November 22, 2017

Academic Movers 2015: In Depth with Kyle Courtney

Kyle CourtneyIn our first 2015 In-Depth Interview with Library Journal Movers & Shakers from academic libraries, sponsored by SAGE, we spoke with Kyle Courtney. In 2014 Courtney, Harvard University’s copyright advisor, brought together his first cohort of Copyright First Responders (CFRs)—a group of volunteer librarians who spent their summer in his Copyright Immersion Program in order to become the first line of defense for the copyright concerns of Harvard’s students, staff, and faculty.

The CFR program grew out of Courtney’s popular Library Copyright 101 course and his work with the Harvard Library Copyright Working Group. He is a passionate advocate for the power of librarians when it comes to fair use, public domain, open access, and other aspects of copyright law. Feedback from the community has been positive across the board, the program is thriving, and Courtney is gearing up to train his next batch of first responders.

LJ: What have you learned in terms of implementing your own vision within the university setting?

Kyle Courtney: In academia, we shouldn’t be afraid to push the big ideas. If you can identify a need inside your system, then I really do think the sky’s the limit. So if you find that you have spotted an area where the potential for a greater outcome, a more knowledgeable library environment, is the end result, I think you’ll get the support you need.

[Nonetheless], staffing is something that needs to be accounted for. Thankfully we’ve had support from every level—“Yes, this is a problem that needs to be solved, a fix that needs to be made, a solution to make us a more engaged 21st-century research institution.” The faculty are as pleased as the students that we have this service. So again: it’s about identifying that particular need.

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In this interview series, sponsored by SAGELJ goes in depth with the 2015 Movers & Shakers from academic libraries, delving into just how and why they pulled off the projects that brought them recognition as innovators, change agents, and more. For a deeper dive into what made our 2014 Academic Movers so exceptional, download our 20-page collection of insightful interviews.

But you must have earned that buy-in.

Absolutely—I shopped it. Before I was even copyright advisor, to test the waters out I had a brown-bag, or a presentation, with one of the local library groups that has people come once a month and do a talk from inside the Harvard system. I believe it was the Research Teaching and Learning folks. Then they said, “Hey, would you do Copyright 101 and we’ll see who shows?”

So I went around to a couple of different libraries and the turnout was great. I also went and visited what at the time was the emerging leadership for the libraries, and I said “Hey, I’m thinking about this, I was wondering if you have the same need at your libraries, or if you would be interested in maybe being supported in some capacity,” and that also got the conversation cooking. I spread myself around—some meetings were individual, sometimes they were a group of folks. I just reached out where I could.

How did you evolve from the role of copyright advisor to copyright educator?

A few times, I heard someone had a copyright issue or problem somewhere—maybe it was the copy center. I helped them solve the problem—you know, with a meeting and a brief and a little intro. And they said, “You helped me solve a problem, would you help my friend?”

This is how the CFR network works in its most successful way. I initially started helping folks, people talked about it, they told their neighbors. This is what’s happening now university-wide: the CFRs are successful in answering someone’s question, they tell their friends, they tell their peers, they tell their co-faculty, they tell their other patrons. That’s all it is—being helpful at a time when there’s a need. That spring dissertations and lectures were being finished. That January e-reserves were being added. Copyright-like things were going on. And everyone was very welcoming with open arms to hear something about it—and to learn. They don’t want to have to have me every time; they want to learn for themselves. And they want to be able to apply their knowledge.

What do you look for in a Copyright First Responder?

I would say a good, positive attitude is number one. You don’t need a law degree at all. I take a lot of people in our cohort who have emailed me and said, “In the next go-round, I’d like to be involved.” Other times managers or coworkers will recommend folks because they know they’re working on copyright stuff and could appreciate the help, and that’s really interesting to me because they’re doing the work already to a certain extent, so we can hear about how their libraries are engaging with copyright. Sometimes people I meet when I’m going to other workshops or brown-bag lunches. They’ll say, “You’re the copyright guy, right?” And I’ll say, “Yes, yes I am. Are you interested?” I’m always pitching it. Because I would love it to become a skill set that’s on everybody’s resume who works at Harvard [libraries].

What does the new group of CFRs look like?

We’re doing another cohort like we did last summer, and then some specialized cohorts in the fall that will focus on particular areas. We’d like to do one with people who do interlibrary loan, which is functional because of copyright law. Additionally, we’re looking at folks who are involved with data or text mining in some capacity—we’re having more and more pop up in different roles inside libraries, and I think a small specialized group on that would really be of interest. Our cohort this summer is well represented by archivists, scientists, business folks, law folks, digitization folks—we tried again to reach across all the different boundaries of knowledge to make it the most engaging for everyone. I think that’s actually half the fun, talking to people from all the different kinds of libraries we have here at Harvard and seeing how they’re engaging with copyright.

What are you doing to make the CFR program sustainable?

Ideally, the folks in cohort one, who were slogging through it all last summer and who have taken live questions this entire year, will become the hubs at their own library, and they will be able to—similarly to the way I did at the beginning—offer help, nuggets of vision, and maybe even train other folks, so that we create a network of hubs and spokes. Instead of just me as the hub and my many spokes of the CFR, we have the CFRs themselves at their individual libraries feeling empowered enough, educated enough, and confident enough to be able to train [others] in their libraries. If they have a question they can always come to me. But a lot of them are at a point now where they can handle some of the traffic that’s coming in with confidence, because they’re starting to see what patterns of questions have emerged. We’re getting some of the same questions—they’re different thematically, maybe they’re about art, or social sciences, or business, or law—but the underlying copyright question is very similar. So that’s how we’re going to make it self-sustaining, I think. Teach the teachers.

Has anyone from another institution approached you about helping them start up a similar program?

We had a few universities when the LJ piece came out. People from other universities wrote me and said, “How would you feel about talking to us about setting up a CFR network at our university?” And I am all for that. I have not copyrighted the Copyright First Responders.

What other copyright office innovations do you have planned?

We’ve found a lot of learners also learn different ways, so we’re experimenting with infographics, graphical depictions of copyright law. We’ve done a few sample runs with empowering students before they sign publishing contracts. And we’re experimenting with an infographic about fair use. In the test runs people really responded positively to the visualization of their rights.

And next year we’re going to be launching the third annual National Fair Use Week, which had its origins here [at Harvard]. We’re always excited about that because we think transformative educational fair use is going to be the guiding principle for learning in the digital era, especially with libraries.

I’ve had a great year and I feel really lucky to work with all the people who are so energized to learn about copyright. Half the battle is a good energetic community that’s willing to learn, and set aside any preconceptions of what the law is. Ultimately, this aids our missions in libraries. I will always say that. Libraries need to own this issue in the 21st century.

What three tips would you give to potential Movers & Shakers?

  1. Never give up on your vision.
  2. Talk to your colleagues, peers and friends. Have a bunch of people you can bounce ideas off of.
  3. Do what you love. My passion for this has helped drive me through times when it’s a lot of work—if you do what you love, it doesn’t feel so much like work.
Lisa Peet About Lisa Peet

Lisa Peet is Associate Editor, News for Library Journal.

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