Tag Archives: archives

What’s the Buzz? – Egyptian Protests

8 Feb

If you don’t live under a rock, chances are you’re aware that Egypt is in the midst of protests.  Everyone has something to say, or something not to say about it and there aren’t any signs it will stop until there are concessions from both sides.  The protesters are demanding Mubarak out of office and true democracy in its place.  I’m not here to talk about the politics of it, or my opinion on it.  Rather, I want to talk about what this could mean for libraries and archives in Egypt.  After all, we’ve seen this before.

By “seen this before”, I mean that we as a profession, particularly the archival profession, have seen the impact of protests calling for government reform on libraries and archives.  If you didn’t read Judith Panitch’s excellent essay, “Some Archival Lessons from the Case of the French Revolution”, read it now.  I firmly believe it’s a must for anyone in this profession as it treats the origin of nationalized information repositories as we know them today.  You can find her essay in the book American archival studies: readings in theory and practice, edited by Randall Jimerson and published by the Society of American Archivists in 2000.

Quick summary of her essay: the French Revolution resulted in a few important things for our profession.  Those are the establishment of a national archives, the idea that the public should have access to government documents contained therein and that the “public” meant everyone in the country, and that government should be held accountable for their actions via the public’s access to their documents.  When people demand a new form of government, they often demand a check on the system.  One check is the ability of people to view documents pertaining to the running of the government, inasmuch as it is deemed non-threatening to national security.

There are clear parallels to Egypt.  They have great national museums and they do have national archives and libraries, but they tend to slant toward ancient history.  Partly this is because Egypt has a fabulous history that is so well-preserved and they’re proud of their civilization and its level of advancement millenia ago.  Partly, I suspect, it’s also due to the government not promoting the use of archives and libraries and not sending documents for open repository access.  There may be other mitigating factors such as low literacy or inaccessibility either because of poor transportation or poor location.

I predict that if the protesters succeed, they will demand more accountability for their government and that will include freedom to access the information produced by their government.  The shift in the government being accountable to the people will go a long way in establishing a lasting democracy and I believe it would be a small step the government could offer that would mean so much to the people of Egypt.

Copyright Issues in Archives

20 Dec

I have an article I’ve written.  It bothers me that a journal rejected it because they felt I was too optimistic about the potential to get resources to perform copyright work.  That’s missing the point of the practice; I make an effort to point out that should the process be incorporated into the acquisitions process then it doesn’t cost the institution in resources in any real way.  It doesn’t even require additional staff.  But for those places that need to perform rights work on their archival collections, here is a guide.  I want this information to be available as a resource for those of us who might need it, while I wrangle with academia.

Disclaimer:  This article belongs to me, is my intellectual property, and I will pursue anyone who plagiarizes my work to the best of my abilities and the extent of the law.  I’ve had creative works stolen before, and it’s a terrible feeling.  Don’t do it.

A Case for Rights Work: the process to obtain copyright and why it matters


Archival institutions are constantly evaluating the services they provide to patrons and how to better meet those patrons’ needs. As the profession moves through the new century and embraces technological developments that urge new skills and methods, nearly all archives face the same demand: digitized holdings. Patrons, facilitated by devices such as “smartphones” and platforms including mobile web with mobile websites, are increasingly remotely connected to the information world. Today it is not unreasonable for a patron to expect to receive a response to an email within a few days and to be provided materials in electronic format. This is particularly true if the collection the patron is interested in is one with great informational value or is unusually rare.

As archivists rush to meet these demands, more and more institutions find themselves turning to digitization projects; “digitization” appears to be the new buzzword and this is reflected in literature, conferences, professional development, and the qualifications expected of entry-level positions. Yet as archives’ service to patrons changes, the processes within many institutions have not reflected this emerging trend. In light of this, institutions face the looming challenge of obtaining intellectual property rights for their collections, especially those old enough to have deeds of gift with ambiguous wording or those for which there is no deed of gift or paperwork concerning transfer of intellectual property. When surveying an institution’s holdings, it may be tempting to simply throw one’s hands in the air and decide the task is too large, too daunting and too expensive in terms of resources to merit engaging in a process to obtain those rights. A source of additional frustration for many may be the lack of clear literature regarding the “how” instead of the “why”. Professional literature abounds with writings on why copyright issues are important and why archivists should further their understanding of copyright issues and law, but the dearth of practice-oriented literature makes the theory-oriented literature an nice exercise in thought and ideals without lending applicable measures. Jean Dryden provides a snapshot of how this imbalance affects archives and digitization, noting that literature and research is “fragmentary and somewhat mixed” in regard to findings, and although copyright is universally considered important, it is not necessarily the primary deciding factor for all institutions.[i]

