There is a lot of misunderstanding and misinformation circulating in the media about the University of Arkansas Libraries. The claims range from the outrageous to the conspiratorial. Many of the claims are reckless and a select few seem to be rooted in politics rather than policy.
The facts are these:
v University of Arkansas Special Collections holds papers, documents, audio recordings and other ephemera collected from people representing all facets of life in Arkansas. For instance, the library has manuscripts detailing the efforts of the Arkansas League of Women Voters and other civic and social clubs, family papers such as those from Lorraine Blore Ragland documenting her family from 1863-1981, and collections from public figures such as J. William Fulbright, John Paul Hammerschmidt, Dale Bumpers, Orval Faubus and minister Billy James Hargis. The materials are important to our state, and anyone studying our state.
v The purpose of having these collections is to make them available to researchers of all sorts. That includes all members of the media and the public in general.
v Despite what you may have read, the staff of University of Arkansas Libraries are completely neutral regarding the intended use of library materials by researchers. Anything else would be inappropriate, and go against widely accepted library practice.
v Researchers may request copies of material found in Special Collections, which will be provided for a nominal reproduction fee. Duplicated materials may be used for many purposes including personal enjoyment. Should the holder of a duplicated material wish to publish it, a permission-to-publish form must be completed. The form is a standard procedure for academic libraries.
v University Libraries Special Collections department's policies are fair, deliberate and are applied equally to everyone who accesses the collection.
v The copyright on the majority of our nearly 2,000 collections has been transferred to the university. There are only a small number--mostly literary collections including Roy Reed--where the copyright was retained by the donor. Although not preferred, it is common in the archival community. That does not lessen our commitment to protect the papers as stewards of the historical record. We point out on our forms that it is the researcher's obligation to clear copyright--whether we hold it or someone else.
Even then, a permission-to-publish request protects all users. Disregarding any legal onus we might have to protect copyright, we also want to track use and keep the donors of our collections apprised of how their papers have been used. It's good customer relations.
v The library does not ban patrons from researching. The library has temporarily suspended the research privileges of one professional organization that has repeatedly failed to follow the library's policies. The organization only has to fill out a one-page form to regain its research privileges, something that doesn't seem too onerous for anyone who respects copyright. No other researcher or media organization has had any problem with the request, not reporters from as far away as CNN or as near as the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
v The deputy director of the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom, Debra Caldwell-Stone, noted that our policies are comparable to other academic institutions. The ALA is the oldest and largest library association in the world. She said: "The courts have held that libraries are entitled to apply reasonable rules consistent with the First Amendment and other laws to accessing their collections or using facilities as long as they are applied equally to every user and are unrelated to the content. Rules requiring users to ask permission before republishing copyrighted materials are consistent with this requirement."
v All librarians expect patrons to behave as expected in the library, such as turning in books by the due date, paying fines in full, and complying with the policies and procedures set for researchers.
These are the same policies and procedures followed in innumerable academic libraries across these United States. Following them is good business practice and makes operations run smoothly.
The processes and policies we've described sound relatively mundane, but are necessary to ensure everyone has equal access to the materials.
We welcome all interested parties to access our treasure trove of materials in Special Collections, which is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Use the online finding aids for our materials at libinfo.uark.edu/specialcollections to get a better sense of what we have available for all.
Carolyn Henderson Allen is dean of the University Libraries, and Timothy G. Nutt is head of Special Collections at the University of Arkansas.
Editorial on 07/05/2014