Yes? Digital Technology is the Future

Professor Monahan asks us to discuss where we lie are on the spectrum of digital generation theory.

Are we techno utopians that believe the internet can save the world?

Are we techno dystopians that believe the internet is a harbinger of the end of civilization?

Are we cautious enthusiasts who want to figure out how to use the new technological changes for good?

Are we skeptical of the entire discourse?

Yes?

To all of it?

We are in a transitional moment in our culture. This transition exists for many reasons, but one of the most profound is technology, especially digital technology. Our technology changes so rapidly that it’s hard to keep up or anticipate the possible outcomes or consequences.

The kids who are growing up in today’s world live in an entirely different technological landscape than I did, and I’m only thirty. While I think I fit the digital native category, I was born in 1985: I didn’t grow up with cell phones or with constant internet access. Computers and growing tech were prevalent throughout my childhood, but nowhere near to the extent that exist today.

Right before this class started, the mother in law of a friend of mine posted an article on Facebook titled “It’s ‘digital heroin’: How screens turn kids into psychotic junkies.” I have multiple issues with this article, but I thought it was interesting that this sort of fearmongering and finger pointing towards technology is occurring in an age where technology is so ubiquitous. The thought struck me that this was written by someone who is not a digital native, and I wondered how scary this new world must be to someone who can’t keep up (or apparently take responsibility for their parenting styles)? (It should also be noted that the author of this article is a doctor in a rehabilitation clinic for addictions and might have more than a small personal agenda to support here). This sort of digital immigrant, as Marc Prensky points out, “w[as] ‘socialized’ differently from their kids, and [is] now in the process of learning a new language” (Prensky, 2001). And of course, this is exactly the topic of the article we read by Plowman and McPake on “Seven myths about young children and technology”.

This is certainly not a new idea either, Alvin Toffler addressed this in his 1970 novel Future Shock and the debate has continued to rage ever since.

In one of my other classes, Children’s Resources, one of the very first things we discussed was the necessity of not limiting information given to children because we think it might be too advanced for them. Children need to be able to take in information and extrapolate from it what they need without adults interfering in the process. I think this point is also necessary when looking at children and what technology we present to them. My first response to the article comparing ipads to heroine was thinking about how I would never deny my children access to the tools that they will need to succeed.

I absolutely believe that digital technology is the current state of the future, and that children today must be exposed early and often to what is available to them in order to afford them future success.

My mother did not let me play videogames as a child. Much like the themes in the above article, she believed that too much screen time was detrimental to my well-being and would firmly boot me outside to go play in the sunlight. Granted, I was much more “addicted” to reading, and she had larger problems prying books out of my hands when it came time to focus elsewhere, but…at the end of the day, one of the things I’ve noticed when comparing myself with friends of mine who did avidly play video games is the extreme difference in technological skills that we carried out of childhood. My friends who were gamers did much better in the STEM areas than I ever did, and have largely chosen professions that utilize technologies that quite frankly I can’t even begin to understand. And again, that was over twenty years ago, so I can only imagine what might happen to child today who is denied access to technology. As Bennett, Maton and Kervin state in their article on digital natives: “Immersion in this technology-rich culture is said to influence the skills and interests of digital natives in ways significant for education” (Bennett, Maton and Kervin, 2008). If digital technology is the wave of the future, the children who will succeed will be those who are comfortable with that technology and understand how to use and create it.

Marc Presnky’s article on digital natives starts with the quote “Our students have changed radically. Today’s students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach” (Prensky, 2001). I think this is extremely true. The sister of a friend I grew up with recently began high school. Her school required all incoming freshmen to have Mac laptops. Would this have happened even ten years ago? Probably not. My own elementary school now teaches classes on how to use the internet, on internet safety, and incorporates that discussion into regular coursework. Students use Twitter to talk to others all over the world, and introduce video-making and social media into their arsenal of regular classroom tools. They do this because:

If we want the children of today to continue to be learners tomorrow, we need to help them develop a sense of themselves as competent learners who can function in diverse settings. In order to accomplish this goal, the Lower School curriculum exposes children to different approaches in learning, enhances their awareness of their own individual learning styles, and aids them in discovering that there are many resources for information and knowledge, both within and outside of school. (The Columbus Academy, Lower School)

Can the internet save the world? I think the Egyptian Revolution is a good example of how the internet can cause drastic change for both good and ill. A Wired article about the Egyptian Uprising and social media says: “Did social media like Facebook and Twitter cause the revolution? No. But these tools did speed up the process by helping to organize the revolutionaries, transmit their message to the world and galvanize international support” (Gustin, 2011).