Obtaining intellectual property rights is just as important a step in establishing control over the collection as processing but seems to be overlooked in favor of the archivist’s application of the more product, less process approach. What an archivist can overlook in theory but run into problems in implementation is that without devoting the appropriate resources to clearing the intellectual property rights for each collection, the holding institution is severely restricted in terms of what they can do with the collection long-term even if the institution takes full advantage of copyright law exceptions for fair use. Viewing intellectual property rights work as a non-critical step is erroneous in light of well-intentioned practice and without it there is no room to allow the archivist or curator to say they have taken all measures necessary to establish control over his or her records.

Intellectual property rights work, hereafter referred to simply as “rights work”, is comprised of varied tasks that will de described later, all sharing the goal of allowing the archivist to make a weighted, deliberate decision based on risk management. The ideal outcome of rights work is that each collection’s creator has transferred intellectual property rights to the institution and that all third party items have also been cleared. Naturally this ideal outcome is all but impossible given the scope of third party materials in many collections and the elapsed time since creation; because of these factors, the realistic goal of an institution engaged in rights work is to be able to prove due diligence in attempting to obtain the rights to each collection and to expect at least a few cleared collections. The other realistic goal is to incorporate practices that will ultimately save resources but yield results in the process of rights work and to empower the archivist to provide access to materials in a digital format without the need to police patrons’ use of those materials.

The purpose of this article is to provide a general outline of practices that are based on actual rights work conducted in the spring of 2010 at the North Carolina State University Libraries on their architecture collections. It is not meant to be exhaustive or unalterable; rather, it is intended to provide a baseline for which practices may be modified to suit the needs of the implementing institution, to adapt to new technologies and to cope with a variety of specific legal ramifications resulting from the topic of the collection. It will serve to describe the course of action taken at North Carolina State University as well as give an idea of the risk management conducted by the Special Collections and Research Department. It is important to note the topic of fair use is beyond the scope of this article, except tangentially, as fair use does enter into the risk management evaluation; if a collection’s digitized form was deemed fair use then the institution would not need to conduct rights work and so that process is largely irrelevant to the subject of this article. Akmon has written a summarizing discussion of fair use and what it can mean for rights work in her article “Only with your permission: how rights holders respond (or don’t respond) to requests to display archival materials online” as well as giving statistics on the success of rights work. [ii] Her work fills in the lack of broad empirical data in this article and will provide a larger-scale understanding of the results of rights work. In the same vein, Michael T. Crawford’s work on copyright and unpublished manuscripts addresses the application of fair use in a variety of situations and should be consulted if the archivist or curator has confusion about fair use policies.[iii]

Researching and Documenting

Selecting a Collection Topic
The North Carolina State University Libraries began its rights work as part of a grant-funded project to digitize its architectural holdings which served as a guide for collection topic selection that determined the individual collections for inclusion in the rights work. If this is not how an institution plans to begin to manage intellectual property rights, it is advisable to survey the topics of the institution’s collections (art history, fairy tales, architecture, etc) to determine a broad enough topic that multiple collections fit the criteria while narrow enough to limit the number of collections to a manageable size. The findings at North Carolina State University would suggest that fifty to seventy-five individual collections is a number both inclusive and manageable. For the sake of creating a complete “picture” of the rights status of the collection subject, even collections with the rights cleared were included in this overall number so the most accurate scope of work was apparent. The terms used in this article that refer to the primary actors are “curator,” used to designate the person in charge of the project, “archivist,” used to designate the person doing the research, and “legal counsel,” used to designate any lawyer or law advisor the institution may have on staff or retainer. The curator and the archivist may be one and the same, or the archivist could be a student employee under the supervision of a professional archivist: these titles are not meant to refer to specific job titles but rather to denote the activities taken by an individual; the roles may change based on the workload of each individual and the policies of a specific institution.

