea – two-week quarantine is universal, safe for books and does not cost a lot of money.


National Library and Documentation Service Board of Sri Lanka:

The National Library has issued guidelines regarding the exit strategy from COVID-19 for libraries in Sri Lanka.


National Library of Australia:

I don’t believe there has been any discussion about what next, as the Australian community is still in the ‘what to do now’ phase. The latest from the Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Materials (AICCM) is available here.  At this stage, I have not heard anything in relation to changes regarding digital preservation.


In conclusion

Documentary heritage professionals are facing varying degrees of stay-at-home measures around the world. Despite setbacks and the limited access to materials, work has been able to continue.

Providing support to government, reflecting on processes, diving into research and methodological work, and shifting the focus to digital communications are examples of how professionals keep preservation and access to documentary heritage moving ahead through the pandemic.

As the focus shifts from “what to do now” to “what comes next”, it is vital that this work is allowed to continue forward and develop in a positive direction thanks to the lessons we have learned during this time.

In the words of the PAC Centre at the Library of Congress, USA, “In preservation, there is always a long future to look forward to”.

We look forward to navigating the post-COVID-19 world with access and preservation of cultural heritage continuing to be upheld as a priority.


Short-Term Relief, Long-Term Results: Five Ways to Include Libraries in Stimulus Packages

The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic will not only be measured in terms of health. Around the world, livelihoods are being disrupted by the measures taken in order to prevent the further spread of the disease.

These economic impacts are of course likely the lesser of two evils – and certainly better than letting the virus spread unchecked. They do need attention nonetheless, given that unemployment and poverty also have very real human costs.

In response, governments are starting to develop stimulus packages – programmes of spending to help get people back into work, and indeed build a better future. There is every reason for libraries to be involved in these, beyond any support given to library staff who are put on furlough, or who lose their jobs now.

This blog therefore looks at five ways in which stimulus packages could include libraries. In each case, the focus is on measures which will not only provide short-term relief by helping to preserve jobs and incomes, but which will also have a long-term positive effect.


Suggestion 1: Increase library acquisition budgets in order to increase purchases of books from local bookshops

In an example that has already been implemented in Barcelona, an increase in budgets for library acquisitions will bring immediate benefits to local bookstores (as long as acquisitions models work this way), helping them to survive the crisis. Authors and publishers will also of course benefit. Renewing and refreshing stocks will meant that libraries can offer a wider selection into the future. Such a step would also help those libraries which have had to reallocate funds to buying eBooks in response to demand in the crisis.


Suggestion 2: Support the renovation of library buildings to improve them as spaces for learning and wellbeing

While the construction industry may be one of those able to restart sooner than others, it is likely to suffer in general from any fall in the wider economy. As a result, hiring (ideally local) construction firms to carry out necessary or helpful renovations of library buildings would provide useful work and reduce unemployment. In the longer-term, more attractive, better designed library buildings will be better suited to providing services to support learning and well-being in the community, as well as, hopefully, being more environmentally friendly.


Suggestion 3: Develop skills among those working in libraries to support inclusion effectively

We are unfortunately likely to see a rise in unemployment in many countries as a result of the pandemic, with millions needing to look for new work, potentially requiring new skills and knowledge. Libraries have already developed a strong role in helping people in these situations over the past few years, and are likely to see this become stronger still now. To do so, they will need additional support however, either through receiving training themselves, or through the hiring of new personnel. In both cases, this will mean that they are better placed to help their communities recover into the longer term.


Suggestion 4: Upgrade internet connectivity and access facilities in libraries and beyond

Even in the wealthiest countries, there are still people on the wrong side of the digital divide, lacking the connection, hardware, skills and/or confidence to make the most of the internet. Digital inclusion initiatives can include steps such as improving connectivity to libraries as public access points, installing long-range Wi-Fi technologies so that communities can benefit, renewing terminals and devices (including for lending), and skills programmes. These will all boost employment in the short term (especially if local solutions are used as far as possible), but will also leave individuals and societies better placed to take up new opportunities into the longer term (including if the pandemic returns!). The $50 million allocated to the Institute of Museum and Library Services in the United States, for example, has focused on just this.


