At the 63rd annual meeting of the Canadian Library Association in Vancouver, CUPE proudly sponsored the opening presentation on May 22, 2008 by Canadian media and publishing expert Rowland Lorimer, Professor of Communications at Simon Fraser University and Director of the Canadian Centre for Studies in Publishing.
Lorimer spoke about the vital function of public libraries. He noted that the world’s great libraries “were conceived of a common purpose: it was to wrest ideas from the privileged and make them accessible to the wider population … Like public education, public libraries are an unarguable social good. Both public education and public libraries provide access to the accumulated wisdom and knowledge, not just of a single society, but of the world at large.”
The technology available to individuals in the creation and dissemination of content has changed vastly in its power, from the typewriter and carbon paper to current technological ensembles - graphical user interfaces with continuous Internet, and hence worldwide access.
Developments in information technology have also allowed for tremendous flexibility in the use of content: a work can now be custom-designed, and published individually and practically instantaneously - for example, a computer server can provide prepared PDF files, and users can select the sections they want. The content of books can be published on the Internet, where they can be accessed by all, and enriched with digital sound, illustrations and video.
This reality has given rise to a debate, a conflict between free access and copyright, between the untrammelled circulation of information and the compensation of its creators and the cultural institutions that support them. Should the Internet’s power of dissemination be contained and channelled in order to remunerate the producers of content and information?
According to Professor Lorimer, this debate is based on a somewhat spurious dichotomy: both sides are essential and inseparable, and a proper balance must be found that respects the heterogeneity of information-creation dynamics. In support of fair production and use, some content must be protected by copyright and its creators remunerated, while in support of open access, other content must be freely disseminated.
“User institutions, led by librarians and educators, can make a valuable contribution to society by continuing to respect the commercial rights of creators … Society needs the creative industries, who in turn need their rights respected … User institutions have a brilliant future in embracing a much expanded role: libraries are in the admirable position of being able to help make information available that is meant to be opened to the public.”