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Georgia Harper -- The third career, but who's counting


My academic and career goals

Academic goals

The career I began in 2007 by seeking a Ph.D. from UT Austin’s iSchool will be my third. My long-range goals for this career grow out of and are informed by my experiences in my previous careers, teaching and practicing law. As copyright counsel to the UT Austin Libraries for many years, I had the opportunity to learn much about the social and cultural place the library occupies in American life, and the library’s and librarians’ values. It is easy to understand why copyright law is of concern to libraries at an operational level. But copyright law and libraries are related at other levels too. They are both instruments of the public policy evidenced, in part, in the U.S. Constitution, Article 8, Clause 8. They both are means to achieve the policy objective of increasing knowledge among the populace, for the betterment of mankind. One is designed to provide an incentive to create works of authorship, painting, sculpture, audio and audiovisual materials, even software programs, and distribute those creations. The other is designed to collect, organize, maintain and provide access to the creations. Both are part of an immense policy framework, but these two aspects of that framework create for me a point of view and a point of departure for my third career.

I am also quite aware of the tremendous opportunities that the networked environment affords us in all aspects of our lives. The idea at the intersection of these three phenomena, public policy supporting creativity in its many forms through cultural and legal institutions in a networked world, intrigues me. My third career is going to involve my thinking about and planning for the changes that will take place in our cultural and legal institutions to ensure that they continue to promote the public policies for which they were designed as the artifacts containing that creativity move from atoms to bits, that is, as they become digital.

Curiosity and excitement about the future are quite valuable, but I know that I have much to learn about how libraries actually function, day to day, year to year, and decade to decade, to be truly helpful. I am fortunate to be here in Austin Texas where we have a rich resource, one of the top-rated information studies graduate programs in the United States, with an excellent faculty, good places to meet, study and work, lots of books and vast numbers of digital databases, all devoted specifically to helping people just like me learn, grow, and contribute to the continuing stream of knowledge about how cultural and legal institutions evolve in response to technological change. UT Austin’s Information School will provide me an opportunity to find out what the best thinkers in the world imagine the future of libraries might be, discuss their ideas, argue about the details, and in the process remix their ideas to come up with more ideas.

I applied to the Graduate School, was accepted into the Master’s program, and discovered that I would not likely achieve the goals I have set for myself in just two years. While I found the faculty and administration completely supportive of my tailoring the Master’s curriculum requirements to my interests, nonetheless, it did seem that pursuing a Ph.D would be a better option given the character of my interests (as elaborated more fully below). My legal career has prepared me well for academic life insofar as research, discussion, and refinement of ideas through collaboration and argument are a routine part of legal practice. Ironically, however, as one becomes more of an expert in an area of law practice, the opportunities for research diminish.  Day to day, practicing law is more a matter of just keeping abreast of new developments, integrating the new with the old.

So, with the experience gained through two careers, a mind eager to start afresh on something new and challenging, I choose to place myself where I think I can best acquire the knowledge and ultimately the wisdom I will need to be of use to the library community as its future unfolds. I am ready to contribute to the process of discovery.

Career goals

I was fortunate to be invited to work with the University of Texas at Austin's Libraries while I study, so my career goals and academic goals are very intertwined. I am the Libraries' Scholarly Communications Advisor, focusing on digital access. I only work 10 hours each week (more or less) so I have limited ability to accomplish goals and objectives. Nevertheless, I spent the first year identifying meaningful projects to which I could contribute and was, again, fortunate to be able to interest several of my colleagues in four endeavors.

School of Nursing open-access archive project: I work with Lexie Thompson-Young and Roxanne Bogucka to enable the administration of the School of Nursing to develop a process that will assure that the research faculty's published papers are deposited to PubMed Central.

U.T. Press/Libraries collaborative publishing project: The Libraries is collaborating with the U.T. Press to publish an interactive Website as companion to a Press book that will be published in 2009 on the subject of centuries-old Nahuatl poems translated and interpreted by John Bierhorst.

Free the books: Maria Gonzalez and I work with the Google Book Search project team at U.T. Libraries to identify works digitized by Google from our Benson Latin American Collection whose public domain status needs clarification. Maria prepared a short powerpoint presentation discussing the project, accessible on her Website. Google's criteria for clearing a book as public domain is algorithmic and conservative in its estimates, thus, many works that may be in the public domain remain in "snippet" view because their true status has not been determined. The Libraries are able to apply people-power to the question of copyright status and move the dates Google uses forward by decades in some cases. We blog about the processes we are developing to determine copyright status of works in the Benson Collection, how to collect and store such information, who else needs access to this information (contributing our data to national projects to build a copyright status evidence base, for example), as well as our very interesting finds along the way, at Free the books.

Electronic reserves, Blackboard and Website delivery of course-related copies of book and journal literature to students: I work with teams at U.T. Austin and with U.T. System's Office of General Counsel to develop more efficient processes at all U.T. campuses for handling the permissions required to deliver course materials to students, regardless of the faculty member's preferred mode of delivery. We plan to develop an approach that seamlessly integrates permissioning into the background of course-materials delivery.

All of these projects help me to better understand future directions for library services in networked environments and give me first-hand experience leading efforts to plow new ground. Everyone has so many responsibilities to maintain services we currently provide and develop new services in existing areas, so it is not easy to find time to develop ideas like these that are not always clearly related to what we do already, and that may not turn out to teach us much about our futures. But my colleagues have been very supportive and helpful, and I certainly feel that the experience I am getting is invaluable to my career goals.