We can certainly argue over the politics and whether we believe what happened in Egypt was right or wrong…but think about that: The fact that common people were able to use a tool like Twitter to help an actual revolution take place. That is no small thing.

In the long run, are the Egyptians better off? I’m sure that only someone living in Egypt right now could even begin to give you that sort of answer. The Wired article makes a good point though, social media and other digital technology is a tool, a tool that is still being used by humans, which we all know are capable of great good and great evil. So while these tools can cause wonderful things, they can also cause terrible things. Globalization, which I believe to be one of the major things that digital technology is ensuring will happen, can be both good and bad. It can bring jobs, communication and assistance to those who need it; it can also take them away.

The protests at Standing Rock are a good example of this as well. It seems like most mainstream media is refusing to cover the protests, but Facebook has allowed continual information and communication to spread. The fact that journalists who are covering the action are being arrested, point to social media becoming a safer, more efficient way of covering future revolutions.

But am I skeptical? Of course. We are only in the beginning of the digital world. Even if we consider technology that was developed in the World War eras of the mid twentieth century, we have not yet even ventured for a century into this new world of technology. In the span of human history, that is a mere drop in the bucket.

I think there’s a huge reason that dystopian futures are so popular right now. People can obviously see the possibilities of a world brought about by technologies with devastating effects, effects we cannot predict.

But I am hopeful. I think that technology gives us the capabilities to do things that we have never imagined before. I think I will see the types of change in my lifetime that my grandparents couldn’t even dream about.

What will these drastic changes in our technological landscape bring? Only time will tell.

 

References:

Bennett, S., Maton, K., & Kervin, L. (2008). The digital natives debate: A critical review of the evidence. British Journal of Educational Technology, 39(5), 775-786.

Gustin, S. (2011). Social Media Sparked, Accelerated Egypt’s Revolutionary Fire. Wired.

https://www.wired.com/2011/02/egypts-revolutionary-fire/

Lower School. (n.d.). Retrieved September 14, 2016, from

http://www.columbusacademy.org/Page/Academics/Lower-School

Kardaras, N. (2016). It’s ‘digital heroin’: How screens turn kids into psychotic junkies. New York Post.

http://nypost.com/2016/08/27/its-digital-heroin-how-screens-turn-kids-into-psychotic-junkies/

Plowman, L., & McPake, J. (2013). Seven myths about young children and technology. Childhood Education, 89(1), 27.

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, Digital immigrants. On the Horizon, 9(5), 1-6.

Toffler, A. (1970). Future shock. New York: Random House.

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Ethical Theory Summary – Existential Ethics

Existentialism sees the universe as an uncaring, often antagonistic place. Because of this, existentialists believe that it is impossible to know the reason and purpose of human life; without a divine presence, they feel that free will and personal responsibility govern the consequences of all people’s actions (Pierpoli, 2011). In an article that considers whether Existential Ethics are even possible, Jonathan Crowe points out that Existential Ethics are often seen as a form of moral subjectivism; the idea that morality is completely individual: “There is no objective way of judging one person’s moral preferences to be better or worse than those of another” (Crowe, 2004). Often criticized for this very sentiment, Existentialists believe that the individual, rather than the society or culture, is responsible for making decisions based on one’s own experience and judgements. Existentialism incorporates ideas of authenticity (being true to the self), absurdity (the need to create order in a chaotic world), alienation (often brought on by the absurdity of life), the idea that existence precedes essence (humans are born and then define themselves), and individualism (Existentialism, 2016). Often criticized for its “anything goes” attitude, existential ethics emphasize reliance on free will and personal responsibility. To quickly define existential ethics, existentialists reject the Aristotelian notion that one can see the good in mankind once one understands the ultimate reason for human existence, because humans define themselves after birth and have free will, and ultimately cannot be compelled into undesirable actions (Ethics, 2016).

