Sunday, October 31, 2010

Module 9

In going through the readings, the significance of this week’s topic didn’t really click for me until I got to the ALA TCE FAQ (how’s that for a mouthful!) site. For anyone else who missed it, here are a few lines that I thought summed it up well:

“Increasingly, libraries collect, store, make available, preserve and digitize cultural works without a clear policy position on how TCEs should be managed or protected. This is an area in which library values can conflict with the interests of traditional cultures, making policy decisions difficult.... On the one hand, ALA’s commitment to equitable access demands that our policy position should ensure that libraries continue to provide access to TCEs. On the other hand, our commitment to diversity demands that we respect the concerns of indigenous peoples who may not want their creative works collected due to tribal laws and traditions... ALA has a commitment to free and open access to materials held in our libraries. ALA also believes in respect for other ethical standards such as privacy, individual rights, diversity, and preservation. We believe that by bringing awareness to these concerns, better partnerships between native people and libraries will develop, and aid in the preservation of cultures and cultural materials” (

What makes this situation further problematic is that it’s an issue on both library/community levels as well as communities/national/international levels. How do we formulate a policy that encompasses these practices without assimilation or conformation? My first thought was to be diplomatic about it by including all people partied to the agreement on the discussions, but as with the blog post about pushback from SAA on the ALA’s document, even that can backfire. Holding “everyone at the table” type discussions are difficult to have because there will always be someone left out, feeling like they should have been there. Pilch (2009) writes, “Within a legal and cultural policy framework, libraries can play a positive role in the preservation and use of indigenous works,” which sounds nice but lacks practical application on account of the question “Where's the legal and cultural policy?” SAA’s reaction really illustrated the way in which individual parties to a policy discussion really can complicate the act of establishing guiding principles because are guiding principles supposed to be so explicitly dictated that there is no room for interpretation? Is there a standard level of specificity that is needed to appease the involved parties yet not suffocate the implemented policy structure?

In going through this information, I understand why the ALA is getting involved with the policy discussions. As librarians, we have core values and ideas that make up much of the information structure of our democratic society. However, I’m struggling to see where exactly libraries truly fit in amidst the conversations and their role in constructing the policy. Internal policies in individual libraries are clearly “our turf,” and specific library types (and archives, for those archivists out there) that deal directly with preservation and access to cultural items (which arguably could be all library types, but let’s just assume we’re talking about special collections and tribal libraries only). So I hesitate to want libraries on the forefront of the dialogue surrounding the issue when we lack a united front as a cultural institution ourselves. Not to prescribe taking a backseat on this as the response of choice; I think that would make the situation no better than letting mandatory censorship talks happen at national levels without our foot in the door keeping government from requiring things like filters and trafficking tools.
I just wonder what exactly the policy goal we’re moving toward will look like, especially if “TCEs are often evolving, developing, and being recreated within source communities” (Pilch, 2009). In other words, TCEs are a moving target, and with our current mental constructs of what copyright is, it can seem impossible to our minds how we can develop a policy that would be enforceable and upheld in a legal system for something as dynamic as culture. Not that it is impossible, it just feels impossible right now because to do so will be blazing new trails. At least that is what it seems like – are there policies for other information issues that can be likened to this?

With all the definitional, political, communal, religious, even legal problems involved, I started thinking about the issue in a metaphorical sense. Now, I'm not one to make computer metaphors, ever. I usually find I lack both the intelligence and wit to craft any worth trying to figure out (and this example may very well still lack both). However, our Electronic Resource Management class is currently learning about compliance and integration issues between different ERM systems, which got me thinking about how developing a policy for cultural and national protection of TCE issues and community/institutional relationships complicated by traditional copyright versus traditional knowledge is similar to "synching" your systems in an ERM system and integrate them for the most efficient workflow and output. But doing this in the cultural world, however, is exponentially more difficult because unlike a computer system you can manipulate and rework the hardware or create new software, cultures and nations don't deconstruct and rebuild quite that easily.

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