RAQs: Recently Asked Questions

Topic: Requirements for public access to SUNY libraries - 7/27/2020
[Submitted from a SUNY Library] (1) What are the requirements for a SUNY library to provide acce...
Posted: Monday, July 27, 2020 Permalink

MEMBER QUESTION

[Submitted from a SUNY Library]

(1) What are the requirements for a SUNY library to provide access to the general non-campus community/public (those outside staff, faculty, students)?
(2) Are their specific requirements/repercussions academic libraries should be aware of in regards to public access or prohibiting public access?
(3) What are the Section 108 repercussions for not allowing public access, specifically related to the pandemic? Would libraries still be protected if they provide public 'access by appointment' only? Would "temporary" non-public access still allow for application of the 108 exceptions?
(4) Can a SUNY library deny entry to students/faculty refusing to wear a mask in the facility if it's justified in the interests of health and safety?

WNYLRC ATTORNEY'S RESPONSE

This is a deep array of questions, requiring a deep array of answers.

But let’s start with the basics.

There are 64 SUNY campuses, some with more than one library.

What’s cool about these libraries?  They aren’t just collections of books on a campus, but distinct entities within their institutions, governed by the body of laws that apply to all libraries in New York, as well as the law that is SUNY-library specific.

The “SUNY-library specific” law is Education Law 249-a, which states:

The state university trustees and the board of higher education of the city of New York are hereby authorized to establish such rules and regulations as may be necessary and appropriate to make provision for access and use by the residents of the state of the libraries and library facilities of the public institutions of higher education under their respective jurisdictions.

In other words: SUNY and CUNY have libraries, and the boards of SUNY and CUNY can set those libraries’ rules, including the rules governing access.

SUNY’s[1]  board has established “such rules” by, among other things, adopting a policy on “Public Access to SUNY Libraries[2]  which states:

It is the policy of the State University of New York (University) that the public is given access to University libraries insofar as possible. Since implementation of this policy has fiscal and administrative implications, campuses may extend the facilities of their libraries to the public whenever it can be done and in a manner that is both fiscally sound and consistent with their primary educational mission.

 

What does this mean for public access to those libraries?

State law gives SUNY broad authority “to establish such rules…for access and use by the residents of the state.” SUNY then uses that authority to develop a policy requiring “that the public is given access to University libraries insofar as possible.”  BUT, after asserting that broad goal, SUNY allows individual campuses to tailor that access based on the “fiscal” and “administrative” considerations of individual institutions.  So while access to the public is the stated goal, the conditions for access are really up to the individual libraries (and the academic leadership they report to).

I tooled around a few SUNY library web sites (I couldn’t resist the Charles B. Sears Law Library at SUNY Buffalo, my alma mater), and each have their own unique conditions for giving the public access.  Some make it easier to find that information than others.  I saw a range of conditions for access…anecdotal evidence that the libraries are using the latitude granted to them by SUNY policy.

And with that background established, I’ll answer the questions.

(1) What are the requirements for a SUNY library to provide access to the general non-campus community/public (those outside staff, faculty, students)?

While the law only goes so far as to “authorize” SUNY to provide for public access, SUNY-wide policy is that “the public is given access to University libraries insofar as possible… whenever it can be done and in a manner that is both fiscally sound and consistent with their primary educational mission.”

So my answer to the first question is: based on SUNY policy, public access to a SUNY library must be provided insofar as possible, provided the use by the public doesn’t interfere with the use of the students and faculty, and the burden of public use doesn’t throw off the budget.[3]

(2) Are there specific requirements/repercussions academic libraries should be aware of in regards to public access or prohibiting public access?

Absolutely, there are requirements and potential repercussions for access to libraries at state institutions.  I could write an entire book on them (and I bet someone has[4]), but here is my quick summary:

  • Requirement: develop budgets, staffing plans, and operational policies that ensure the public is given access to University libraries “insofar as possible.”
  • Requirement: in coordination with Campus Safety or Campus Police, develop a process to address the most serious public patron behavioral concerns. 
  • Requirement: develop a privacy policy regarding the rights students, employees, and public patrons have under CPLR 4509.
  • Repercussion: be ready to address civil rights concerns related to the library’s status as a public institution.

(3) What are the Section 108 repercussions for not allowing public access, specifically related to the pandemic? Would libraries still be protected if they provide public 'access by appointment' only? Would "temporary" non-public access still allow for application of the 108 exceptions?