Differing widely from other traditional Western philosophies, Existential thought came out of nineteenth and early twentieth century philosophy, and was focused on an examination of the solitary nature of human existence. Often seen to be a writing movement as well as a philosophy, Søren Kierkegaard is often considered to be the father of Existentialism, but other authors such as Friedrich Nietzsche, Franz Kafka, Albert Camus, Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Paul Sartre were influential in creating the movement as well (Pierpaoli, 2011). These thinkers believed that rational consciousness is the only way to understand the human condition: “Sartre argues that one is morally obliged to recognize the value of both one’s own freedom and the freedom of others” (Crowe, 2004).  Existentialists argue that freedom itself is its own moral compass. People should be able to freely make choices that allow them to do what is best for their own self interests. Morality “becomes a function of individual preferences” and does not always point to one single course of action (Crowe, 2004). In early twentieth century Germany, many cited Existentialism as their rational for supporting Nazism. While not a popular ethic, Existentialism focuses on the individual need of the person enacting their own will on the world around them.

Existential philosophy was heavily influenced by the World Wars and Twentieth Century Imperialism. It seems fairly obvious why these events would have influenced philosophical thought. People were seeking answers to the conditions and horrors that were occurring in the world around them (Pierpaoli, 2011). The idea that God was dead and that we had killed Him was espoused in the works of Nietzsche, and characterizes the world view of existentialism.  Atheism is a major element of existentialism: when applied to an ethical philosophy, atheism, or the idea that we are not governed by a higher power, yields the driving notion that we are responsible for our own actions.

Twentieth Century United States militarism and industrialism lent an existential element to the works of authors such as Ayn Rand, whose work is characterized by the notion that personal responsibility is exemplified by a quest for power and wealth. This has become a staple of certain modern political movements and can be seen in the current political climate. But Rand’s views are also very different from Kierkegaard and Sartre, showing how truly differing the thoughts and beliefs of existential ethics really are. The idea that we are all ultimately doomed to failure is common: “all are on principle doomed to failure…it amounts to the same thing whether one gets drunk alone or is a leader of nations” (Bell, 1999). In stark contrast, some contemporary Existential ethics focus on personal freedom, and the idea that freedom of speech and thought is effected and enacted within the society of other free individuals. An exponent of this type of Existentialism, John Lennon, embraced Existential thought when as a Beatle he performed in Hamburg to an audience of ‘exies’ who influenced the band’s hair styles and dress. Lennon summed up his philosophy in what came to be his legacy lyric: “Imagine there’s no heaven/ It’s easy if you try/ No hell below us/ Above us only sky/ Imagine all the people/ Living for today…” (John Lennon, “Imagine”).

References:

Bell, L. A. (1999). 2.5 Existential Ethics. In S. Glendinning (Ed.), The Edinburgh encyclopedia of continental philosophy. Edinburg, United Kingdom: Edinburgh University Press.Retrieved from http://pitt.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/edinburghcp/2_5_existential_ethics/0

Ethics. (2016). In Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved from http://academic.eb.com.pitt.idm.oclc.org/EBchecked/topic/194023/ethics

Existentialism. (2016). In Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved from http://academic.eb.com.pitt.idm.oclc.org/EBchecked/topic/198111/existentialism

Crowe, J. (2004). Is an existentialist ethics possible? Philosophy Now, (47), 29-30. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1035733834?accountid=14437

Pierpaoli, P. (2011). Existentialism. In A. Andrea, World history encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. Retrieved from https://libproxy.tulane.edu/login?url=http://literati.credoreference.com/content/entry/abccliow/existentialism/1

 

ROI in Academic Libraries

In the current climate of economic downturn, ROI is a way for libraries to assess and evaluate the value of e-collections. Libraries are pressured with an increasing need to account for the money that is being allocated towards their collections and services, and to prove that what is being purchased is actually being used. Return on Investment is a way for libraries to “quantify” the value of these collections. While prices for library services are increasing, academic institutions are looking closer and closer at the ways in which academic libraries are using their budgets. Carol Tenopir looks at these issue on her article on ROI in academic libraries: “The value gap occurs when the cost of library collections and services increases over time, while the perceived value declines” (Tenopir 2010, 40).