Setting Up a Structure

The most important tool for conducting rights work is a way to keep track of the progress on each collection so that all the information gleaned is contained within one central location. After trial and error, it was determined by North Carolina State University that the best format for this recordkeeping was a spreadsheet. The spreadsheet contained the following columns included: “Collection Number”, “AT entered?” (AT stands for Archivists Toolkit, and can be substituted for the tool the institution uses to manage collections), “Priority”, “Status”, “Collection Name”, “Dates” (of the collection’s scope), “Deed?”, “Copyright status”, “Donor is creator?”, “Other Documentation”, “Notes”, and “Contact Information”. This spreadsheet proved to be adaptable, dynamic and straightforward: a template is provided as Table A. When entering data into the spreadsheet, a guide to each column is as follows:

  • The “collection number” column contained the number (or other categorization as applicable) in its entirety.
  • The “AT entered” column only had a “Y”, an “N” , or a “no record – [type, either accession or resource]”. It was intended to track whether the changes in copyright status had been updated in Archivists Toolkit.
  • The “priority” column had the tier numeral assigned to the collection by the curator in the relevant row, with one being the highest priority tier. Zero was used to designate a cleared collection prior to the start of the project (i.e. if copyright is covered in a certain collection before the rest of the related collections are researched).
  • The “status” column was for tracking the progress made on each collection. Entries might include “find heir”, “deed sent”, “contact heir”, “deed”. These entries always reflected the task currently being undertaken, not the next step in the process.
  • The “collection name” column had as entries the names the collections have in the finding aid, or other documentation.
  • The “dates” column was for the date range covered by the materials in the collection.  This information can be found in the finding aid.
  • The “Deed?” column required only a Y or an N, Y if there was a deed and N if there was not.
  • The “copyright status” column was for noting the language of the deed of gift, if one existed. If a deed did not exist, then this column was left blank.
  • The “other documentation” column was used for noting information relating to provenance. An entry in this column might be “Transferred from School of Design”, “Multiple donors”, “Donor is firm”, or other such information. It might also explain what is covered by the deed, if there was one. Regardless of the existence of a deed, this column always had an entry. Its purpose was to determine provenance and/or extent of the deed, and if the collection was a transfer and lacks the documentation of a direct donation.
  • The “notes” column was for any other information that was discovered during the course of research that was likely to be helpful. An entry in this column could be something like “Blueprint drawings of ABC (also called EFG) in City, State.  All other materials were videos created by XXX.  Plans obtained from Doe Company of Any city, Any state in 1921 (bankrupt).” It usually contained information regarding the creator of the documents, regardless of if the donor is the creator or not.
  • The “contact information” column was for any and all contact information for the creator/heirs of the collection.

Table A: Spreadsheet Template

Deeds and Rights Issues with ABC Collections
Collection Number AT Entered? Priority Status Collection Name Dates Deed? Copyright Status Donor is creator? Other Documentation Notes Contact Information

The next step before research began was the curator prioritizing each collection and assigning it a tier so that collections could be grouped according to the importance of clearing the intellectual property rights. This allowed the curator or archivist to organize efforts and conduct a more effective risk management assessment at a later point.

Lastly, the curator met with the institution’s legal counsel and determined what legal counsel considered fair use for the Libraries, asked for a ruling on any deeds with ambiguous language and checked on language the curator was unsure about, and established what constituted due diligence for the Libraries, although it is probable each institution would have different standards. Surprisingly, the curator and archivist found that what constituted due diligence at North Carolina State University was much less strenuous than they initially believed and found their work was less intensive than the archivist feared. The archivist hypothesizes different collection topics will have different levels of acceptable due diligence, and the amount of due diligence may be affected by the collection’s informational or intrinsic value.


