Copyright education – Yes/No – Why – How?

Inga-Lill Nilsson is a liaison librarian working at Karlstad University in Sweden. She has been a copyright advisor since 2005. She initiated the Swedish Library Association’s Expert Network for Libraries and Copyright and is very interested in international collaboration. We first met when Inga-Lill presented a poster on copyright literacy in Sweden at the LIBER conference in London in 2015 and colleagues suggested she got in touch. She was instrumental in putting together the international panels on copyright literacy at recent conferences, and we’re very pleased that she agreed to share her reflections on these events in this post.

Copyright education – Yes/No – Why – How? These were some questions presented as an introduction to the IFLA off-site session on Copyright Education, in August this year. It was a joint session organised by two IFLA groups: the Information Literacy Section and the Copyright and other Legal Matters (CLM) committees.

On the day back in August, perhaps we felt there was no need to discuss whether copyright education was important or not. We were all there because we thought it was. The day started with the international Copyright Literacy team presenting the concept of Copyright Literacy and the background of a multinational survey. During the day, there were many interesting and useful presentations on how copyright education is carried out in different countries. We had discussions of problems and how they might be solved. I think for those attending, we were all very content with the off-site copyright day. However, when writing a conference report for my library a week later I could not help wondering, what happened to the Why issue? Apart from Jane Secker’s introduction, did we discuss why Copyright literacy matters?

I have worked in copyright education at Karlstad University for many years and I’m aware I have been focusing on the How rather than the Why until fairly recently. We have made progress during the past years and our users are content with our copyright services. However, the increasing number of questions from new groups in the university with new concerns force us to reflect on what we are doing. Are we efficient, do we actually know what needs and problems faculty and students have? How can we respond to these new and rapidly evolving issues related to copyright?

Fortunately, I got in touch with the Multinational Copyright Literacy team two years ago. The Copyright Literacy team consists of a fantastic and enthusiastic group of researchers and librarians interested in finding about more about the copyright literacy skills of librarians and more recently of LIS students. Fourteen countries have been inspired to conduct copyright literacy surveys. Even though many surveys show poor levels of copyright literacy, it is inspiring to see that librarians around the world are striving to increase their copyright knowledge.

I had the opportunity to participate in both the Copyright literacy panel at IFLA and at the ECIL conference a couple of weeks ago and I found that missing piece for my copyright jigsaw puzzle at the ECIL conference. Librarians and researchers interested in Information Literacy are also interested in discussing the Why. At this event we got a chance to start a discussion about the reasons why we need to bring theory and copyright practice closer together.

There were some other interesting themes highlighted during the conference. One was the Research Data Literacy study, also conducted by members of the Copyright Literacy team. These surveys showed that researchers are concerned about broader legal and ethical issues. These complex and challenging demands are issues we have to deal with. And we need to discuss both the Why and the How.

The Information literacy research and education theme at ECIL was also interesting. One thing that we can learn from information literacy research is how vital it is that we understand our users’ needs and to understand their differences. Ola Pilerot, Swedish School of Library and Information Science, presented an information literacy study showing that students’ within two different disciplines had different abilities and needs to develop information literacy. There is no ‘one size fits all´. We place many literacies under the Information literacy umbrella and it is the same thing with copyright literacy, there are differences. We need to adjust the way we teach and what we teach according to the needs of our users.

It is only when we look more closely at issues surrounding scholarly communication that we can understand the diversity and support our users need. We can help them to navigate and find ways to reduce barriers such as legal restrictions. Regulations, or lack of understanding about them, are disadvantaging both libraries and users. If we try to balance our own expertise with the expertise of others in the copyright community, I would argue we can provide a neutral authority. My own experiences from Sweden suggest that many librarians have difficulties in finding the authority to work in copyright education. Introducing the concept of Copyright Literacy could facilitate acceptance of our new role as copyright or data literacy educators. A role not only for the copyright officer but for all librarians and departments involved in supporting students and faculty.

Copyright education and Information Literacy are a great couple, we need a wedding of the two concepts was what someone said after the panel presentation [sounds familiar – ed]. The connection between theory and practice is also something we want to pursue and I look forward to interesting discussions in future.

Find out more about copyright literacy in Sweden

Nilsson, I.-L., (2016). Developing new copyright services in academic libraries. Insights. 29(1), pp.78–83. DOI:

Nilsson, I. L. (2015). Copyright information and librarian´ s new role. In Towards open science, London, 24-26 June 2015.

Nilsson, I. L. (2015). Conference report, Copyright and beyond: Libraries in the public sphere. INFOtrend, 67(1).

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