Tenopir reports that ARL libraries have begun a major project to determine better ways of looking at ROI in academic libraries. While public libraries have many ways to study ROI, academic libraries are just getting started and have not yet adapted the necessary tools for an adequate ROI process. ARL statistics are being collected and analyzed internationally. The University of Illinois started this case study by looking at “the value of the library in the grants process through proposals, the return in grant funding, and grants reporting” which will allow them to see a definable source of library income and how it impacts library budgets (Tenopir 2010, 40). The project will continue to look at grants among more institutions and then, finally, look at other sources that show libraries’ return on investment.

Tenopir concludes: “What we hope to show as the studies progress is that the library’s products and services help faculty be successful, help students be successful, and generate both immediate and downstream income that provides good return for the investment” (Tenopir 2010, 46). When I first heard of ROI, I was almost offended. When purchasing collections and databases for the library, the immediate need and use is not always quantifiable. After further reading, I don’t think that ROI is a bad thing and I think Tenopir explains why very adequately with her conclusion. We are spending large amounts of money for these products, which does in turn affect our services. Why spend money on collections that are not enhancing services to our patrons? I think that ROI is probably a good means of proving the effectiveness of our spending, and is a good way to prove to administration and other library funding services that what the library has to offer is creating a wide and immediate impact. Perhaps in an era where we don’t have to pinch pennies, this wouldn’t be as important. But in today’s academic atmosphere, ROI could become an important tool in proving the importance of the budgets allocated to the library.

social-media-roi

Tenopir, Carol. 2010. “Measuring the Value of the Academic Library: Return on Investment and Other Value Measures.” Serials Librarian 58, no. 1-4: 39-48. Library, Information Science & Technology Abstracts with Full Text, EBSCOhost (accessed December 7, 2015).

Librarians as Faculty

In comparing the two blogs, we can see that the issue of tenure is a thorny one. Tenure is often difficult to achieve, and once achieved it complicates the role of academic librarian in a multitude of ways.

Librarians exist in a strange space within the university structure. I think Freedman and Dursi hit the nail on the head when they ask whether librarians are fish or fowl. As they state in their introduction: “Every situation appears to be different and it is difficult to look across our discipline to find a common policy and procedure existing for these topics” (Freedman and Dursi 2011, 284). Librarians occupy liminal space within the university, so the issue of tenure often changes the way they are viewed by other academics within the university structure, as well as how they are treated by the university itself.

Does tenure help or hinder the status of the library profession?

While it may be believed that tenure promotes scholarship and ensures that librarians are in a position to pursue such, it seems that the reality is often the exact opposite. As Farkas states in her blog: “I know at some places, librarians are told that they can take x% of their time for scholarship or that they can take one day/week for it. At most places, that isn’t the case. You try to fit it into your work week while you’re doing your ‘real work’ and are expected to take it home with you because it’s how you’re going to keep your job” (Farkas 2014). Tenure, instead of helping librarians pursue scholastic work, chains them into specific research that doesn’t actually assist them in their mission as librarians.

Fister believes in tenure and says: “What I do notice is that there’s a rather odd disconnect between what the tenure process promotes (especially in the area of contributions to scholarship) and what academic librarian career paths depend on (which is primarily focused on experience managing other people’s work)” (Fister 2014). She sees tenure as assisting her in being the best teacher she can be. She continues by stating: “It involves us in the life of the college through service, and that gives us the opportunity to see our work in the context of the entire institution’s mission and operations. It gives us support (though never enough, it’s there) to be formally curious about the world, the freedom to ask the questions we find compelling, and an obligation to share what we learn for the public good and to speak up when necessary. It tests us to see what we’re made of but, in exchange, guarantees that if we say unpopular things or ask difficult questions, our colleagues will have our back” (Fister 2014). But I fell that these are troubling statements. While the academic library is there to support the mission of the university, the librarian should be supporting the library’s needs (i.e. patron needs) over that of the overall university, and scholarship should be done in support of that mission, not done because it is being forced by the larger university. Also, the ideas of the freedom of information and open discourse should support whatever scholarship is being done and whatever the librarian has to say without fear of reprisal from the larger institution. If librarians (and any faculty) live in fear of the lack of support for their research, than the larger institution has already lost.