Once the spreadsheet was customized for the institution’s needs, the archivist gathered resources that would assist in researching the collections. These resources included the collection file for each collection, a list of relevant topic and biographical databases, a list or pre-existing pathfinder for web resources, and a contact list of local experts on the topic that included email, telephone and addresses. Some resources that were almost always useful in some way to the archivist were Ancestry.com, HeritageQuest, and FamilySearch.org. Many public libraries maintain a library account with Ancestry.com and HeritageQuest so investigating the possibility of accessing these databases through a library account is worthwhile; the Libraries found that the county library provided remote access to the Ancestry.com database and on-site access to HeritageQuest. This article will deal with using primarily web-based resources for research because of the rapidly updating nature of internet pages and because of the access to a wide variety of “local” resources that an archivist can access remotely; the North Carolina State University Libraries found that web-based resources were just as helpful or more so than their print-based counterparts in determining the current status and locations of individuals.

The first resources that were consulted were the finding aid and the collection file. The archivist looked for any information about who the donor was, who the creator was, what the deed of gift said regarding copyright, and possible contact information. If the donor was still living, the process was relatively simple and straightforward as the contact information on the deed of gift may or may not be current. If it was, then getting in touch with the donor was easy, and if not, checking the white pages for the area where the donor’s last known location was yielded some results. Should the donor be an active professional then his or her colleagues likely had an idea of where or how to contact the donor if the contact information provided on the deed is no longer current. To determine if the donor was living, the archivist searched local obituaries and used common sense. Colleagues and local experts also had, in some cases, knowledge of who is and is not deceased. If they did not know, or there are no people to contact, it was still possible to determine if the creator is living.

The most useful things to have were the name and the date of birth and, if relevant, death of the creator: knowing how long ago someone died told the archivist how many generations were likely to be spanned in the search. The following techniques worked best when the archivist had the name and these dates, but can be used without the dates. Using Ancestry.com, HeritageQuest and FamilySearch.org, the archivist ran a search on the name of the creator, widow, or heir; at least one type of record was often retrieved. The archivist worked from that record and tried to determine if the creator is living or who the descendents are if the creator is deceased. Common records providing this information are death certificates and census records. Also advisable are searches for the creator’s spouse, known children and parents because these searches will yield information on direct heirs and, in the case of the parents, siblings. The goal was to either determine that there are no more living descendants, or have the name of a currently living heir and an idea of the general location where they live. Once that was determined, the archivist used the telephone book or WhitePages.com and searched for the heir by using their name and location. Sometimes the WhitePages.com database will give ages or over one hundred results. If there were many hits to the same name, the archivist tried either a middle initial or looking for a person who is in the correct age bracket.

Throughout the process of researching the archivist was in contact with the Libraries’ legal counsel in order to keep every person involved appraised of the status of the project and to decide when the archivist had done all possible actions required to obtain intellectual property. If rights had not been obtained by this point, then the curator was equipped to make a decision regarding risk management.


The documentation process, sometimes overlooked in other archival endeavors, is vital to rights work in a way that will impact the institution’s work for the future. As suggested earlier, the archivist should strive to create a trail of heirs in order to facilitate research and support the decisions made by the curator. The information from the collection file was explained earlier and the method of entering the information is straightforward. North Carolina State University found that entering the collection number, priority, status, collection name, dates, deed, copyright status, donor is creator and other documentation data prior to beginning research optimized workflow and the ability of the archivist to conduct research on multiple collections concurrently. Any information gleaned during the course of the research relating to heirs was entered under the “Notes” column in the spreadsheet: this included such things as dates of marriages, names of spouses and children, relevant birthdates and current location. It was easiest for the archivist to enter this information while conducting the research process although each archivist will develop a method that best suits his or her researching strengths and way of thinking. Once the heir was determined his or her contact information was entered under contact information and a deed of gift letter or quitclaim and deed of gift or quitclaim was prepared, signed and mailed according to the policies of the North Carolina State University Libraries. For the Libraries this meant mailing two signed copies, one for the heir or donor and one to be returned to the Libraries. Whether a deed of gift or a quitclaim is used should be determined by the institution’s legal counsel.

