The GLAM Sector bytes a hand that tried to feed it: Or how really terrific organisations can do really silly things

Tim O’Reilly proposed the slogan “Government as a platform” for his Government 2.0 activities which he’s heavily scaled back in favour of more lucrative opportunities. But there was always a problem. That problem was that it wasn’t so much that no-one had ever had the idea that government might be an enabling resource – a platform in the lingo of Web 2.0. The real problem is that government has no culture of this. Departments are proprietorial and secretive and that’s a tenacious culture which is prevented from evaporating by lots of expectations and structures.

But there is one part of government that has cultivated the culture of ‘Government as a platform’ since its inception around a century and a half or so ago:  The GLAM sector – that’s galleries, libraries, archives and museums. I couldn’t help noticing when doing the Government 2.0 Taskforce that the GLAM sector were up and at it long before anyone else. The National Library had its newspaper digitisation program and Seb Chan from the Sydney Powerhouse Museum was on our Taskforce and instrumental in getting us to run a mashup competition – and likely instrumental in getting the Powerhouse to become the first museum anywhere in the world to post its historic photos on Flikr and licence them Creative Commons. Seb’s unit built the mashup of baby names in NSW which is fascinating to play with.

I also learned about all the problems the national and state libraries were having getting rights to archive web content that were analogous to their rights as libraries of record to receive a copy of all publications in their jurisdiction from publishers. If they had such rights all they would need would be a robot to go and collect the material and Bob’s your uncle. In fact without this, much of their efforts involve sending people letters to ask their permission to archive their sites. I discussed with various people in libraries of record having such rights which certainly made sense to me.

Anyway, they still don’t have such rights.

Meanwhile . . . they are certainly keen on their rights to printed material as you will observe from this letter I received from the Victorian State Library this week (I might add that The Victorian State Library is a terrific organisation, which I am very fond of, but even terrific organisations do really silly things):

The State Library of Victoria tries to collect a copy of all books, videos, CD’s, CD-ROMs, pamphlets, periodicals, newspapers and any other items published in Victoria for permanent preservation in the Library.

To help us in this endeavour, legislation was passed in 1869 requiring publishers to deposit free of charge with the library a copy of every item published in Victoria. Current legislation is contained in section 49 of the Libraries Act 1988 (see enclosed leaflet).

Recently the following publication came to our notice.

The economic value of Australia’s investment in health and medical research: reinforcing the evidence for exceptional returns. 

We look forward to receiving a copy of this publications (sic), as well as any other publications you might not have previously sent us for legal deposit. Please follow the enclosed legal deposit instructions when forwarding publications.

This is really silly. In fact Lateral Economics is not the publisher of this ‘book’.  Our client was Research Australia which published it on their website (pdf). It’s true they distributed a few copies to the conference where the report was launched. But it’s not a ‘book’ and it wasn’t ‘published’.  And it would be a lot cheaper and a lot safer as far as preservation goes if the State Library downloaded the ‘book’ from the website where it reposes and archived it rather than spending a lot of money sending silly letters to people.

I got a similar letter from The Australian National Library about a number of other Lateral Economics studies all of which are freely downloadable on the internet.

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George Bray
12 years ago

The GLAM institutions have a dichotomy. They are required to collect and curate our society’s material over the long term but don’t have the resources to traverse the hump of rights clearance to do so.

Your example of sending letters of request to sources with digital material shows how stuck they are.

I reckon the defaults should be changed, so that collecting institutions don’t need to clear material to archive it, and to make it available as part of their remit (online and within their bricks and mortar). It then becomes the expense and effort of the rights owner to take action to request the material removed (if they have objection to the material being used for social good).

The current scenario sees GLAMs having to track down long-since-disappeared rights owners for permission to show their materials in new mediums. Is there any point in having curating institutions who cannot use online services to display their archives easily?

12 years ago

Maybe mail them a USB containing all the publications and give them the right to print and bind copies for their records :)

12 years ago

“In fact without this, much of their efforts involve sending people letters to ask their permission to archive their sites.”

What are they actually asking permission for?

Legit web archiving such as the wayback machine (along with Google) respects the robottext protocol.
If there is no robottext at the head of the web page there is no need to ask.

12 years ago

It’s because legal deposit legislation currently doesn’t extend to online material, including freely available online material, so libraries need to seek the rightsholder’s permission on a per publication basis. And “published” means communicated to the public, and includes making it available online.

Re why libraries can’t download a copy for their own collections…because that could involve an infringement of copyright – although libraries are starting to use exceptions available under the Act.

You’re right though, it’s completely inefficient and snail mail isn’t the best way to chase up web content but it’s the legislation that needs to catch up!