For readers not familiar with it, “Section 108” is the portion of the Copyright Act, which gives special exemptions from infringement to libraries and archives that are open to the public.

Section 108 does not go into great lengths regarding what the requirement “open to the public” means, but some insight can be gained from how it handles access to special collections closed to the general public; such collections qualify for Section 108’s protection so long as they are open “to other persons doing research in [that] specialized field.”  So it is clear that “open to the public” is not intended to be a carte blanche free-for-all.

The current pandemic and SUNY’s efforts to combat it will certainly impact SUNY libraries’ ability to be “open to the public.”  However, I feel confident writing my conclusion that any institution that temporarily restricts all patron access will not be found to have not meet the requirements of section 108.  And I feel just as confident saying that scheduled visits by appointment—if that is what a SUNY library needs to do to ensure safety—would not cause a 108 concern, either.[5]

That said, I cannot feel the same confidence for any Safety Plan that completely and utterly removes all public access.  Public access, even if severely restricted, must still be a component in order to meet the requirements of 108.

(4) Can a SUNY library deny entry to students/faculty refusing to wear a mask in the facility if it's justified in the interests of health and safety?

Broadly and boldly speaking: yes.

BUT.

As discussed at the beginning of this answer, the law of the state of New York and the policies of SUNY give a great deal of latitude to libraries on a campus-by-campus basis.  Different campuses exercise this latitude in different ways.  This means that while the library in one SUNY location may be operating per a Safety Plan confirmed by a central coordinator, another library may be given a directive to develop their own. 

Or, as (former[6]) SUNY Chancellor Kristina M. Johnson put it:

We understand that…each of our campuses is a complex ecosystem with regular engagement with their respective surrounding communities.

Within those different plans will be different solutions for the safe operations of different sites.  Some of those plans will call for masks, because masks will be the only way the planned operations will be able to be conducted safely.  Other plans may only include modified operations that may be performed safely without masks.  And of course, any plan requiring a mask will include the proper ADA accommodations information for those who are not able to wear one.

While the country has watched as some people challenge the requirement to wear PPE on the basis of civil rights, a limited requirement to wear a certain type of protective gear for a narrowly tailored purpose with a general application is not likely to be found a violation of the First Amendment. But of course, when it comes to civil rights, the devil is often in the details.  If, for instance, only a certain type of facemask was required, and that facemask type did not work well with a certain body type, or the need to wear a hijab, it is possible that could trigger an ADA or First Amendment claim. The guidance being assembled by the Center for Disease Control and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration takes into account the diversity of bodies and identities that Safety Plans will need to serve. By using properly credentialed resources and thinking through Safety Plans from multiple perspectives, a SUNY library should be positioned to deny entry to students/faculty refusing to wear a mask in the facility if it's justified in the interests of health and safety.

Last note

In responding to these questions, I am mindful that general legal services are provided to SUNY institutions through the office of the NY State Attorney General, and many campuses have lawyers on staff. Therefore, to the greatest extent possible, any SUNY library, department, center, school, college or university finalizing a Safety Plan should take care that whenever possible, coordinated guidance from SUNY’s recognized legal advisers is incorporated. (Very often, this will have been done at the level where the institution is planning its emergency response.)  I am always gratified when a SUNY lawyer, or another lawyer, calls me to discuss my work for libraries, and I welcome those calls.[7]

As of this date (June 26, 2020) I have found no publicly accessible model safety plan or guidance from SUNY HQ with regard to the resumption of operations.  Rather, the SUNY page for COVID questions shows that the State University of New York is very much in an assessment and response mode, and the SUNY Library Consortium’s page shows that plans are still in development.[8] I am sure that will change as the situation evolves, and I encourage people to be attentive to that page, and their own administrations, for further specific guidance.   At the same time, since no one knows a library better than the librarians who works at it, I encourage pro-active assessment and formulation of access and safety plans by library leadership, informed by the people who work and study there.

This guidance was assembled directly from available materials, and while not legal advice, it is consistent with published SUNY materials and the law.  I hope it is helpful to SUNY libraries as you consider the continuation of your operations.

Thank you for a great array of thoughtful questions. I wish our SUNY libraries much health and strength for the days ahead.

    



[1] The rest of this answer will focus on SUNY, since that is the focus of the member’s questions.

[2] Found on June 8, 2020 at https://www.suny.edu/sunypp/documents.cfm?doc_id=330 and not to be confused with the “Open Access To State University Libraries” policy found that same day at https://www.suny.edu/sunypp/documents.cfm?doc_id=329.

