Please note: This experimental research project has concluded.
The research prototype application is no longer supported or maintained by OCLC services, and information on this page is provided for historical purposes only. Some portion of this content may be out-of-date and include broken links. Please visit the OCLC Research website to learn more about our current research.

Introduce Balance in Rights Management

Librarians and archivists often make extremely conservative assumptions about the risk involved in copying unpublished materials. Many institutions have time-consuming, overly-cautious procedures to ensure vigorous compliance with copyright law—sometimes without a full understanding of the law or of the negative impact their procedures have on achieving their mission. If access is the goal, then any unnecessary restriction is counterproductive.

The digital age has induced still more caution, creating the ironic situation where, just when users ought to be getting improved access, they're not even getting as good access as they could through interlibrary loan, in-person visits, and analog copying. The result constrains research and limits what should be entering the scholarly record.


This activity was initiated as a response to suggestions by staff from RLG Partnership institutions. The idea was refined at the 2009 RLG Partnership Annual Meeting and an advisory group provided guidance in developing an event to explore these issues.


Streamlined, community-accepted procedures will establish a community of practice that will cut costs and boost confidence in our ability to increase visibility of and access to unpublished materials.

Scope: This activity has identified strategies for analyzing and developing acceptable risk behaviors and recommending practices for libraries and archives.

Audience: While a variety of experts were involved in the activity, the beneficiaries are archivists, special collections librarians and museum curators. The outcomes should also be of interest to administrators and legal advisors, and of course the ultimate beneficiary is the researcher.

Methodology: An invitational seminar, broadcast in real time, collected imaginative thinking by experts from archives, special collections and the law. See the Undue Diligence Web page for complete details about this program.


The seminar concluded with a discussion of what was termed "well-intentioned practice." OCLC Research staff, with input from speakers and advisors, had drafted a reasonable approach to balancing risk and access when making collections of unpublished materials accessible online. The participants in the seminar discussed and improved the document. Following the meeting, the revised document was shared with the speakers, advisors, participants and a few other experts. More improvements were made. The one-page document offers a practical approach to selecting collections, making decisions, seeking permissions, recording outcomes, establishing policy and working with future donors.

A community of practice is forming around the Well-intentioned practice for putting digitized collections of unpublished materials online." Organizations and individuals are proclaiming their support by contacting Ricky Erway to encourage others to adopt the practice.


The seminar, Undue Diligence: Seeking Low-risk Strategies for Making Collections of Unpublished Materials More Accessible, was held on 11 March 2010 and was simulcast to remote audiences. Presentations and recordings from the seminar are available on the Undue Diligence Web page.

Most recent updates: Page content: 2010-11-14

For more information

Merrilee Proffitt
Senior Program Officer