In my own personal experience, I think that not having tenure can hinder the position of the librarian within the greater university. I work for an institution where librarians are faculty, but without tenure. They are hired within a promotion track process where they must achieve a certain level of promotion within a certain amount of time before they are offered a permanent contract. Right now, the university I work for is cutting benefits and changing the structure of the university hierarchy. Because librarians do not fit within the faculty/tenured track and yet, are not considered staff, they have been largely left out and ignored in the discussion, leaving our librarians on edge and fearful of their position within the university. From a purely professional viewpoint, I can see where having tenure can protect the status of librarian and make sure that the university treats them as the important members of the academic institution that they are. It is often easy to overlook librarians as scholars and teachers, and the process of tenure makes sure this doesn’t happen.

Do tenure requirements promote reflective practice?

But at the same time, I am pursing librarianship because I do not want to teach on the classroom level like academic faculty do. I also want to publish scholarship that I wish to pursue, not scholarship that I am forced to pursue. I don’t want to worry that my job depends on publication, when service to my patrons is much more important to me. I observe that while publication may help, but there are times when it has nothing to do with the work of librarianship.

Tenure is sort of a trap. There are both good and bad things about tenure. Several people have brought up how badly adjunct faculty are treated, and I think that in many regards, librarians are treated in a similar manner.

We are expected to have advanced degrees and to publish research and engage on a much larger community level such as on national committees and in professional organizations, but we are not seen as faculty unless we obtain tenure.

I don’t think that tenure promotes reflective practices. In fact, I think it does the exact opposite. The profession of librarianship itself constantly encourages that reflective practice and most librarians will continue to seek out new ways to improve what we are doing without the lash of tenure at our backs.

Will you look for a job on the tenure track?

I don’t know whether I will seek a job on a tenure track. The idea of tenure upsets me and I don’t want to have to work for tenure, but at the same time I see what happens when librarians do not have tenure and are regarded with less respect within the university structure. At the end of the day, I think the notion of tenure is something that needs to be addressed at a much higher level, and viewed across the board for the entirety of the university. The downsides of tenure do not just affect librarians, they affect everybody.

phdcomics

Farkas, M. G. (2014, July 23). On tenure, after three years on track [Blog]. Information Wants to Be Free. Retrieved from http://meredith.wolfwater.com/wordpress/2014/07/23/on-tenure-after-three-years-on-the-tenure-track/.

Fister, B. (2014, July 29). Should academic librarians have tenure may be the wrong question [Library Babel Fish Blog]. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from http://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/library-babel-fish/should-academic-librarians-have-tenure-may-be-wrong-question.

Freedman, S., & Dursi, M. (2012). What’s in a Name: Are we fish or fowl? Something’s Gotta Give: Charleston Conference Proceedings, 2011 (pp. 284-­292). doi: 10.5703/1288284314913. Retrieved from http://docs.lib.purdue.edu/charleston/2011/Administration/5/.

Users as Selectors – Traditional Collection Building vs. PDA

Changes in technology and lowered budgets have shifted the focus of collection building from librarians to the hands of patrons. Patron driven acquisitions (PDA) allows libraries to lower acquisitions costs by giving patrons access to a larger amount of electronic resources without having to buy each title (Draper 2013). Vendors provide MARC records for titles dealing with selected subjects, and patrons can choose and download these titles as needed. While libraries have traditionally taken patron input into account when choosing titles for acquisitions, PDA changes the traditional selection model and puts it almost entirely into the hands of the patron. In the past, items have been purchased with the anticipation of patron needs; now items are being purchased only when immediately needed by patrons (Hodges, Preston and Hamilton 2010).  The issue of whether or not PDA should entirely replace traditional forms of collection building is a difficult one. In general, libraries do not have the budgets to keep building collections with items that will not be used by patrons. PDA allows libraries to purchase specific titles only as needed. But PDA also complicates records management, and changes the face of the library’s core collection. Librarians build collections with specific purpose. The items they choose support specific topics and subjects within their institution. Often the library itself has very specific focuses, and part of a librarian’s job is to keep those goals in mind when making acquisitions decisions (Douglas 2011). PDA takes collection building out of the hands of the librarians and changes the focus and goals of a collection.