[3] Having sat through budget meetings of all types as a student leader, journalist, academic administrator, and lawyer, I realize that the words “fiscal” and “mission” can be applied to many divergent ends.  Let’s not go there, this is about the law.

[4] I will ask my paralegal Jill to research this question and alert me if she finds one.  If she does, we’ll update this footnote.  Otherwise, you’ll know we didn’t find one.

[5] I am punting on the very practical consideration of the recent Supreme Court ruling regarding sovereign immunity, which arguably positions SUNY to not be very concerned about qualifying for protection under 108.  I am punting because, as the court put it, I am sure SUNY does not want to be seen as a “serial infringer.”  For more on that, see https://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/allen-v-cooper/

[7] (716) 464-3386

[8] This is not a criticism. A good plan takes time. And no plan other than a good plan should be implemented.

Tags: Academic Libraries, COVID-19, Emergency Response, Reopening policies, Section 108, Public Access, SUNY

Topic: Fair Use in Uncertain Times - 7/17/2020
In the spring, it was clear academic libraries providing digital resources were in a state of emer...
Posted: Friday, July 17, 2020 Permalink

MEMBER QUESTION

In the spring, it was clear academic libraries providing digital resources were in a state of emergency and fair use restrictions were loosened.

This fall, we are asked to plan for face to face learning, but we may be asked to turn on a dime and provide digital resources overnight if a student or faculty member in a course is unable to attend class.

We are hearing mixed messages from other institutions. What is our situation today, emergency or status quo?

Thank you

WNYLRC ATTORNEY'S RESPONSE

Before I answer this question, I do have to emphasize: as I wrote here, fair use was not modified during the height of the initial pandemic closures.  Further, there is no case law or regulatory guidance indicating things will be any different if we have to return to the level of lockdown experienced this Spring. 

There is no "emergency use" exception to copyright law--even under fair use.  That said, this is an excellent question that captures the experience of working in higher education right now, and I do have a few helpful things to offer in response.

Higher education libraries trying to support another immediate conversion from in-person to online learning should consider doing the following:

1.  Work with their academic and IT colleagues to optimize their institution's rights under the TEACH Act, which under the right conditions, allows the digital transmission of copyright-protected material.

"Optimizing," in this case, means presenting otherwise inaccessible materials in class, so the TEACH Act's[1] exception infringement can be fully used, while making the most of the medium.  For example, if a history class would typically read a chapter of a book before class, then meet in person to discuss the chapter, perhaps now a part of the online class could consist of the faculty member or students reading the chapter aloud,[2] and the class using an asynchronous message board to discuss it.

This method requires faculty to be flexible, but it is one way to ensure access for all, when all else fails.

 

2.  Unite with other institutions to re-negotiate the terms of digital licenses from academic publishers.

I cannot stress this one enough.  Academic libraries must unite, must negotiate hard, and must threaten to boycott any publisher that refuses to offer a reasonable price for students to access content online.  This was critical before COVID, and it is even more critical now.[3]

 

3.  Much easier, and even cooler than #2: plan to collaborate with students' local libraries to ensure students can take full advantage of Copyright Section 108's support of access via inter-library loan.

What?

That's right.  Let's say I am a college student from Littleplace, NY.   Suddenly, it's October and I have to vacate my dorm room at ABC College, due to a local surge in COVID-19.  To be ready for the rest of my (now online) classes, I need 12 articles, a textbook that costs $500 (that I was previously sharing with two friends), and a course pak I forgot in my dorm.

So long as I have access to the list of materials, I can head over to the Littleplace Library (or call them) and work to find the materials I need.  Using its rights under Section 108 of the Copyright Code, the Littleplace Library can get me a copy of the articles...possibly even in collaboration with the ABC library, or another academic institution with the right subscription.

In my observation, this is a very under-discussed option.  Remember, your students have a right to work with their local library to get copies under a combination of 108 and (on the part of the student) fair use.  The key is having the course materials listed in such a way, that the local college or public library can easily (and quickly) help them.

This, by the way, is one of the many reasons it is critical to keep open every single one of our small and mid-size libraries in small towns and villages across the country.[4]

 

4.  Use your institution's compliance with NY's Textbook Access Act.

This is another "if you have time" one. 

In New York, all higher education institutions and publishers must follow this law[5]:

Textbooks shall be sold in the same manner as ordered by such faculty member or entity in charge of selecting textbooks for courses. In the event such product is unavailable as ordered, the bookstore, faculty, and relevant publisher shall work together to provide the best possible substitute that most closely matches the requested item or items, and the publisher shall make available the price of such substitute or substitutes readily available.

