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ARSCLIST  October 2005

ARSCLIST October 2005

Subject:

legal action, and libraries & archives

From:

Matthew Snyder <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Association for Recorded Sound Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Fri, 7 Oct 2005 09:42:38 -0400

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I'm responding to multiple postings here, so forgive me for not specifying 
the authors involved.

First, regarding the restrictions that institutions put on who can hear 
archived holdings with murky legal status, it should be stressed that for 
most major institutions (and probably most minor ones as well), the main 
worry is getting sued down to their skivvies by a copyright holder who 
pops out from under a rock with a lawyer by his side. Litigation is 
extremely costly and the best way to deal with it is to avoid it in the 
first place, hence the restrictions on access and distribution unless all 
legal t's and i's have been crossed, dotted, submitted to your mother for 
approval and blessed by your local rabbi or shaman. At no institution that 
I have worked or interned at was "hoarding" the reason for restrictions on 
access.

Second, regarding deaccessioning and dumping of library holdings, we must 
keep in mind the difference between libraries and archives. The terms are 
usually used interchangeably (most notably/notoriously by Nicholson 
Baker).   A library is constantly replenishing its collections with new 
items and purging itself of obsolete ones. The latter can be a tricky 
process, and what gets kept depends on the library's mission statement and 
the constituency it serves. I can't speak for the library that dumped the 
old Canadian history, but one guess could be that they got a new edition 
and, in the interest of saving space, dumped the old. The point here is 
that a library's job is NOT to keep everything it ever gets. Archives do 
that, and even then they don't keep EVERYTHING, they only collect what 
they define as being part of their mission. A collection devoted to, say, 
northeast Pennsylvania history will not really want to keep a Virginia 
almanac from 1850. Hence, on the archives listserv, there are messages 
every other day that say "free to a good home", with a description of 
fascinating items that do not fall into the domain of the archivist 
posting the message, but may be of interest to some other repository.  I 
think libraries should post the same kind of message to that list as well, 
so that quality items at least get kept within the public/research realm. 
Yes, sometimes bad purging decisions get made, but it should be realized 
that no library can afford to not weed its holdings on a regular basis 
without continually building new additions.

Matt Snyder
Music Archivist
Wilson Processing Project
The New York Public Library

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