Thursday, 19 June 2008

Smithsonian place copyright free images online

There's a great deal of debate at the moment concerning copyright and how it affects us now and how it will affect us in the future. After the recent announcement (that actually deserves a blog post all of its own) that the Associated Press expects people to pay to use quotations of more than five words and thereby making a mockery of the fair use that we have all embraced, it's refreshing to see that there are others trying to make it easier to use material.

The Smithsonian Institution now has a flickr page with hundreds and hundreds of images with no copyright attached.

Example: Chicago Library floor plan, including two retiring rooms and two binderies!

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Does information want to be free?

Chris Anderson's "Free" article got me wondering, what would it mean for librarians if everything is free?

Librarians have traditionally acted as gatekeepers to vast quantities of information which would otherwise be inaccessible to their user bases. An anomaly in a world obsessed with market forces, they have carved out a subversive role providing access - usually at no cost to the user -to content for which the copyright-owners would normally charge a fee.

How have we maintained our role all this time? One response might be that it is because we are the best at organising and archiving information; or because of our ability to judge what is of value and needs to be obtained (and retained); but I would argue that it is also, largely, because of the size of our purse - as we have controlled budgets for purchasing or leasing content beyond the means of our individual users.

Our role is perhaps still perceived in terms of the economics of scarcity and demand (quality information is scarce; the library has it in abundance). And yet while we all complain about the limitations of our budgets, their finite nature can be a blessing, in that the impossibility of purchasing everything sets a limit on the space (physical or server or bandwidth) we need for our collections, and the amount of work necessary to catalogue them all.

But in a world without toll-gates, should we, like Google, aim to "organise the world's information"? (an ambitious goal, even for one of the world's most successful corporations!)

Or perhaps the collection is the wrong focus? Anderson notes in his article that there is "a limited supply of reputation and attention in the world at any point in time. These are the new scarcities". Perhaps we need to move away from marketing the library and onto marketing ourselves, the librarians (whose USP is our expertise, rather than the collections we have built).