Manchester Metropolitan University

Understanding Librarians" Experiences of Copyright: capabilities, communities and critical literacy

Presenter: Chris Morrison
Co-presenters: Jane Secker
Start time: 15:40
End time: 16:25
Room: 014
Chair: Laura Woods


In 2014/15, a survey to investigate the "copyright literacy" of over 600 librarians in the UK (Morrison and Secker, 2015) highlighted gaps in their knowledge, identified training requirements in the sector, and provided comparative data to several other countries. Findings suggested many UK librarians wanted to develop their copyright knowledge to embed it into their information literacy teaching, but that copyright could be a source of anxiety. With this in mind, the researchers have gathered qualitative data to explore these issues further. Drawing on literature in education (Marton, 1986, Akerlind, 2005) and information literacy (Yates, Partridge and Bruce, 2012), phenomenography was selected to explore variations in librarians" experiences of copyright.

In 2016 several group interviews with academic librarians were undertaken. The data was analysed and four categories of description were devised that are presented in an outcome space. The categories suggests that librarians experience copyright in different ways dependent on their role, ideology, the level of copyright knowledge they have, as well as the specific context of the copyright enquiry. The categories include: copyright is experienced as a problem, copyright is seen as complicated, copyright is seen as a "thing" requiring coherent messages and finally copyright is an opportunity for negotiation, collaboration and co-construction of understanding. Understanding these variations in experience should help develop copyright education for librarians.

The interviews considered the value of professional qualifications and CPD to develop librarians" knowledge of copyright. They also explored the impact of a specialist copyright officer and whether this expert affected librarians" confidence when dealing with copyright queries. The findings suggest that many librarians rely on colleagues for advice and support and the key to understanding copyright and intellectual property rights (IPR) is to embed learning within the librarian" specific work context. The paper therefore discusses the value of communities of practice to support copyright literacy across an institution and to consider their value on a regional and national basis, and as both a physical and online space to support professional practice.

Understanding the variation in experiences should help to enhance copyright education for librarians and those they support. The paper therefore outlines a draft copyright curriculum for librarians, which aims to explore the relationship of copyright to other information literacy teaching. We also discuss how critical literacy and games based learning are important pedagogic approaches that should be central in copyright education, to help develop librarians" confidence and to build supportive communities of practice.


Åkerlind, G. S. (2005). Variation and commonality in phenomenographic research methods. Higher Education Research & Development, 24(4): 321–334.

Marton, F. (1986). Phenomenography – A research approach to investigating different understandings of reality. Journal of thought, 21(3): 28–49.

Morrison, C and Secker, J. (2015) Copyright Literacy in the UK: a survey of librarians and other cultural heritage sector professionals. Library and Information Research 39 (121), 75-97. Available at:

Yates, C, Partridge, H and Bruce, C. (2012) Exploring information experiences through phenomenography. Library and Information Research, 36 (112).

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