Joining up the dots: copyright and digital literacy

Globe in Austrian National LibraryLast week was a particularly hectic week for me and during the course of attending two events, I once again decided that my job title really does reflect what I do everyday. I often find I meet people who do half my job, I don’t mean they do half as much work as me, but they are a digital literacy advisor, or a copyright advisor and they might do something else as part of their role as well. However, I still find that people don’t seem to have made the link between those two things. But it has always made perfect sense to me, which was why I wrote a blog post for CILIP about it last year, and keep banging on about it to anyone who will listen.

On Tuesday I attended a Copyright Education Symposium, organised by the Intellectual Property Office and CREATe and various rightsholder / representatives from the creative industries, such as PRS, who have a vested (economic) interest in teaching the wider public to respect copyright. I’m going to write a longer blog post on this event on the UK Copyright Literacy website. However, this event brought together a range of people who have probably rarely been in the same room at the same time and who probably have some quite different motivations for being interested in copyright education. The message I wanted to get across was that if the IPO were serious about copyright education then they needed to reframe it as part of digital literacy / digital capabilities, as not only has there been some concerted efforts from Jisc, the QAA and from government in this, it is really the only way it will make sense to people. If you are learning to be creative and innovative, you will need to use other people’s ideas, so an understanding of copyright, like other ethical issues, such as plagiarism has always been part of what librarians try to teach others. Copyright education taught in isolation that focuses on trying to convince people copyright infringement is bad, is probably not going to be very effective in my view. However, copyright education is far more likely to be adopted by teachers if it’s framed in this wider context, and there are a lot of opportunities to enlist librarians in helping in this approach.

On Wednesday and Thursday I was at the UCISA Spotlight event on Digital Capabilities. The first event last year focused on students’ digital literacies and this event focused on staff. The group are largely IT Trainers and learning technologists and as someone who has run a digital literacy programme for staff for 10 years or so, I was invited to speak on ‘Developing digital scholarship and information literate staff.‘ I reflected on how our programme at LSE was taught collaboratively with librarians and learning technologists and how much of the digital literacies were in fact information literacy. it was great to be part of a panel in the afternoon of the second day. Speakers on the day included James Clay, Helen Beetham, David Walker, Ellie Russell, Sarah Knight, Sue Watling, Fiona Handley among others. Terms like digital literacy really do have the potential to bring together professionals from all parts of a university. However I was struck that we do often stay in our silos. I infiltrated my slides with only a passing reference to copyright, in a reversal of Tuesday’s event, however I was struck by how many people then seemed to echo my point that knowledge of copyright and what you can share was a key part of digital capabilities. Helen Beetham was a pains to point out her image of Gandalf on her slides was licensed under Creative Commons. She also made the incredibly important point, that getting it wrong in an online space can expose us and damage our reputation. James Clay made similar points on the first day, and he’s spoken to me several times about wanting to make a ‘copyright lens’ for the digital capabilities framework.

However, for someone who has been championing information literacy for more years than I care to remember, I do find ‘digital literacies’ has something of the ’emperor’s new clothes’. Yes digital is important, and has acted as a catalyst, but I think we could do much to focus on the other literacies we want staff and students to develop, much of which, in my view are about how they find, use, manage and create knowledge and information. I’ve just made a video for the CILIP Information Literacy Group’s ‘Why Infolit’ campaign. So I will end with that – yes digital matters, but it’s how we interact with information that really matters, and librarians have a lot they can offer in this field.

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