Just Call Me a Copyright/Fair Use Librarian

Emilie Algenio, Copyright/Fair Use Librarian, Texas A&M University Libraries. Photo by Chad Becker.

This is a guest blog post from Emilie Algenio the Copyright/Fair Use Librarian for the Texas A&M University Libraries who we met at the IFLA World Library and Information Conference in Poland last month. We were very impressed by the extent of the copyright support provision that Texas A&M University provides and are delighted that Emilie agreed to share her experiences with us. She led Texas A&M’s efforts for the Open Access and Fair Use Week celebrations, and her focus is on copyright education and outreach. She started her career as the Resident at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, followed by her position as the Consortia Resources Coordinator for the University of Texas System Libraries. Emilie graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from Guilford College, and has a Masters of Library and Information Science from Simmons College.


Have you ever put sugar on a fresh batch of potato pancakes? No? Me neither, but this is what I noticed when I first met Jane and Chris last month [Ed – we were just following the vendor’s serving suggestion, but admittedly the sugary topping didn’t really go with the onions in the pancakes]. I was honored to join them as speakers during this IFLA session, “Models for Copyright Education in Information Literacy Programs.” My colleague Kathy Anders and I shared our copyright education program for graduate students, including elements from the Association of College and Research Libraries’ Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education.


Jane and Chris asked me to continue their discussion about copyright, librarians, and specifically, my job title. Since April 2016, I am the Copyright/Fair Use Librarian for the Texas A&M University Libraries in College Station, Texas. Since copyright librarians come in all shapes and sizes, I’ll point out that I am a librarian, my education focused on the Copyright Law of the United States, my position focuses on copyright in a full-time capacity, and my University is the flagship school of the eleven Texas A&M System institutions.


So…What Does That Mean?

Since I started, managing the expectations of what a Copyright/Fair Use Librarian does, exactly, has been a challenge. The most common misconception, unsurprisingly, is that I am a lawyer. One way I handle it is to clarify my training and approach from the get go. I tell every patron, on email, on the phone, or sitting across the table, straight away – “I am a librarian, which means I’ll be providing legal information and informed opinions. I am not a lawyer, so I will not be giving legal advice.”


One way I let folks know what I do. Photo by Anna Dabrowski.

What do I do, exactly? I educate my community about copyright and Fair Use. The word educate is literally in my job description; my position is service-oriented and responsible for developing copyright education programs and guidelines. I do this by teaching workshops for graduate students, library staff, and faculty.


Every six months, I host discussions about significant copyright news, for the eleven Texas A&M Library Directors and for the five Libraries based in College Station. One upcoming project is to draft a document for the Libraries’ digitization efforts. Another is to assist the Libraries’ Open Access Task Force with a copyright policy for the Libraries’ staff who are on a Promotion and Tenure track.


I am also an advocate for Fair Use. This month I’ll teach my fourth Fair Use workshop, and I am encouraged to have had wait lists for each one. And speaking of encouragement, I hope you’ll consider celebrating Fair Use/Fair Dealing Week this coming February!


My advocacy role is critically important, given the House Judiciary Committee’s Copyright Review, which will determine whether the United States’ copyright laws are still working in the 21st century. The Committee is in their fifth year of their Review; the last Review took twenty-one years to complete. We at the Libraries answered the Committee’s call for feedback about § 108, which deals with exemptions for libraries and archives. See this former American Library Association Executive Director’s statement, about why librarians in the United States should care about their laws and policies.


I am grateful my title is what it is, that it reflects the priorities of my organization, and that it is a full-time Copyright Librarian appointment. To my knowledge, I do not believe any of my American colleagues have my same title. Additionally, I appreciate the U.S. Code having a distinct clause, § 504(c)(2), for library employees. The language centers on a person who is an employee of a library, and believes they have made a reasonable Fair Use decision. Should this employee be brought to court, the court may decide to set aside statutory damages, which means not having to pay any monetary fees.


Respectfully, I would not want to have the title Copyright Officer. In my mind, in the United States, the word officer is most often associated with a police officer. This is not why I went to graduate school.