Table B: Completed Spreadsheet

Deeds and Rights Issues with ABC Collections
Collection Number AT Entered? Priority Status Collection Name Dates Deed? Copyright Status Donor is creator? Other Documentation Notes Contact Information
0001 Y 1 Sent 1/1/2010 John Doe papers 1950–1975 N n/a Y Signed receipts Widowed in 1992. Died in 2000. Son still living, no other children. Son James Doe, 00 Oak St, Nowhere, Any State, USA

Sometimes the heirs contacted the Libraries wanting more details regarding the collections. The archivist consulted with the curator to determine the level of detail that was disclosed to the heir regarding the nature of the project and how the collection in question fits into the project, making no promises regarding the inclusion of the papers in the current digitization effort. Other times, there was a response that the identified person is not an heir; if this happened the next step was to determine the chances of finding the real heir, perform due diligence, and if all avenues had been exhausted, consult with the curator about declaring the collection an orphaned work.

When the deed of gift or quitclaim was returned, the archivist followed the Libraries’ policies regarding the disposition of signed deeds of gift and quitclaims. Sometimes heirs returned both signed deeds of gift or quitclaims to the libraries. When this occurred, the archivist wrote a letter (on official letterhead) thanking the heir for signing and returning the deed or quitclaim, and stated that institution asks that donors retain one copy for their own records.

The last step in the process was tracking the changes in the tool used to manage collections by the institutions, such as Archivists Toolkit or Archon. The following steps apply to Archivists Toolkit because that is the program in use at the North Carolina State University Libraries, and should be modified to suit other tools as needed.

The archivist first modified the resource record for each collection. In the Basic information tab, under the “Repository Processing Note”, the archivist wrote “For deed and intellectual property, see the accession record XYZ”, saved the record, and moved to the accession record for the same collection. If there was more than one, the archivist used the main record, or the first record. Once in the accession record, under the “Acknowledgements, Restrictions and Processing Tasks” tab, the archivist checked “agreement sent”, “agreement received” and “rights transferred” for each collection that had a deed of gift and filled in the appropriate dates (found in the collection file if those dates are not a result of the rights work). If there was more than one deed, the archivist used the earliest dates. In the case of multiple accession records, for the records not being used as the primary record, the archivist noted in the “Rights Transferred” note “see other accession record XYZ.” Also in the “Rights Transferred Note”, the archivist listed all the deeds and their dates, noted what the deed covers and by whom it was signed (creator, heir, non-creator, corporation) and also listed any other documentation, such as documents of receipt that would hold import. Following the list of deeds, any other relevant information was noted. This included, but was not limited to, research done on the heirs to a collection, if the collection had been declared an orphan work, any third party items and who their creator(s) is, dates contact was attempted such as emails sent, telephone calls and letters, and any other information showing due diligence as advised by legal counsel.

Risk assessment and management

Inevitably during the course of performing rights work, the archivist will not be successful in finding an heir or the contact information for an heir. For some collections, it will result in the collection being declared an orphan work because the archivist was unable to find any living heirs. If this is the case, the curator should evaluate the information found and assess the risk to the institution of being charged with copyright infringement as a result of digitizing the collection and providing access. In most circumstances, the risk will be very minimal that the institution will be challenged and digitization is recommended. Jean Dryden classifies the behavior of institutions into three categories, “More Restrictive,” “Midpoint,” and “Less Restrictive,” regarding the institution’s copyright practices.[iv] The “More Restrictive” category describes few institutions today, as the institutions in it “would make fewer holdings available than copyright allows,” choosing to digitize “only documents in which copyright law has expired”[v] and such an approach is unrealistic in today’s digital environment. Her “Midpoint” category describes institutions that “make available online documents to the extent copyright law allows. . . those in which the repository owns the copyright, and those for which the repository has obtained permission from the rights holder(s).”[vi] The last category, “Less Restrictive”, applies to institutions that “would make available more than the law allows” either because they did not understand copyright law applying to the documents or because they had not been able or did not attempt to contact the rights holders for permission.[vii] The risk assessment performed by a curator or an archivist may blur the lines between these categories. While no institution wants to engage in litigation or knowingly flout copyright law, a measured and deliberate weighing of the benefit to society by digitizing or otherwise making available papers opposed to the negative repercussions of a violation of copyright law is reasonable. In the case of orphaned works, for example, the North Carolina State University Libraries judged the risk to be minimal to the point of a near-impossibility of negative repercussions and so the collections were earmarked for digitization; one particular collection was highly sought by researchers locally, nationally and to a lesser extent internationally and it was felt that to restrict access to an orphaned collection based on fear would be a great detriment to the intellectual communities the institution serves.

