Saturday, February 8, 2014

“Every Library's Nightmare? Digital Rights Management, Use Restrictions, and Licensed Scholarly Digital Resources” -Kristin R. Eschenfelder

Article Review

In her article, “Every Library's Nightmare? Digital Rights Management, Use Restrictions, and Licensed Scholarly Digital Resources,” Kristin Eschenfelder discusses her findings from a study done on the technological protection measures (TPMs) found in digital scholarly sources, specifically the nature of use restrictions. Within licensed scholarly databases from the subsections of history/art history, engineering, and health sciences, Eschenfelder identifies two types of use restrictions: “soft restrictions”, which she defines as interface or server “restrictions that [make] certain uses [like saving, printing, or emailing] inconvenient, and “hard restrictions”, or “restrictions that strictly [prevent] certain uses.” Of the former, Eschenfelder found six types of soft restrictions in use by electronic vendors: extent of use, obfuscation, omission, decomposition, frustration, and warning. Of the latter, only one was found in use.

It is Eschenfelder’s belief that while librarians have taken an active stance against “hard restrictions” by cancelling subscriptions or forgoing purchasing altogether, they are less aware and therefore more willing to accept “soft restrictions”; and in fact are accepting them as commonplace in many of the electronic resources they utilize every day. It is this insidious encroachment by vendors to limit user access that Eschenfelder believes librarians need to be aware of and fight against. 

Remember, in 2008, when this article was published, the country had just been thrust into one of the worst recessions since the early 1980s, so libraries would have been looking for ways to save money while venders would have been searching for ways to make more. Couple this with the advent of cloud computing, which made sharing, accessing, and saving large amounts of data more accessible, and librarians and vendors – the record-keepers and the market – have found themselves locked in this growing battle over the digital dissemination of information.

According to her blog, Terms of Disagreement, Eschenfelder’s research interests focus on access and use regimes. Indeed, in a Movers and Shakers 2005 edition of the “Library Journal”, then Director of the School of Library and Information Studies, Louise Robbins said of Assistant Professor Kristin Eschenfelder, ‘" [she] is not yet well known, but she will be. She uses a social informatics framework to look at web-based information and information policies, particularly in state and federal government. She is beginning to draw the interest of the American Library Association Washington office for her research."’ Now, as a Professor and current Director of the School of Library and Information Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Eschenfelder still displays a vested interest in this topic, both in her role as an academic library administrator and as an instructor training up future professionals in the library field. 

And despite the lack of chatter online, it is apparent that Eschenfelder’s research has been well received by her contemporaries and those in the field of digital scholarship. A title search on Google reveals numerous citations in bibliography after bibliography, on academic research guides, and on course syllabi.  

Though this article is six-years-old, it is more relevant than ever before. And like Gloria Leckie’s “Technologies of Social Regulation: An Examination of Library OPACs and Web Portals”, Eschenfelder is also sounding the call for librarians and other information specialist to seize control of how and what electronic information is disseminated before vendors and the market destroy user access to it.  

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