January 21, 2022

Guidance: UC Berkeley Library Makes it Easier to Digitize Collections Responsibly with Release of “Responsible Access Workflows” Document

From UC Berkeley Library News:

If you’ve spent any time stoking your curiosity with the UC Berkeley Library’s new online Digital Collections website, you’ve likely discovered all types of treasures digitized from the Library’s collections. The Library has already scanned and made available a virtual mountain of materials, from a photo of folk icon Joan Baez singing in front of Sproul Hall in 1964, to (almost) the entire run of the Daily Californian student newspaper.

The effort is part of the Library’s moonshot goal of wanting to make its estimated 200 million items from its special collections (rare books, manuscripts, photographs, archives, and ephemera) available online for the world to discover and use. But there’s a catch: Before institutions can reproduce materials and publish them online for worldwide access, they have to sort out complicated legal and ethical questions — ones that often stop libraries and other cultural heritage organizations from being able to move forward in setting these treasures free.


Implementing digitization services requires cultural heritage institutions to navigate four key law and policy issues for which, until now, there has not been broadly available systematic guidance. For instance:

• Copyright: Are the materials protected by copyright, or have they entered the public domain? If they are protected by copyright, does the University of California own the copyright? If not, does a relevant copyright exception apply that would permit the Library to create and distribute digital copies anyway?

• Contracts: Do acquisition agreements limit how or whether the Library can digitize materials or provide online access? For instance, does an agreement restrict access only to the Library’s reading rooms, or for a certain number of years, or to registered researchers?

• Privacy: Do the items reveal information that could infringe upon the privacy rights of the subjects under federal and state laws?

• Ethics: Are there social and religious customs, or other circumstances (threats of personal or legal harm, or risks of exploitation of people, natural or cultural resources, or indigenous knowledge) that could impact the digitization or use of the materials?


Having to develop expertise in these complex areas of law and policy can easily deter cultural heritage organizations from engaging in digitization efforts. The Library recognized an opportunity to provide public-facing support through the release of responsible access workflows, out today.

Learn More, Read the Complete Article (approx. 1300 words)

Direct to Responsible Access Workflows Document

About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.