19 November 2012

Charleston Conference 2012: part 6

This should be my final Charleston Conference post for 2012, about the final half-day of presentations, Saturday 10 November. After that, the sun set on the conference for another year.

On Saturday morning, I attended the "Long arm of the law" session. Winston Tabb (Dean of Libraries and Museums, The Johns Hopkins University) described IFLA's work on developing an international approach to copyright limitations and exceptions, charting some of the national variations in library exceptions (or lack of them) in different countries. In particular, Tabb discussed IFLA's recent recommendations (July 2012) for a Treaty on Limitations and Exceptions for Libraries and Archives (TLIB). Bill Hannay of the law firm Schiff Hardin then provided an overview of recent legal cases regarding publishers, book sales, authors and universities. Brilliantly, two of the cases discussed (USA vs Apple and Kirtsaeng vs Wiley) were summarised in song! Nancy Weiss from the Institute of Museum and Library Services explored further legal issues for libraries and museums including the implications of the Golan vs Holder case and the Authors' Guild vs Hathi Trust case, regarding digitization of published works to make them accessible to people with visual impairments. All these cases either have been or are going to be decided by the US Supreme court and it's difficult to know how relevant the cases would be specifically in a UK context, but of course the global reach of organisations such as Apple, Amazon, Google and the Hathi Trust does mean these judgements are bound to have international ramifications.

Then it was time for my 45 minute innovation session "Exploring concepts of 'collection' in the digital world". I was very pleased to see quite a large audience (around 25-30 people). I spoke for around 35 minutes, summarising some of my interview findings and a few very initial results from a survey I conducted over the summer and early autumn. The main part of the presentation explored ideas of collection-as-thing, collection-as-access, and collection-as-process. Paradoxically, I think that in some respects I tried to say too much and in other ways I probably didn't quite say enough about my findings. There was a really useful and interesting discussion after my presentation and I'm very grateful to all the audience members for their contributions. The major message which I've taken away from this discussion is to think more about immediacy, peripherality and convenience when thinking about 'collection'.

The morning concluded with a lively Hyde Park style debate, focused on the controversial proposition that "the traditional research library is dead". The motion was proposed by Rick Anderson (Interim Dean, Marriott Library, University of Utah) and opposed by Derek Law (University of Strathclyde). The debating style was robust and humorous, but ultimately focused on serious points which define the changing nature of library and information services. I thought both speakers made useful points, whether about the importance of library as space, the implications of the ending of a tradition in which information was trapped in physical objects, and that "uniqueness is not the same as vitality" (Rick Anderson), or about the continuing significance of the preservation role of libraries (Derek Law). In the end, the proposition carried the day, with a fairly evenly split initial poll (52% yes and 48% no) converted to a significant majority for the proposition (65% yes, 35% no). It seems the sun may be setting on more than a conference...

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