While costs of subscriptions and databases have continued to rise, ensuring that libraries cannot continue to purchase these types of resources in perpetuity, PDA seems to be the answer many have been looking for. But in many ways it seems like its the easy way out. It puts too much of the collection building into the hands of patrons and libraries will see an increase in very unbalanced subject acquisitions. While written policies help ensure that PDA functions within certain limitations, these restrictions don’t change the fact that collections are being built by patrons who do not see the bigger picture of the collection. Policies need to be regularly revisited, and libraries have to balance the immediate needs of patrons with the needs of the institution and the collection itself (Douglas 2011).

In my personal experience as an library acquisitions manager, PDA is something that patrons don’t necessarily understand. They know that they have immediate access to a title, but they don’t understand the economic impact of their click on a title, only that they have access to the title they are interested in. We implemented a PDA program for the first time last year, with policies for the type and price of the items within the program, just as the OSUL libraries did in the Hodges, Preston and Hamilton article. We set aside $10,000 from our approval budget for this purpose. This original $10,000 was intended to last the entire year, but the budget was gone within the first four months of the program.. We found, in doing a study of the pilot program, that one patron alone had spent $1200 on titles relating to one specific subject. While one patron obviously needed access to these titles, who else will want to focus on this very specific subject? When the patron chose these titles, it was to help their research and had no regard for the research of other patrons within the larger institution.

I see PDA as being a sort of stop gap response to the current budgetary crises in libraries, and to the increased need for items in the present moment. One of the other university libraries in our area has changed to an entirely PDA driven collection because their budget has been cut so significantly that they can only afford titles that they know will fill patron needs. But at the same time, academic vendors are slowly changing their licensing and prices in response to libraries standing up to them and insisting that they can no longer afford such huge price tags. We had a vendor come in last week to introduce their new ebook program, which will for the first time ensure that once an ebook has been purchased by our institution, our institution will actually own that title and will not be renting it, as is the case with many others. We will always have access and not have to pay more licensing fees at the end of a specific period of time. Their pricing was also for multiple users and was more affordable than even the more traditionally affordable ebrary titles. This is an example of how publishers are changing their pricing and licensing policies in a way which might render PDA unnecessary. Another issue with PDA is how vendor generated records flood our catalogs. This might seem like a small thing, but while we have access to these records, we don’t necessarily own them, and this also changes the face of a collection. When looking at the collection as a whole, how do these records affect what we want to be seen? In the end, PDA seems a reasonable response right now, but I wonder how we will view it in the long run?

catalog cartoon

References:

Draper, D. C. (2013). Managing patron-driven acquisitions (PDA) records in a multiple model environment. Technical Services Quarterly, 30(2), 153-165. doi: 10.1080/07317131.2013.759813

Hodges, D., Preston, C., & Hamilton, M. J. (2010). Patron-initiated collection development: Progress of a paradigm shift. Collection Management, 35(3-4) , 208-221.

Douglas, C.S. (2011). Revising a collection development policy in a rapidly changing environment. Journal of Electronic Resources in Medical Libraries, 8(1), 1521. doi:10.1080/15424065.2011.551487

Fair Use and “Song of the South”

As an Acquisitions coordinator, I deal with copyright and fair use on a daily basis. Ironically, many of the librarians I work with like to overlook copyright and fair use issues, especially when it comes to purchasing DVDs and media, because licensing for academic institutions for these materials can be very expensive. In these cases these librarians like to cite educational use when it comes to copyright and fair use, in order to avoid having to purchase the more expensive licensing. Very early on, we set policy in place that if a license was available, we would purchase it and we would only buy brand new DVDs to ensure that these DVDs are in good condition, and that they come from legal vendors. These basic policies protect us a great deal right off the bat, and I have to argue with librarians on a regular basis when I refuse to purchase DVDs that don’t meet these basic guidelines. I am always shocked when a librarian tries to get out of buying the educational license when it’s available or sends me a link to a vendor that seems less than reputable.

