Tuesday, October 01, 2013

The Library and Archives Canada / Héritage privatization of public heritage

As noted on this Library and Archives Canada website, LAC and Canadiana are partnering to digitize Canada's heritage - and sell subscriptions to the metadata that would be necessary for anyone wanting to make use of this collection, both to libraries and to individuals.

From the announcement: 
Canadiana.org also will also transcribe millions of handwritten pages, and create related descriptions. Enhanced search tools facilitating access to these records will be available to Canadians free of charge at LAC, as well as at hundreds of subscribing libraries in regions across Canada. For a small monthly fee, Canadians will also be able to use the enhanced tools online to conduct advanced searches without leaving home.
It is most unfortunate that LAC and the libraries involved in this partnership have decided to move in this direction, for several reasons:

  1. This essentially privatizes public materials. The works that are being digitized were collected by Library and Archives Canada as a public service on behalf of Canadians. Neither Library and Archives Canada nor the partner libraries have any right to sell a search service built on these collections.
  2. To illustrate what is wrong with this picture, consider the history / ancestry of individual Canadians and communities that is reflected in these collections. By selling subscriptions, Canadiana and LAC essentially ensure that those at elite universities and wealthy regions whose public libraries can afford subscriptions, or who can afford individual subscriptions, have access, while other Canadians are largely left out. In some cases the history of a community will be much more readily available to wealthy, well-connected (in an internet sense) people outside the community than those in the community themselves.
  3. This puts libraries in the role of search service development business. This is an appropriate role for library vendors like EBSCO, ProQuest and Elsevier; but it is not an appropriate role for libraries.  If libraries go this route, they should expect to lose public support, and be in a poor position to fight private sector library takeovers. To put this another way: if libraries become businesses, they are no longer libraries.
  4. This is being positioned as open access after a 10-year embargo. Libraries and partner organizations around the world have been advocating for open access for about a decade. The current most common maximum embargo is 1 year, and there is a push to reduce this to 6 months. So what are libraries thinking developing a project they call open access with a 10-year embargo?
Canadiana, library partners of Canadiana, and Library and Archives Canada: please drop this approach and provide full, real, immediate open access to the search service and metadata developed from this or future projects. This is our heritage, our collection built with public funding for the public. If we cannot afford this right now - the works have been microfilmed and are stored in many locations. That means, from a preservation perspective, we have a few centuries to do this right.

See also:

Michael Geist - The untold story behind the LAC-Canadiana digitization plan 
Bibliocracy - Canadiana & LAC - paywalling Canadian heritage?