Suggestion 5: Supporting cultural programming focused on local creators

The cultural sector has been particularly badly hit by the crisis, at least in those sectors which rely on people being able to travel and come together. With these possibilities gone, and the internet providing only a partial solution, there is a risk that many creators will need to give up on writing or performing completely in order to find other work. Stimulus packages can help prevent this by supporting cultural programming – either online, or eventually in person – associated with libraries. Residencies, courses or other projects can all provide a lifeline to creators, but also mean a richer cultural life in communities, supporting well-being and education for all into the long term.


Information Multilateralism

 Today is the second ever International Day of Multilateralism and Diplomacy for Peace. Created as a result of a Resolution of the United Nations General Assembly, it aims to provide an opportunity to highlight the values – and the merits – of multilateral approaches to addressing challenges.

The creation of the day itself is timely. With populist leaders coming to power in a number of places, and placing the (proclaimed) immediate interest of their countries first, there is a need to find opportunities to set out why we work together.

But why is this specifically relevant to libraries, and how does the library and information world contribute? This blog explores the answers.


Why Does Multilateralism Matter for Libraries?

While the word ‘multilateralism’ belongs more to political science than to library and information science, the approach it describes is a familiar one for the library field.

Indeed, the existence of organisations like IFLA is evidence of the understanding that cooperation across borders matter.

If libraries are to be able to work together, they need to follow the same standards, for example for cataloguing. This enables the sharing of materials, and increasingly, the creation of shared resources and databases.

Similarly, so much of the life IFLA is built on the understanding that everyone has something to learn from others elsewhere in the world. The good practices and guidelines we develop are the result of intense sharing of ideas and examples, in order to raise standards everywhere.

These two cases reflect two of the key characteristics of good multilateral cooperation – readiness to develop and follow shared rules, and acceptance of the need to engage as equals.

We’ve seen a similar approach develop with the internet, arguably developing a form of (imperfect) information multilateralism, where, at least in theory, everyone has the possibility both to access and contribute information, and where there is no single dominant power.


Why do Libraries (and Information) Matter for Multilateralism?

In turn, this multilateral approach applied to libraries and information can support successful international cooperation, not least the delivery of the United Nations 2030 Agenda.

As set out above, we arguably already have a form of information multilateralism, thanks originally to the global network of libraries, and now complemented powerfully by the development of the internet.

This is what allows for the international research that provides an evidence base for political efforts, for example, to tackle climate change, or to produce documents such as the Global Sustainable Development Report published by the United Nations last September.

Now, faced with the COVID-19 pandemic, there are rapid steps towards building up banks of resources across borders and to make them openly available, with the goal of accelerating progress towards finding effective treatments and cures.

This sort of work is only possible when researchers everywhere can share and combine knowledge in order to work towards shared conclusions.

As hinted when referring to the internet as being an imperfect form of multilateralism, there is more to be done to ensure that we really are in a situation where we have an information environment where everyone is able to contribute and benefit, and so help build solutions.

Amongst the issues needing to be addressed are the fact that almost half of the world’s population are not online, and of those who are, many still lack the connection speed, skills and confidence to make the most of the internet. Others who would normally have access are seeing it restricted through internet shutdowns.

Restrictions on content – from the barriers caused by the fragmentation of copyright laws and censorship, to a lack of information in local languages – also play a role in limiting the resources we can draw on.

Libraries of course – both through their day-to-day work with the communities they serve, and their cooperation across borders – can make a major contribution to overcoming this situation, but require governments to play their part also, providing the right laws and support for success.

Doing so will help achieve the goals of multilateralism globally.

Catching up on Copyright: Current Global Trends in Legal Reform

As will have been highlighted by many of the posts made today – World Copyright Day (23 April), copyright has had a major influence on the way the modern creative industries have emerged.

It has spread way beyond its beginnings in the early 18th century as a limited protection lasting just 14 years, and now reaches into almost every corner of our lives.

It is so powerful, indeed, that even from the beginning of international law-making in the area, it was recognised that it should not be absolute. Just as it enabled authors and creators – or often the companies that bought and traded their rights – to earn a living, it could also bring dangers.