When an institution works as closely with legal counsel as the Libraries did, a risk management approach becomes more comfortable and familiar. The archivist at the Libraries found that legal counsel was not only willing to provide guidance regarding due diligence but also to engage in risk assessment with the curator and felt that a persuasive case could be made in many instances where traditionally archivists and curators would err on the cautious side. Dryden’s findings support this: she asked what respondents would do if they could not locate the copyright owner or if the owner did not respond, and two-thirds of respondents indicated they “would not use the document or would substitute another” which “suggests that archivists have a low tolerance for risk.”[viii]

Based on the experience of the North Carolina State University Libraries, legal counsel had a higher tolerance for risk and preferred to comply with requests to remove copyrighted materials if a request was sent. The Libraries have not, at the time of this writing, received any requests for removal, suggesting that a perceived “riskier” approach does not entail that much greater a risk. This compliance seems to represent the course of action most institutions would take in the event of a copyright owner confronting the institution, based on the premise of the institution making no profit from infringing and thereby making the offense less egregious than one that makes a profit.[ix] As stated earlier, the best possible course of action is for each institution to determine in conjunction with legal counsel what the institution-specific standards are and base risk assessment and management practices on those standards.

Barriers to Implementation

Frustrated research efforts

If difficulties during the research process are encountered, the archivist has several options. Websites like FindAGrave are an option, since they can yield the names of other family members. However, finding someone on it can be difficult and seldom successful—it is included only because the North Carolina State University Libraries found heirs to one collection through it that the archivist was unable to find through any other avenue. In addition, some topic areas have more published materials than others, impacting the archivist’s ability to find information about a particular person. If this is the case, the reference desk in the library, either local or institutional, is a valuable resource as they know about places to search that are specific to the library and can have helpful suggestions regarding search terminology. Genealogy websites are abundant, but Cyndi’s List[x] is user-friendly and provides an excellent start point for research. Lastly, if there is no other recourse, checking the county’s public records will often produce some sort of result. The problem is that some counties have more expansive records than others, and the archivist must know exactly who to look for. They can also be hard to interpret or understand as the documents recorded are purely legal documents with legal abbreviations. The point at which difficulties are encountered is the point most likely to impact implementation of rights work as institutions are reluctant to invest significant amounts of resources in an endeavor without guaranteed results. Dryden found in her 2008 study that when selecting items for digitization, “the ‘best’ documents may be rejected in favor of documents that require fewer resources to obtain authorization from copyright owners, or documents that raise no copyright issues related to further uses by end-users.”[xi] Institutions must resist this impulse because the profession as a whole owes to users access to the best materials for their research. Dryden describes this duty as having the same goal as copyright law: preservation of valuable cultural material for the future benefit of society.[xii]

Lack of resources – Time

Many institutions avoid engaging in rights work because of the significant investment of resources. The North Carolina State University Libraries overcame this obstacle by hiring an employee whose only job was to engage in rights work. This allowed the curator to attend to other business matters while the archivist conducted research. The time required was not as great as some might think: for ninety-two total collections, thirteen of which were resolved before the rights work began, it took three months to research and contact all the creators or heirs for the collections deemed relevant. Some collections were comprised of items that the curator felt confident would never be digitized by the Libraries and they were deemed irrelevant. Hiring an additional employee is the best way to overcome the lack of time to conduct rights work, but it is not the only way. Assigning a volunteer to conduct rights work under the supervision of the curator or archivist requires little additional effort, mostly comprised of daily or weekly updates that take no more than thirty minutes.