This clause has always been applied to combat predatory pricing for course materials, but lends itself to the current situation, too.  If the instructor was given a discount digital copy, the students should be able to buy one, too.

 

5.  Take some time to examine the latest ruling on academic e-reserves and fair use, so you feel comfortable making the call when you can post things on e-reserve without permission.[6]  Fair use has not been "loosened," but it still has lots of room.  The full document has been updated to "Ask the Lawyer" as "Becker Ruling 2020."  It's boring,[7] but very instructive.

My best wishes for a supported and supportive prep for the Fall semester.



[1]The full requirements of this law can be found at: https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/17/110

[2] This would also allow presentation through adaptive technology, for those who need it per ADA.

[3] I understand if you are too busy coming up with an "August Staffing Plan" and trying to figure out where to get 10 gallons of hand sanitizer to organize the revolution.  But this really is important.

[4] As if I have to sell most of you on the importance of funding libraries.

[6] Always use your institution's fair use form to record your conclusion.

[7] The helpful stuff starts on page 6.

Tags: COVID-19, Digital Access, E-Books and Audiobooks, Emergency Response, Academic Libraries

Year

0

2016 4

2017 24

2018 29

2019 42

2020 76

Topics

501c3 2

Academic Libraries 2

Accessibility 5

ADA 9

Archives 1

Assignments 1

Association Libraries 2

Behavioral misconduct 1

Board of Trustees 5

Branding and Trademarks 1

Broadcasting 1

Budget 1

Cease and desist 1

Children in the Library 1

Circular 21 1

Contact tracing 1

CONTU 2

copyleft 1

Copyright 74

COVID-19 55

CPLR 4509 4

Crafting 1

Criminal Activity 1

Data 2

Defamation 1

Derivative Works 3

Digital Access 10

Digital Exhibits 1

Digitization and Copyright 12

Disclaimers 3

Discrimination 1

Dissertations and Theses 1

DMCA 2

Donations 3

DVDs 1

E-Books and Audiobooks 2

Ed Law 2-d 1

Education Law Section 225 1

Elections 2

Emergency Response 43

Employee Rights 9

Ethics 4

Executive Order 4

Fair Use 29

Fan Fiction 1

Fees and Fines 3

FERPA 6

First Amendment 1

First Sale Doctrine 3

FOIA/FOIL 1

Forgery and Fraud 1

Friends of the Library 2

Fundraising 1

Health Management 1

Hiring Practices 1

Historic Markers 1

HRL 1

Identity Theft 1

IRS 1

Labor 3

Laws 21

Liability 1

LibGuides 1

Library Buildings 1

Library Card Policy 2

Library Cards 2

Library Programming and Events 9

Library Purchases 1

Licensing 3

LLCs 1

Loaning programs 1

Local Organizations 1

Management 16

Meeting Room Policy 6

Memorandum of Understanding 1

Microfilm 1

Movies 6

Municipal Libraries 5

Music 12

Newspapers 3

Omeka 1

Online Programming 11

Open Meetings Law 2

Oral Histories 1

Overdrive 1

Ownership 1

Parodies 1

Personnel Records 2

Photocopies 15

Photographs 1

Policy 37

Preservation 2

Privacy 12

Property 3

PTO, Vacation, and Leave 1

Public Access 1

Public Domain 7

Public Health 2

Public Libraries 14

Public Officers Law 1

Public Records 2

Quarantine Leave 2

Records Management 1

Remote Learning 1

Reopening policies 8

Retention 5

Retirement 1

Ripping/burning 1

Safety 4

Salary 2

School Ballots 1

School Libraries 6

Section 108 2

Section 110 2

Section 1201 1

Security Breach 2

Sexual Harassment 2

SHIELD Act 2

Sick Leave 1

Smoking or Vaping 2

Social Media 4

SORA 1

Story time 3

Streaming 14

SUNY 1

Swank Movie Licensing 3

Taxes 4

Teachers Pay Teachers 1

Telehealth 1

Template 3

Textbooks 3

Umbrella Licensing 2

Universal design 1

VHS 4

Voting 1

W3W 1

WAI 1

Work From Home 1

Yearbooks 3

Zoom 2

The WNYLRC's "Ask the Lawyer" service is available to members of the Western New York Library Resources Council. It is not legal representation of individual members.