Copyright legislators have therefore sought to intervene in order to help the system work most efficiently. This comes both in terms of finding ways to simplify the way the system works where it is appropriate to charge for access to – or use of – works, and to create and enforce exceptions there would otherwise be market failure.

So how have things been developing since the last World Copyright Day? Below we set out a few trends:


Sorting out the Basics: despite these being seemingly core elements of free speech, it’s not in every country that there is the possibility freely to quote someone else, or to carry out criticism, make jokes, or review. The lack of such rules can allow copyright too easily to become a tool of censorship and control.

Fortunately, there have been steps forwards in Kenya and Myanmar (which previously was working with a law from 1911 inherited from the colonial period). In both countries, exceptions allowing for quotation, parody and criticism have been put in place.

However, some countries still lag behind, notably in Latin America where a number of states still have no meaningful copyright law containing exceptions. Long efforts by the library sector in Uruguay have been frustrated for now, with the government simply pushing through an unnecessary term extension, while it remains unclear what the Brazilian government will propose. Argentina too, beyond a welcome move to allow enjoyment of the rights created by the Marrakesh Treaty, still has some way to go before a full and modern copyright law is in place.


Enabling Digital Uses: a core focus of much library advocacy around copyright reform has been the drive to update copyright laws for the digital age. Provisions in existing laws – limiting the number of copies taken, specifying a format or method to be used, or explicit exclusion – can all make it impossible for libraries to take advantage of new opportunities.

There has been progress over the past year. Text-and-data mining (TDM) has proved to be a continuing area of uncertainty for many, given that while copies are made, these are usually exclusively part of the analysis process.

To resolve this, we have seen Switzerland and Ireland introduce or strengthen laws which make it clear that this is permissible, at least for non-commercial purposes. Singapore has gone further still in its own proposals, underlining that it should be possible regardless of the purpose, given that TDM causes no harm to original markets, and efforts to control it would likely limit innovation. Myanmar’s new law also opens the way to TDM.

Canada’s Industry, Science and Technology Committee also called for a broad TDM exception in its review of the country’s 2012 reforms. As focus increases on artificial intelligence – which often draws on TDM in order to train machines – it can be hoped that other governments will understand the need for strong exceptions in order to facilitate innovation in this space.

Similarly, there have been steps towards facilitating digital preservation. Myanmar, Switzerland and Ireland have both expanded exceptions to allow for preservation copying through digitisation, giving them more scope to safeguard their history for the future. Draft laws in the Philippines look to do the same.

However, not all is positive, with Kenya missing an opportunity to expand its own preservation provisions. Sadly, this will help continue the imbalance in laws that will give institutions in some countries a greater ability than others to fulfil their mission as guardians of memory.


Closing Loopholes: a major concern linked to greater reliance on digital resources is the opportunity that technological protection measures (TPMs), and the primacy of freedom of contract provide to hollow out exceptions.

TPMs can create practical restrictions on how libraries or their users make use of works, even preventing activities that would ordinarily be protected. Badly drafted laws will nonetheless criminalise the circumvention or removal of such measures.

Meanwhile, unless governments make it clear that they are not enforceable, the terms of contracts for digital content can be used to forbid uses, such as lending or document supply.

We have seen more progress on TPMs in the last year. In both Kenya and Myanmar, it has been made clear that libraries and others need to be able to enjoy copyright exceptions. The proposed Lebanese law includes the same idea, and we have seen calls for this in Canada.

Nonetheless, this is not the case everywhere. The Philippines draft law only refers to penalties for circumventing TPMs, rather than offering clarity to libraries. We will also need to see how European countries, in implementing the new copyright Directive, look to ensure that TPMs cannot be used to frustrate legitimate activities.

Meanwhile, the very promising provisions in South African law, ensuring that rightholders cannot use their negotiating power to deprive libraries and users of their rights under copyright exceptions, are still in limbo due to delay by the President in signing the law.

Unfortunately, neither Kenya nor Myanmar included provisions to prevent override by contract. However, we will see a number of European countries obliged to introduce such measures as they implement the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market. We can hope that they will take the opportunity to extend this to other exceptions enabling public interest activities.