The most integrated approach to rights work is to conduct it as part of the accessions process, making a note of who the owner of intellectual property rights is at the time of transfer of property, i.e. through a deed of gift, and attempting to contact the rights owner immediately upon receipt of the collection by the institution; such a process is not new.[xiii] Ultimately this approach would reduce the workload of the curator or archivist in the future while simultaneously providing the institution with the best possible position regarding future use of the collection.

Lack of resources – Money

Rights work at the North Carolina State University Libraries was funded by grant money, and considering the lack of research on rights work it is feasible that other institutions will be able to finance rights work through grants. This operates under the assumption that rights work needs to be conducted on the majority of holdings and that most of the holdings are still protected and without rights transfer. It is possible to simply adapt the accessions and processing conducted by institutions to include rights work and revisit the unresolved collections at a later date.

However, ignoring the unresolved collections until the budget is flexible enough to allow for rights work is ill-advised; there never be enough money to do everything an institution would like to do and prioritizing the activities results in allocation of funds. Assigning rights work a high priority when allocating a budget will ensure there is some amount of funding for the project even if an employee may only be part-time or paraprofessional. A final consideration, mentioned earlier, is the value of student employees and volunteers. The research can be conducted by a supervised student or volunteer and the only financial cost to the institution is the preparation and mailing of deeds of gift or quitclaims. This approach does require a trusted student or volunteer, but as many, if not all, institutions have volunteers to some extent it is believed this approach is realistic.


Rights work is currently viewed as a looming vacuum of time and resources, with benefits that can seem dwarfed. It is much easier for curators and archivists to only deal with those collections and documents that are already in the public domain or those they already own copyright to, even if those collections and documents do not accurately represent the holdings and their value. A short-sighted view supports this conclusion, but with more patrons accessing holdings remotely and the transition of archival institutions from bastions of historical scholarship to valued repositories for geneaology accessible to anyone who is interested digital access to all collections is a force exerting ever-increasing amounts of pressure on the profession as a whole.

The truth is that rights work is time intensive and takes persistent hard work and creativity. It requires an individual who constantly looks for new resources and ways around roadblocks, who also possesses a stubborn refusal to give up. It is also worth the time and effort, worth allocating resources to because it allows the curator or archivist to make the collection available for use to the broadest possible audience, in one form or another, in perpetuity—the goal of every archives or special collections.

[i] Jean Dryden, “Copyright issues in the selection of archival material for internet access,” Archival Science 8 (2008): 123-147

[ii] Dharma Akmon, “Only with your permission: how rights holders respond (or don’t respond) to requests to display archival materials online,” Archival Science 10 (2010): 45–64.

[iii] Michael T. Crawford, “Copyright, Unpublished Manuscript Records, and the Archivist,” American Archivist 46:2 (1983): 135-147.

[iv] Jean Dryden, “Copyright issues in the selection of archival material for internet access,” Archival Science 8 (2008): 127.

[v] Jean Dryden, “Copyright issues in the selection of archival material for internet access,” Archival Science 8 (2008): 127.

[vi] Jean Dryden, “Copyright issues in the selection of archival material for internet access,” Archival Science 8 (2008): 128.

[vii] Jean Dryden, “Copyright issues in the selection of archival material for internet access,” Archival Science 8 (2008): 128.

[viii] Jean Dryden, “Copyright issues in the selection of archival material for internet access,” Archival Science 8 (2008): 141.

[ix] Jean Dryden, “Copyright issues in the selection of archival material for internet access,” Archival Science 8 (2008): 142.

[x] Cyndi Howell, “Cyndi’s List,” 23 June 2010, < http://www.cyndislist.com/&gt; (24 June 2010).

[xi] Jean Dryden, “Copyright issues in the selection of archival material for internet access,” Archival Science 8 (2008): 133.

[xii] Jean Dryden, “Copyright issues in the selection of archival material for internet access,” Archival Science 8 (2008): 124.

[xiii] Michael T. Crawford, “Copyright, Unpublished Manuscript Records, and the Archivist,” American Archivist 46:2 (1983): 146.