Wednesday, February 06, 2013

when librarians lend their politics - or, information wants to be doctrinaire

It's inconceivable to me that someone working in the chronically underfunded library system, or the increasingly underfunded education system could conclude that it is somehow fair or desirable to expect their most loyal and essential partners to suddenly work for free. When the Toronto Public Library system campaigned against potential funding cuts, who did they turn to for public support? A writer. Margaret Atwood led a group of Toronto writers in a petition campaign against cutbacks, garnering huge public support for the cause.

With Ontario's teachers in a work to rule dispute with the province for, so far, the entire 2012-13 academic year, who speaks out on their behalf and writes the supportive op-eds explaining their cause to an increasingly impatient province full of anxious parents and students? Writers. I don't think I know a writer who doesn't value the work of librarians and teachers, and I know a lot of writers. I am both a writer and the parent of two children in Ontario's school system, and I remain onside with my teacher friends and colleagues in their labour dispute.

How then to process some of the extreme anti-writer, anti-creative industry rhetoric one sees these days out of some corners of the academy and information sciences?

Would you like some politics with your library card?

The Ontario Library and Information Technology Association (OLITA) recently passed a Resolution on Opposition to Access Copyright License Agreements. This resolution, I understand, was intended to go to the OLITA annual general meeting where it was, apparently, unanimously passed by the members.

Who are the members of OLITA? Not sure. For an IT and Library association, they have a bafflingly unsharing web presence. Buried on the Ontario Library Association website, I finally came across this page letting me know who serves on the OLITA Council.

The OLITA resolution "urges Canadian post-secondary institutions not to enter into this licensing agreement, [and] encourages those who have already signed to exercise their termination options as soon as possible." The resolution contains a number of contentious and highly political "whereas" clauses intended as statements of fact.  For example:

WHEREAS the addition of “education” to the fair dealing categories, and the broad support for fair dealing in the Supreme Court’s pentalogy rulings of July 2012 provide further support for the position that the Access Copyright license does not provide any additional value to institutions beyond their existing rights, and 
WHEREAS the fee structure is inequitable to students on whom the costs are imposed, and 
WHEREAS several provisions in the license agreements limit the use of emerging technologies and increase the potential for monitoring and surveillance,

Since it can quite easily be argued that not one of these statements is particularly accurate, one wonders how anyone could support the internal logic of this resolution.

What the resolution rather studiously does not point out is that when schools, colleges and universities decide to forgo licensing for copyright-protected content, millions of dollars in legitimate royalty payments to Canadian writers disappear. Stop paying Canadian writers and publishers for their work, and you set in motion an economic mill wheel that will almost certainly come around the crush those most dependent on the product of Canadian writers and publishers. Don't Canadian library workers want Canadian content?

Access Copyright is a collective licensing agency created by Canada's writers, publishers and visual artists to establish a convenient and efficient one-stop licensing shop for creative content in this country. It  offers affordable licensing solutions to corporations, schools and governments, to ensure that Canadians can access and copy a vast repertoire of works, and to ensure that Canadian creators and publishers are properly compensated for their work. I think I can be 100% certain that we will never see the day when the Access Copyright AGM ever passes a resolution demanding that librarians and teachers not be paid.

Let's all be Open!... except when we want to hide something.

It seems there's an aggressive strain of doctrinaire, and somewhat hypocritical, free-culturism making its way through the immune system of our libraries.

The President of the OLITA Council, Nick Ruest, posted on his blog this past Monday that Access Copyright was engaged in intimidation tactics, and were trying to embarrass OLITA. 
"Access Copyright tried to circumvent a democratic process, refused to engage in a public dialogue, and tried to misrepresent and embarrass OLITA..."
This in response to a letter from the co-chairs of Access Copyright (one a Canadian publisher and one a Canadian writer) requesting a conversation - an "open and honest" conversation, in fact - about "the interconnected work we do as teachers, creators and librarians." Having been told by Mr. Ruest that he considered AC's request to talk some sort of anti-democratic gambit, Access Copyright made their letter public. This is the intimidation and embarrassment Ruest refers to? Making information public, on the "open" Internet?

I note that every single member of the OLITA Council is an employee of either a university or a public library system. I also note that paying the salaries of these folks could easily be interpreted as putting an unnecessary and unfair burden on student tuition rates and/or taxpayers. Of course, I would never interpret it that way, because I recognize the value to our culture of paying information specialists. It's a shame that recognition doesn't always flow in both directions.

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