On How Physical and Electronic Differ for Library Materials

I’m reading the notes from the Atlanta OLE Project regional workshop and right up at the top are these two statements that struck me as insightful. The first gets to the heart of how physical items in a library are different from digital items with respect to library service commitments:

With print items, we’re trying to give people access; with electronic trying to keep them out.

This stems, undoubtedly, from the first sale doctrine in copyright law; the library has purchased the item and chooses to lend it to others for a period of time. With electronic items, though, we typically agree to licenses, which — as contract law — trumps the rights given by copyright; those license are more restrictive in what we can and cannot do with the digital versions.

The second observation brings this difference into sharper focus by pointing out what we make users do in order to get access to that physical or that digital item:

Isn’t it interesting that users from other libraries have borrowed print books delivered to them, but must travel to another library to get access to their electronic items.

As we think about what is similar and what is different about workflows for physical and digital items, it is undoubtedly important to tease out these differences. Kudos to the staff attending the Atlanta OLE regional workshop for bringing this difference to the forefront.

The text was modified to update a link from http://oleproject.org/2009/03/11/notes-from-georgia-tech-atlanta-workshop-posted/ to http://web.archive.org/web/20090418003313/http://oleproject.org/2009/03/11/notes-from-georgia-tech-atlanta-workshop-posted/ on November 13th, 2012.

The text was modified to update a link from http://www.aallnet.org/committee/copyright/pages/issues/firstsale.html to http://www.aallnet.org/Documents/Government-Relations/Copyright-2/FirstSaleDoctrine.html on August 22nd, 2013.

(This post was updated on 21-Aug-2013.)