Ranganathan’s new sixth law?

If you’re a Canadian academic librarian right now, you are no doubt trying to figure out how to respond to changes in copyright collective agreements. I’ll leave the issue of what is happening for others more wise and knowledgeable. And I’ll also say the views in this blog are my own and in no way reflect on my institution. Oh yea, I Am Not a Lawyer and This is Not Legal Advice. There, butt covered.

Yikes!!!! What did Canadian academic libraries do before 1989 (the year of the first CanCopy agreement, if I’m not mistaken)? We tried to “Save the time of the user”  (Ranganathan’s Fourth Law). We worked with faculty (I should not say “we” since I graduated with my MLIS in 1989) who brought us reading lists and we put heavily used classroom items on limited time loan. We quickly found the books before some keen student borrowed them and we photocopied articles from journals so that students wouldn’t have to individually hunt through the stacks for them and other students weren’t inconvenienced by students who sliced articles out of bound journals. I’m not sure, but I don’t think we ever fussed about whether we or the students or the faculty were breaking the law.

With the AUCC guidelines on Fair Dealing that some are adopting we shall have to review Ranganathan’s Laws and add a Sixth.  I’m speaking of  the “guideline” to ask students to produce a written acknowledgement that he or she is a student enrolled in the course, that the student requires the copy for research, private study, review or criticism, and that the student will not use the copy for any other purposes. I hope that librarians serious about teaching students about information literacy (including their legal rights) are now including advice in classes about whether they should sign this document. What if a student refuses? Gee I might want to use that article on the enlightenment for some other purpose. What purpose? I don’t know, I just know that as a librarian I am not in the business of ensuring that we make material accessible that will “not be used for other purposes”.

Student at circulation desk: “I would like to borrow this article about spousal abuse”
Library staff: “Yes, but you have to promise to use it for this course”
Student goes home and talks to neighbour about spousal abuse because they suspect their neighbour is being abused
Enter Librarian knocking on door: “Wait . . . you can’t discuss that!”

I know a ridiculous example. Could never happen.

What about the “guideline” that says “the electronic copy is only downloaded by the student once during the course of instruction”?

Student at circulation desk: “I would like to borrow that article again”
Library staff: “You can’t”
Student: “But I have an exam in 2 hours and I lost my copy and I’d really like to read it”
Library staff: “Sorry you can’t”

We are putting ourselves out of the service role and into the policing role. We are putting our front-line staff into a very uncomfortable position.

OK Fine You Win, we will adopt the AUCC Fair Dealing Guidelines. Then let us at least be principled and add a sixth law:

Karen’s Proposed Sixth Law of Library Science: “The Library protects the University from threats of litigation”. That sounds like a lawyer’s job, and my momma didn’t raise me to be no lawyer!

Disclaimer: Mom, I love you, and I have nothing against lawyers!


About Karen Keiller

I am the University Librarian at Lakehead University.
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One Response to Ranganathan’s new sixth law?

  1. mleggott says:

    Bravo Karen! Some academic institutions are going to ridiculous lengths to protect their behinds with this Access Copyright brouhaha, rather than standing up for the rights of their students, so thanks for showing us just how ridiculous that could be.


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