Early November once again found me in Charleston, SC for the annual Charleston Conference. This was the last conference I attended before the pandemic hit, so it is fitting that it is the first in-person conference to return.

As others have noted, this year’s conference was hybrid, replete with the hiccups and headaches of virtual presentations. Most rooms were sparsely populated, although two copyright sessions drew large crowds – and by large, I mean 40ish folks. And as ZSR accounted for 1 in 33 librarians (there were only 165 in person, give or take), we made up 10% of the audience at the session four of us attended!

Hiccups aside, Charleston’s reputation for excellent content was not diminished by the hybrid format. I attended many thought-provoking sessions, including both keynotes, with copyright and transformative agreements predominant themes. There were also discussions about how to define a library and issues of ebook ownership. Here are my thematic highlights…


  • Copyright as we know it was a child of technological innovations, aka the printing press, but has always struggled with the development of technology beyond moveable type
  • Now that digital technological innovations make distribution cheap and easy, copyright isn’t needed in the same way, especially since most creators aren’t seeking to make a living on their works
  • Copyright law increasingly impacts everyone and is too complicated for many – needs to be less like tax law and more like speed limits [h/t to Kevin L. Smith, Dean of Libraries, University of Kansas, for this analogy]
  • Problem with recent changes to and proposals for copyright law is that they benefit corporate creators
  • Purpose of copyright is the edification of the public, not the profits of publishers

Transformative agreements

  • Many pieces in transformative agreements are bespoke
  • Transformative agreements run the risk of increasing the divide between the haves and have nots, as valuable staff time is necessary to adopt transformative agreements
  • Demanding more of our authors under transformative agreements than we are asking of them as readers
    • Faculty will see us as intruding on publishing process and hold us accountable
  • Need to synchronize how libraries, societies, and publishers are talking to authors about OA [note: not a new need, but transformative agreements make it more imperative]
  • One of our responsibilities is to configure systems to ease access barriers for our users – do transformative agreements do that?

Library Identity & Ownership

  • No national or official certification in the U.S. that defines a library
    • State laws shaped definition of libraries, beginning with a SC law for the first publicly-supported library in the U.S., founded in Charleston in 1698 at St. Phillips Church
    • At the Federal level, libraries are defined in LSTA, but only by using the term “library” to define a library (problematic)
    • Also defined in Section 108 of the Copyright Act as “premises of the library” – premises not defined as physical in 108 (although it is in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act)
    • Ergo, the Internet Archive is a library under Federal and State laws
  • At no point in the pandemic did anyone question if us working offsite negated our service as library service – IT WAS
  • What is a library if we no longer own our books?
  • Libraries are hostages to publisher rules and the solution is digital ownership, not licensing
  • No one is arguing that ebooks should be free…just sell them to us!

window box with various flowers and plants on a pink houseFinally, I must say that a key benefit of the Charleston Conference is the opportunity to walk through historic neighborhoods during breaks between sessions. This was all the more welcome this year, as doing so brought a respite from mask wearing while spotting pretty window boxes. This is one of many I enjoyed!