I recently had a strange situation come up. One of our faculty requested that we purchase a copy of Song of the South. If you’re not familiar with Song of the South, it is an extremely controversial film that Disney produced in 1946. Seen as being overtly racist, it has not been released for home video in the United States: “Disney hasn’t released the controversial Song of the South to American audiences for over twenty years” (Sperb 2010).

Disneys-Song-Of-The-South-1946-Front-Cover-86490

Yet there is still a vast interest in this movie among academics. “…Song of the South lives on, yet the company can’t even really acknowledge the film, much less cash in on it directly. If you were born after 1980, you’ve almost certainly never seen it in full, and it’s unlikely that will change anytime soon” (Lingan 2012). Song of the South is an important film when discussing the Civil Rights movements and cultural trends in early twentieth century American culture. While the film is horribly offensive to today’s audiences, there is a great deal that can be learned from viewing it on the university level. So the member of our faculty essentially wanted a legal copy of a film that is not available legally within the US. There are no new copies that can be purchased directly from Disney. The only copy that we were able to purchase was a copy that was made illegally and was available through a third party seller on Amazon.

So the question was, do we buy this copy or not?

We bought the copy, because it was literally the only copy available and we decided that educational use would protect us if any issues came up.

In viewing this decision from the standpoint of the four factors of Fair Use cited in this assignment, I think this presents an interesting case study. The four factors are:

(1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether the use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes

(2) the nature of the copyrighted work

(3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole

(4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

This copy was going to be used specifically for education purposes (citing criteria 1, use for…nonprofit educational purposes). It was going to be a major component of our African American studies department and would also be used in Film and Media Studies. The film itself was going to be viewed in full in the classroom setting, so using the clips posted illegally on YouTube, was also an issue (criteria 3). This film was not going to be used for making money from a copyrighted work and from a technical reading of criteria 1, educational use should legally cover the viewing of the film.

Were we correct? I’m not sure. In this rare instance, there is literally no legal copy out there. You can see clips on YouTube, or find a few non-English language versions (when I looked it up just now, I found this German copy). But while the film is going to be used educationally, it is a straight up pirated copy of the original film. This is not transformative, it is not a parody, it is literally an illegally copied version of the original property. But it can also be argued that you can find the full film on YouTube, therefore there is other access to this film aside from pirated copies on the market (ARL 2012).

At the end of the day, we probably should have turned the professor down and told him that due to copyright and Fair Use considerations, we couldn’t purchase the illegal copy of the film. At the time, educational use was used to trump the other issues that we saw in purchasing this copy.

If there are ways in which it seems to violate Fair Use in many ways, in examining it through the ways that courts have determined Fair Use as outlined in this assignment: “Is the use you want to make of another’s work transformative — that is, does it add value to and repurpose the work for a new audience — and is the amount of material you want to use appropriate to achieve your transformative purpose?” then yes, it is absolutely falls under terms of Fair Use. The use of this movie absolutely adds value and repurposes the film for today’s scholars and for future scholars of American race studies.

In this case, I don’t know that there was a perfect answer. Will the film be helpful to our students? Absolutely. Is it an illegal copy? Yes. Is the unique nature and cultural importance of the film criteria enough to justify this purchase? We thought so. What do you think?

References:

ARL. 2012. Code of Best Practices in Fair Use For Academic and Research Libraries. http://www.arl.org/storage/documents/publications/code-of-best-practices-fair-use.pdf

Lingam, John. 2012. “Bristling Dixie: Uncle Walt thought Song of the South would be his masterpiece. Now it’s invisible”. Slate, January 12, 2012, accessed October 25, 2015. http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/books/2013/01/song_of_the_south_disney_s_most_notorious_film_by_jason_sperb_reviewed.html

Sperb, Jason. 2010. “Reassuring Convergence: Online Fandom, Race, and Disney’s Notorious Song of the South.” Cinema Journal 49, no. 4: 25-45. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed October 25, 2015).