My research interests

I have completed three semesters, two in the iSchool’s Master’s program and one in the Ph.D. program. My classes have involved writing papers focused on the themes of the class, refining for publication two papers I began writing while still employed as copyright counsel for the U.T. System, and taking initial steps to study blogs as scholarship. I will discuss the two class-related papers and the blogs as scholarship study shortly, but first will describe the two independent study papers.

Both of these papers involve copyright issues of some importance to the library. One addresses the viability of the fair use argument in contexts such as electronic reserves and digital distribution of course-related readings to students through the Blackboard course management platform. I do not believe courts today would embrace fair use in this context. The argument is slow to build, involves examination of different approaches to making a fair use argument, and concludes somewhat pessimistically.

The second begins with the conclusion of the first. The article details the mechanics of creating a system to distribute electronic copies of course-related reading materials, assuming that the university cannot rely entirely on fair use to excuse the copying and distribution the system enables. Even if one accepts that permission is required to duplicate and distribute any part of the materials, the steps required to implement an efficient system to get the materials to the students and pay the required permission fees are nearly impossible to accomplish. To my knowledge, no institution is claiming to have accomplished them. I hypothesize that university employees are reluctant to admit their inability to comply, so the problem is not generally discussed. This silence reduces the chance of solving the problems described in the paper. Thus, one of my purposes in writing the paper is to start a public conversation about the real problems of complying with the law, given current publishing business models. For example, I have initiated task forces at U.T. Austin and at U.T. System, where I lead an effort to take action on these issues. I am conducting a workshop in January for the Center for Intellectual Property on this subject.

The class papers leave the copyright landscape with which I am familiar and head for new territory. For me, these papers cover a new landscape of conjecture, the unknowable, the future. The first, "A knowledge management perspective on the serial futures of libraries," examines the knowledge management function of libraries and concludes that in a fully networked environment libraries are likely to lose this particular function if they take no action to modify their approach to knowledge management today. I suggest several ideas for a transition period of the next ten years, as well as consider more far-reaching concerns likely to arise the following twenty years.

The second of the new papers involved a group effort. "Kuna Indian access to Kuna archival audio recordings" explores how analog archival collections might evolve to serve new audiences, particularly the audiences whose ancestors contributed to the collections. The Archive of Indigenous Languages of Latin America (AILLA) has been collecting recordings of endangered languages for decades. Now AILLA wants to make those recordings available to the remaining speakers of those languages, in the hope that easy access to the archival materials may in some way contribute to indigenous peoples’ efforts to keep their languages alive. There is little research on the subject of what effect, if any, digital access to archival recordings might have on the viability of a threatened language, however.

These research endeavors allowed me to glimpse some of the broader questions posed by the evolution of public policy, and the institutions that implement it, in the networked environment. These are the areas of information study that currently pique my curiosity and within which I plan additional research:

1. The future of libraries depends on the future of publishing, or more specifically, the future of the book. I would like to know more about innovation in publishing and in writing, and to explore the implications of those innovations for the future of libraries. This curiosity led to my identifying the subject of blogs as scholarship for development in two classes in Fall 2007. I wrote an analytical literature review (summarized in a concept map), conducted an experiment in blogging the draft of a scholarly article on the effects of mass digitization on copyright law and policy, in CommentPress, and reported my personal observations and data analysis about the process in, "Changing forms of legal scholarship: It's not just about the blog." With these perspectives (obtained from the literature review and my experiment), I created a survey to administer to legal bloggers to further explore their points of view. I plan to administer the survey and write about the results in the Spring semester 2008.

2. Copyright law and libraries currently play interrelated, supportive roles in increasing access to and use of intellectual, musical, audiovisual and artistic works. As types and means of creativity evolve in a networked world, how should copyright and libraries evolve to continue to support the public policy of access to and use of creative works, or more broadly, the public policy of increasing knowledge?

3. I wonder whether viewing a cultural or legal institution as an end in itself rather than as an instrument of public policy might inhibit the institution’s evolution in support of its fundamental policy objectives. For example, might some efforts to “save” libraries, or “protect” copyrights, actually tend to push them into irrelevance? It is entirely possible that we will not need copyrights to achieve the Constitutional goal of increasing knowledge in a networked world. Libraries as we know them today may not play a critical role in the future either. More than likely however, certain functions will become more important, others less important. How will libraries and copyright law evolve into the institutions that we will need to increase knowledge and access to it?

4.  As creative people devise ever more innovative ways to display, perform and distribute networked creativity, will the library be able to, and the law allow it to, preserve inherently ephemeral bits and their performance, display and distribution applications?

5.  How are other countries grappling with these same issues? Is there something uniquely American about the struggle to redefine the book in a networked world, to find new ways to financially support literary, artistic and music and film creators without requiring that they assert control over copies, to dream up a new vision of library, of public support for the growth of knowledge through free access to and use of digital media? I would like to find out how other countries with long histories of support for creativity, including but not limited to authorship and publishing, are addressing these concerns.

These questions might be easy to answer. They might be impossible to answer. I am fairly confident though, that within a short time they will lead me to other questions. I look forward to tackling these and moving beyond them.

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The Copyright Crash Course © 2001, 2007 Georgia K. Harper