Category Archives: In the News

On the Google Books Decision

Judge claims Google Books “transformative.”

Georgia Harper is a legal specialist in copyright law and the Libraries Scholarly Communications Advisor. She has been closely involved in the Libraries partnership in the Google Book project since it began.

A district court in New York made a determination last Thursday about which there has been enormous speculation for nearly a decade now: Is it fair use for Google to scan tens of millions of books, many of which are still protected by copyright, and provide snippets of the text of those works to users of its search engine in response to their queries? Judge Denny Chin says it is. There it will stand for the moment. The Authors Guild says it will appeal to the 2nd Circuit in hopes of a reversal.

UT Libraries is a partner in the Google Books project, so we are elated by the decision. We have long argued that scanning for the reasons Google scanned our books, among many other libraries’ books, is fair use, but it is the nature of fair use that reasonable minds can disagree about its scope. So you usually hold lightly to your opinions. You never know when you’ll be shown to be wrong. But, there has been a rather nice string of court decisions since the mid-1990’s, beginning with the “Pretty Woman” case (Campbell v. Acuff-Rose), strengthening the fair use doctrine when the use is transformative — that is, when it adds something new, provides new context, or brings the work to new audiences for a different purpose. So, the question becomes, most importantly, “Is the use transformative?” If it is, courts are much more likely to declare it a fair use, assuming it meets the other criteria for a fair use. Judge Chin’s decision explores these criteria, and the weights of public benefit and harm to economic incentives in his decision, which I recommend you read.

It usually comes down to this: does the benefit to the public (usually a speech-related, First Amendment benefit) outweigh the harm to the copyright owner’s reasonable expectation of commercial exploitation of her work? I’m happy that for now, we are confirmed in our opinion that here, it does.

Sticks and Stones

Catholic school students burn thousands of comic books in Binghamton, New York (1948).

One would think that we’ve evolved enough as a society to move beyond the sort of censorship that has marked the darker periods of our history.

One would be wrong.

Last Tuesday, the Randolph County Board of Education in North Carolina voted 5-2 to remove Ralph Ellison’s masterwork The Invisible Man from the shelves of its school libraries.

The book is one among a much larger list of works that with depressing reliability have been prohibited from consumption by readers.

Next week is Banned Books Week. Sigh.

Well, because the First Amendment still sees regular challenges, the Libraries and the Department of English have teamed up to have a public discussion about the state of censorship in the Lone Star State.

Texas Banned Books: Questions and Answers” (TXBBQ&A) will be an interactive roundtable discussion about the real, relevant state of censorship in Texas. The conversation will center on Texas schools and values, books in prison, freedom of the press and the right to read.

Maley Thompson of the Department of English will moderate the discussion among five distinguished panelists:

The event is free and open to the public, and all voices are welcome.

More info here.

Up Close and Persona

Instruction Services GRA Anna Fidgeon is featured in a video interview by the Daily Texan examining online personas and privacy on the Internet.

The takeaway? The web isn’t private, so be smart when you’re online.

The Texan interview, however, is just another feather in her onscreen cap. Anna will also be seen starring as a research scientist in an upcoming video ad campaign in support of academics at the university to air on the Longhorn Network.

Ransom Center Nabs Laureate

J. M. Coetzee signs the authors' door of the Ransom Center during a visit in May 2010. Photo by Pete Smith. Image courtesy of Harry Ransom Center.

One has to wonder how they do it.

The Harry Ransom Center has just announced a major addition to their stellar collection of contemporary writers, and yet another Nobel laureate, no less.

The archive of UT alumnus J.M. Coetzee is now part of the Ransom Center’s vast holdings of original manuscripts and source materials from major modern works of literature. The archive includes materials from all of Coetzee’s works, including his two Man Booker award-winning novels, Life & Times of Michael K (1983) and Disgrace (1999).

The South African Coetzee has a fifty-year history with the university, earning his Ph.D. in English, linguistics and Germanic languages in 1969. He’s kept close ties with UT, teaching at the Michener Center for Writers in 1995, and most recently, visiting campus last year to give a lecture as part of the Graduate School’s 1910 Society Lecture Series, which celebrated the 100th anniversary of the school.

“The Past is Never Dead.”

Here’s some great news from our colleagues across campus.

The History Department has just launched an informative, interactive history web site. Not Even Past provides current historical writing for a popular audience. For history buffs who want reading recommendations and short, interesting, digestible stories every day, the website offers text, audio, and video histories on subjects that span the globe. The site is designed for anyone who is interested in history, from an avid reader of history to a history film aficionado.

The content and “picks” are written by the department’s 60-person faculty with additional input from the graduate students. Notevenpast.org is rich with book and film recommendations, video interviews, podcasts, online commentary, and even virtual classes (free) every semester.

