It is now conventional to make a distinction between what libraries own (e.g. books, DVDs, ...) and what they license (e.g. e-journals).

However, we can only use 'own' in a circumscribed way. This has been made clearer in the mass digitization projects. Libraries cannot do as they wish with the digitized copies of copyrighted material. And we know that in most library collections, a large part, maybe a majority part, is still covered by copyright.

What the library in fact 'owns' is the cost of managing the physical materials and of making them available to users. They do not 'own' the content, and are limited in what they can do with it.

In fact, they may end up licensing the very content that they thought they owned once it has been digitized.

Comments: 3

Oct 08, 2007
Lizanne Payne

The combination of the first sale doctrine and the inherent limitations of a physical medium means that libraries are, in effect, organized to make each physical item available to a "single simultaneous user". As the boundaries between physical collections and digital collections blur even further in the context of the mass digitization projects, perhaps academic libraries (and their institutions) will perform more critical analyses of the costs of housing individual physical collections and may become more open to the possibility of a collective approach.

Oct 08, 2007
Tony Ferguson

You indicate "What the library in fact 'owns' is the cost of managing the physical materials and of making them available to users." While this negative honour may be true, don't libraries own the "presentation" of that content -- or is it even that? If library X contributes the content of a 1920 book to the world via Google and my library downloads it and puts it on my own server -- has my library broken any laws?

Oct 08, 2007
Lorcan Dempsey

Tony - I should have been clearer. I was really referring to re-use of the materials which are still in copyright. Lorcan