Dean’s Update: Library Privileges - A Changing Concept

Dean’s Update: Library Privileges - A Changing Concept
Jenny James Lee
September 11, 2015

[The Dean's Update is a column introducing each issue of the Libraries' monthly e-newsletter In Circulation.]

A recent Google search of “library privileges” returned over 45 million links. Many reinforce that the relationship with the library’s institution determines what privileges apply. Great and lesser known libraries alike share information about who may visit and what they are allowed to do once there. This classic model reflects a relationship with an institution whereby individuals may enter and utilize the resources of a library. North American libraries have a long-standing tradition of making their collections as broadly available as possible. Academic and private libraries, over 13,000 in the US, have provisions for visitors who wish to access resources or physical spaces. But electronic publishing is challenging the concept of library privileges and what it means to use a library.

Academic libraries typically provide full access to their resources for faculty, students and staff. However, more limited library privileges generally exist for alumni, visiting board members, trustees, retirees, donors, neighborhood residents or researchers from other institutions. Most libraries have some avenue to let them in the door and often to read on-site—perhaps with costs to buy library privileges or a librarian’s letter to vouch for a true need to see what the library uniquely owns.

Nowadays, the most sought after library privilege is access to the electronic resources licensed by libraries. Citations for these resources appear in the library catalog, so why do the same privileges not apply to electronic items? Licensed access is not ownership. Licenses are permissions to do something—in the case of electronic publications and databases, a license is a legal agreement that information vendors or publishers offer subscribers. It indicates who may use their e-resources and under what conditions. To negotiate educational discounts, Drexel Libraries, like other academic libraries, agrees to impose restrictions on who may access licensed electronic information. We work to ensure that our primary clients –those currently enrolled or employed by Drexel— have convenient access to electronic resources, whether on campus or remotely, and at any time they are online.

Whenever possible we continue to negotiate extended access to others. Through some licenses, vendors permit providing broader access on-site, replicating the classic model around entry to a physical library to use its materials. Under some licenses we can share access to digital publications through resource sharing services like E-Z Borrow or ILL. But sometimes even these long established traditional library privileged services are not permitted by the license.

Technological availability of electronic information compared to physical collections has expanded the breadth of resources available to most people. However, the business approach of licensing access over selling ownership limits what libraries have been able to do to ensure shared use of information – very different conditions exist for readers from when libraries bought and shelved a copy of a book or journal.

We continue to promote the core value of freedom of information. However, we wish to raise awareness that sharing what we negotiate for our students and researchers through educational licenses may not be automatically available to others.

Drexel students and faculty characteristically appreciate their library privileges—we know that. They can feel extra special this year. Soon after they start the new academic year in a few weeks, the Papal visit to Philadelphia will limit access to the campus. When the campus is closed W. W. Hagerty Library will remain open, but on a shortened schedule. During these times—and throughout the year-- each Drexel student and employee can experience here on campus a little known privilege that at the Vatican Library only the Pope holds—to take out a book.

We extend the excitement of the start of the academic year to our new and returning students – and to enjoy their library privileges.

Danuta A. Nitecki, PhD
Dean of Libraries