The History Department’s new site is one-of-a-kind – no other university or institution offers a similar resource. Not Even Past will be identified with the individuals in the History Department at UT, giving readers a personalized experience of great history writing as well as promoting the strengths of the department and the University of Texas. Not Even Past also differs from other History department sites in its stylish visual design and its cutting-edge user-friendly functionality.

And just in case you want to follow up on the current reading recommendations from Not Even Past, they’re all part of the collections at PCL (and currently available).

American slavery, American freedom : the ordeal of colonial Virginia / Edmund S. Morgan.

Disowning slavery : gradual emancipation and “race” in New England, 1780-1860 / Joanne Pope Melish.

Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass, an American slave / written by himself with related documents ; edited with an introduction by David W. Blight.

Benson Featured in ¡Ahora Sí!

The Benson Latin American Collection has received a feature profile in the latest edition of the Austin American Statesman’s Spanish language weekly, ¡Ahora Sí!

Timing is everything: the Benson opens its exhibition Frente a Frente: The Mexican People in Independence and Revolution, 1810 & 1910, this evening.

Benson a la Mexicana

When I first walked into the Benson Latin American Collection to do research during my graduate studies, I did not imagine that four years later my boss would ask me to travel to Mexico City to represent the Benson and University of Texas Libraries at an awards ceremony with the mayor of Mexico City and a luncheon hosted by the Libraries for Texas Exes in Mexico. And now, it has been a week since arriving back from Mexico City and I still cannot believe I did it. And I have not really recuperated from the journey. Oh, believe me, it was a wonderful trip, just way too fast and cut way too short.

David Block receives the Medalla 1808 from Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard.

When Dr. David Block received electronic word (in an e-mail) of the Benson being awarded the Medalla 1808, I don’t know if we all realized immediately what an honor it was. Then after an exhaustive search online to make sure David had not just received an e-mail from Ed McMahon suggesting “you may be a millionaire”, we began to see the reality of and the potential in receiving such an honor. Historically, the medal is presented on behalf of Mexico City to persons for significant contributions to the study and development of Mexican history and culture. And now, the Benson has become the first foreign institutional recipient of the medal.  Wow… Of course we all knew the importance of the Benson, but now Mexico City Mayor, Marcelo Ebrard would present us with an international honor to reinforce what we all know to be true.

Our Vice Provost Dr. Fred Heath and Director for Development Gregory Perrin knew this would be a wonderful opportunity to invite our alumni from Mexico City, and the surrounding cities, to attend the ceremony. They decided it would also be quite advantageous to host a luncheon following. And this is where I came in. Part of the role I play in working for the Libraries is as an event coordinator. I love it because of the opportunities of excitement that abound, meeting new people and creating a delightful atmosphere for the libraries’ constituent; although, a first trip to the interior of Mexico and hosting a lunch would definitely be something extraordinary. Continue reading

Plonsky Scores Trailblazer Award

plonsky_chris_2009_mugUT Women’s Athletic Director and incoming Libraries Advisory Council President Chris Plonsky is the recipient of the College Sports Information Directors of America’s (CoSIDA) 2010 Trailblazer Award.

According to the CoSIDA website, the Trailblazer Award is given “to an individual who is a pioneer in the field of sports information who has mentored and helped improve the level of ethnic and gender diversity within CoSIDA.”

Plonsky will receive her award at the CoSIDA convention in San Francisco on July 6.

Chris has served on the Libraries Advisory Council since 2006, assuming the role of Vice-President in 2007. She will take up the role of President in fall 2010 and will continue to advise the Libraries in their marketing, outreach and fundraising efforts.

You can read more about Plonsky’s award here, where you’ll find a great profile of her by former Longhorn Assistant Athletics Director and current sports broadcaster Bill Little.

Our congratulations to Chris on this much deserved honor.

Wanna buy an 8-track?

iStock_000010319628SmallA very timely article in the Chronicle of Higher Ed discussing endowment spending today. Do universities  “spend enough of their endowments for society’s benefit to justify the tax exemption they get”?  Senator Charles Grassley is pushing for legislation requiring universities to spend a minimum 5% of their endowment income annually. His solution is a one-size-fits-all answer to a complex situation that has evolved over many years.

The Libraries benefit from a modest but growing number of endowments.  But is our endowment portfolio big enough to continue to support the increasing costs of growing and maintaining world-class collections?  Not by a long shot.  Endowments for collection enhancement, electronic resources, and preservation activities play a key role in maintaining an academic library’s pivotal place in the lives of students, faculty, and researchers.

It isn’t all about the size of the endowment.  In the case of the Libraries, and for many other academic libraries in the US, the endowment’s specific spending guidelines can have a huge impact.  Continue reading