blog: Today’s Users and Demands

At the end of his response to David Bollier’s keynote, Felix Stadler recounts how one of his students once complained about the cataloguing system of the library at their school. According to the student the books she was looking for were not there. After some initial confusion it finally dawned on Felix what it was that she meant. It was not that the books were not there, but they were not available online! This anecdote immediately reminds one of a Rick Prelinger’s remark that users today demand that an archive functions the same as YouTube. Users want unlimited online access, for free.

According to Bollier this is possible and beneficial if we embrace the idea of the Commons. For many people this is a hazy concept, but the word itself already tells a lot about what the concept entails: community is key. According to Bollier, the Commons is about making objects and knowledge available for common use, therefore clearing out intellectual property. In a digital environment, this means: opening up unlimited access to knowledge and objects. The idea of the Commons seemingly goes in direct opposition to the market dynamics, so embracing the idea of the Commons would mean a complete paradigm shift for the idea of value creating. Obviously this is a mind-shattering concept for policy makers who still support regulations that restrict open access, because of the widespread fear that eliminating intellectual property will decrease profits.

The idea, however, is that the Commons will account for new ways of value creation, ways that benefit the community (sometimes in unexpected ways). Consider for example the WikipediaCommons that distributes free, collective knowledge that can be used in countless ways; or the CrisisCommons that uses shared technological knowledge in order to immediately provide help in crisis situations such as the Haiti earthquakes. For archives this is a useful concept to think over, because it means that value creation is no longer inclined in market dynamics. Instead, value is embedded in a socially created network, meaning that the amount of use and reuse is what ascribes value to an object. This gives archives the space to properly focus on their core activities: preserving and presenting, without immediately worrying about the commercial validity. Of course the needs of the community need to be taken in account.

But as mind-shattering as the concept of the Commons may be, the closing panel discussion of the conference offered some hope that policy makers will eventually realise that commercial value is not the only value that matters. The arguments brought up by Sandra den Hamer, Paul Keller, Hans Westerhof and Bernt Hugenholtz that opening up copyright laws and making finances available for digitisation will eventually benefit the general audience, because of the great cultural value that the archives possess, seemed to have genuinely convinced Marjan Hammersma, Dutch minister of Education, Culture and Science, that this should be taken into account during policy creation.

by Norbert Bakker

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