I highly recommend Dr. Donna Ferullo’s book, Managing Copyright in Higher Education: A Guidebook, for more information. She addresses all things American and copyright librarian-related, including job titles, having versus not having a Juris Doctor degree, and the various roles and responsibilities a copyright librarian can have.


A short, true story: did you know the first American copyright librarian set up shop back in 1994…?! Dr. Kenny Crews opened the first Copyright Management Center at the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis campus. I digress.


 How Did I Get Here?

I had known, for a long time, that librarianship and intellectual property were connected. When I started working at the University of Texas at Austin, I finally met the creator of the decades-old Copyright Crash Course, Georgia Harper. Eventually, I wanted to try my hand at something new, something other than managing consortial content.

Joseph Story, who created the four factor guidelines for Fair Use in the U.S. Sculpture by William W. Story, photo by Brandon Butler.

I had the luck of both an incredible mentor and an excellent education. I took three courses: (1) one from the now-defunct University of Maryland University College’s Center for Intellectual Property, (2) CopyrightX, and (3) this Coursera class. Here is how Georgia trained me: she would give me an actual copyright question she received, without her response. I would: a) use the FIRAC technique to analyze the Facts, Issues, Rules, Application, and Conclusion, and b) draft an answer to the question. Georgia would then grade my answer.

Before landing at A&M, I spent two years in my job search. I wanted to be doing copyright work full-time, and most postings were not for full-time copyright librarians. I did not want Open Access, Open Educational Resources, Institutional Repository, or any other Scholarly Communications tasks, too. U.S. academic libraries have been combining two, or more, full-time jobs into one job; however, the reasons are a topic for another day.

On the subject of job titles, here are the titles of the other full-time positions, during that two-year period: Copyright Officer, Copyright Specialist, Legal Issues Librarian, Copyright and Licensing Librarian, and Copyright Policy and Education Director. If you would like to learn more about this, I recommend a May 2015 article by Dr. Dick Kawooya, Assistant Professor at the College of Information and Communications, University of South Carolina. Once you get past the paywall, it is entitled “The Copyright Librarian: A Study of Advertising Trends for the Period 2006–2013,” https://doi.org/10.1016/j.acalib.2015.02.011.

I was not the first librarian at A&M working on copyright. I did have a predecessor, who also had Institutional Repository duties. She left a year before I started, and a team of librarians fielded questions, before my arrival. Kathy Anders, my co-presenter at IFLA, is the Graduate Studies Librarian. She emerged as the team’s leader, and lobbied vigorously for a full-time copyright position.

Kathy is my strongest supporter and collaborator, which makes sense since we share the same target audience. I regularly receive questions from graduate students who are, within reason, not their best selves. They are in the final stages of submitting their thesis or dissertation, and copyright issues are then brought to their attention. So, one of our goals is to introduce copyright to graduate students, early on. We created an online, introductory module, in conjunction with our Office of Graduate and Professional Studies, which is now mandatory for new students. We are hoping to teach a multi-workshop series in the spring, featuring the basics, Fair Use, collaborations, publishing contracts, and Author’s Rights.

Throughout my job search, I encountered varying degrees of understanding about copyright librarianship, how it intersects with Scholarly Communications, and how it converges with other areas of the profession. To end on a positive note, I am very lucky my Dean is interested in copyright, and in what I do.

I’ll quickly mention some of the work I’ve done for Dean Carlson. I helped him write a position statement about metadata for an Association for Research Libraries (ARL) meeting. Last fall, I filled his request to send ARL stories about how our Libraries use statutory exceptions, and within the confines of the law, as part of the Committee’s Notice of Inquiry. I keep him appraised, on a regular basis, of relevant news, like the recent State of Texas Senate Bill 810, dealing with OER.

Across the Pond, I look forward to the discussions on https://copyrightliteracy.org/blog/!


    1. Yes thanks for sharing Lesley – we have been getting a lot of interest in our blog in the US since Emilie wrote this post and you circulated it to your list!


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