Realism on Rights Management: The argument that collective management can remove all of the complexities involved in making copyright work can be attractive. With many small (and a few large) producers trying to engage with many small (and a few large) consumers, an intermediary can make life much simpler. We have seen collective management organisations (CMOs) given new powers to offer licences in Kenya and Switzerland for example.

However, this is also a role of major responsibility. Good collective management can help realise the promise of copyright, and ensure that creators are fairly remunerated. Bad, over-reaching collective management can serve to bully libraries and users, undermine the public interest goals of exceptions, and still do little to improve the lives of creators.

Many governments are coming to see the need for tighter regulation and control of CMOs, with new rules brought in in Kenya and Singapore, and proposed in the Philippines. In both Singapore and Canada, as well as in Australia, there has also been a readiness to dismiss arguments made by CMOs when not based in fact.

Governments will need to act as strong and independent regulators of CMOs in order to ensure that they fulfil their positive potential and do not end up undermining the public interest side of the copyright equation.


Conclusion: 2020 and Beyond: the examples shared so far all date from pre-COVID-19. Understandably, since the pandemic took hold, the primary area of focus has been on providing healthcare and dealing with immediate human challenges.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic is clearly asking some serious questions of copyright systems. In many cases, rightholders have indeed been willing to find ways to give access when this would otherwise have been impossible when library doors have closed. This is very welcome.

However, arguably, being able to access something that has already been paid for, or to carry out an activity which would be permitted without question in person, should not rely on the goodwill of private actors.

This reliance – and the variety of responses made – has added to the disruption already caused to education, research, and access to culture.

The failure of copyright laws in general to adapt to the digital age, ensuring that libraries and their users do not have to play by different rules when using different formats, has been made very clear.

World Copyright Day 2020, we can hope, will be a wake-up call for law makers.

Library Stat of the Week #15: Only 30% of countries’ copyright laws allow for digital preservation. None allow it freely across borders

Today is World Copyright Day, providing an opportunity to reflect on the influence that copyright has on the way we create, share and access information.

Copyright offers extensive powers to rightholders, including over many activities that cause no harm to original creators, and indeed help new ones, or achieve public interest goals.

This is why it is so important to have exceptions and limitations. These have been a part of international copyright law from the beginning, for activities such as quotation or news reporting.

One activity that requires such an exception is preservation copying. Libraries and other heritage institutions need to make and use copies as part of their mission to safeguard the past for the future. This can be because the original materials are weak or unstable, or because there is a risk of disaster, either natural or man-made.

Without an exception, libraries are obliged to try and seek permissions, which risks being hard, expensive, or simply impossible. This can mean that the choices libraries and others make about what to preserve are shaped not by real need, but by artificial constraints. Given that preservation represents, in effect, a free service to rightholders, this situation is absurd.

But how many countries do indeed have the rules they need to allow for preservation copying, and do they offer the flexibility needed to use newer techniques such as digitisation?

We looked through the information gathered by Professor Kenneth Crews for the World Intellectual Property Organization in 2017, to check on the figures.

On the positive side, we found that over 72% of the 186 countries covered do have preservation exceptions. However, less than half of these – 30% in total – were sufficiently flexible to allow for digital copying.

Looking across world regions, over 90% of developed countries had basic preservation exceptions and over 75% of countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. Africa scored lowest, with only 54%.

However, once we consider whether exceptions allow for digitisation, the picture changes, with just 3% of Latin American and Caribbean countries having an appropriate exception. Indeed, around the world, it was only in the developed region that more than 30% of countries allowed for digitisation for preservation purposes.

This is a serious challenge, given that it means that libraries in a large majority of countries – and particularly in developing countries – are unable to take advantage of new technologies easily in order to preserve their past. Meanwhile, richer countries are better able to safeguard their heritage.

More importantly still, with slow progress towards an international agreement on copyright exceptions at WIPO, no country can freely form digitisation networks with others around the world in order to preserve in-copyright heritage.

The need for action is pressing.


Find out more on the Library Map of the World, where you can download key library data in order to carry out your own analysis! See our other Library Stats of the Week! We are happy to share the data that supported this analysis on request.