Too Much and Too Little, Often at the Same Time

The readings this week brought a lot of issues to mind that I have to deal with quite often at work, much of it pertaining to misunderstandings that patrons have about our materials.  Often, we have patrons who come in to look at architectural drawings of their house and they are absolutely shocked that anybody can come in and see the drawings without their permission.  They are somehow under the impression that when they purchased the property, they gained ownership of all things related to it.  This happens with organizations and organizational collections as well.  We try to allow the organizations a bit more freedom, but, in the end, access has to be balanced out with preservation.

On the other end of the spectrum, we also have collections that are ridiculously restricted.  For example, we have a massive (and complete) collection of video feeds from the ’96 Olympics in Atlanta.  It’s an amazing resource that absolutely no one uses.  Most people don’t even know about it, but, even if they did, it wouldn’t really matter.  When we received that collection, we did not receive any of the rights with it.  In fact, the rights are held by four or five different entities.  If a researcher wanted to use the videos at all, they would have to get permission from ( and pay fees to) each of the copyright holders.  If even one person said no, the entire project would be sunk (and I don’t think anybody has ever successfully gotten permission).  As a result, the collection just sits there on the shelves, completely useless because of convoluted copyright laws.

The other issue brought up by the readings was the problem of paywalls.  We do subscribe to a number of databases, including the library version of Ancestry, which adds a lot of resources that the home user could not access.  One of our more popular resources, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, is very annoyingly affected by a paywall, though.  We have the entire runs of the Journal and the Constitution back to the 1860’s on microfilm.  The problem, however, is that there aren’t any indexes prior to the 1970’s.  To do any sort of search through the Constitution (the Journal isn’t available), the patron has to use the AJC Archive search to find a list of articles that might be what they are looking for.  The articles have all been digitized within this search, and can be looked at by clicking the result, but only if the patron is a paid subscriber specifically for the AJC Archive database.  These searches could be incredibly easy for our patrons, but instead the information is stuck behind a paywall.  The patron has to go through each possible microfilm roll until they find what they are looking for.  A process that digitally could take minutes, instead becomes a labor that can take hours.

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