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Does copyright instruction have a place in the library school curriculum?

Erin Hoffrance

To answer the above question, yes. The understanding of copyright is an essential tool missing from the library school curriculum. Why isn’t copyright taught in more library school courses? It is an issue that many librarians and library support staff encounter on a daily basis. As a second year MLIS student here at the University of Washington, I have had one course that was centered around copyright and it was only geared toward copyright due to the professor’s choosing to focus in that respect. What I have learned through copyright discussions and in my copyright course is that for the most part, there are no hard answers; things are determined on a case by case basis and depend on the individual licensing agreements that libraries may have with vendors. And maybe it is because of these individual circumstances that library schools have strayed from teaching copyright. However, it is important to know that copyright gray areas exist and creating a dialogue about that within library school is a necessary component.

Graduates of library school should all be familiar with U.S. Copyright Code Title 17 §§ 107, 108. Yet this is not the reality and that must change. There are numerous copyright courses offered through continuing education resources. For example, the Special Libraries Association (SLA) offers a Certificate in Copyright Management through their continuing education program, Click University, but this is not enough. Ideally, copyright issues in continuing education should be supplemental and not foundational; we need copyright education as a part of the core curriculum in library school.

No matter what type of library in which one works, copyright is and will continue to be an issue. We need to become as well versed in copyright as we are in collection development, reference interviews, research methods, etc. In a 2007 article by Lauren Barack in School Library Journal, she explains the result of a report out of Temple University and American University called “The Cost of Copyright Confusion for Media Literacy,” where it was revealed that “teachers are hampered in their efforts to teach critical thinking and media literacy because their ignorance of copyright laws and fear of legal action are keeping them from using ads, music, articles, and videos to develop innovative instructional materials.” We as librarians are also teachers and we cannot allow ourselves to be ignorant of the scope and rules of copyright laws. Now is as good a time as any to start making changes and additions to the curriculum in library schools across the country.

In the February 2006 issue of Information Today, K. Matthew Dames comments on the lack of copyright courses, “Given the critical copyright issues for libraries - the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), the Uniform Commercial Information Transactions Act (UCITA), the Eldred case fighting the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, and the Section 108 Study Group - I had hoped our nation's library schools would have made copyright education a priority. Instead, I found an alarming absence of education in this area.” He also found that, “Out of the 49 ALA-accredited graduate library science programs in the continental U.S., I found only two schools--Syracuse University and Emporia State University in Kansas--that offer a copyright course.” This is not just shocking because we should know this topic especially because there have been recent historical happenings in the law regarding copyright. The biggest of which occurred when Senate Bill 3325 was signed into law on October 13, 2008. Public Law No. 110-403 states that “the President shall appoint, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, an Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator.” We do not yet know what this will mean for copyright accusations, claims, etc., but we must know that the world of copyright will surely gain more publicity, and as library workers we must be prepared to face what will undoubtedly be high-profile issues. Copyright instruction may not warrant an entire 10-week course, but it is certainly a topic that should be addressed in some capacity. Copyright is a topic we must fully understand and abide by, not only because of the potential legal ramifications, but as a professional duty.


Barack, L. (2007). Concern over Copyright. School Library Journal, 53(11), p. 22
Dames, K. M. (February 2006). Library Schools and the Copyright Knowledge Gap. Information Today, 23(2) p. 1
Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectual Property Act of 2008, Pub. L. No. 110-403, 122 Stat. 4256 (2008)

January 10, 2009
Vol. XIII Issue 2

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