I get a real kick out of spending other people’s money. Acquisitions take up a lot of my time at work these days; I’m responsible for, among many other things, acquiring works by local authors and material about the history and culture of our city. Naturally, our budget is minuscule. Every dollar has to be spent wisely, and if we can acquire something for free, we go for it.
The other day I was surprised to receive a couple of short films produced by one of the local community service organisations, featuring a few locals talking about their lives. I had no real reason to be surprised; after all, I’d asked them to send me a copy. What did surprise me was that the two films were on USB flash drives, one for each film. Somehow I’d been expecting a DVD. Another community service org had graciously sent me a DVD of one of their recent film projects, and I suppose I hadn’t considered the fact that not all organisations distributed their AV material the same way.
Our immediate problem was deciding whether or not the USB flash drives constituted library or archive material. While we make a point of collecting both, the line is somewhat blurry; some material accepted as part of a manuscript deposit occasionally duplicates library closed stack holdings and vice versa. Generally speaking, if an item has been formally published it goes into the library collection and is catalogued in the usual way. If it hasn’t been published it is treated as archive material and is subject to appraisal, copyright clearance etc. and has a finding aid created for it.
Is a USB flash drive considered ‘published’ material? One drive had the (newer) film’s title printed on the side, clearly indicating an intent to distribute. The other drive was a generic one and held the older film. Neither had an ISBN or other barcode, and could only be obtained by directly contacting the community organisation that produced them. The films themselves had been uploaded to YouTube by the community organisation, also suggesting that the participants had consented to their recordings being widely disseminated.
Because the DVD we received had been (almost automatically) treated as library material and given to our long-suffering cataloguer, I began to wonder whether the USB drives should be treated the same way. After all, if we had received DVDs instead of flash media, I wouldn’t have thought twice about adding them to the library stack.
However, I ultimately decided, in consultation with my superior, to add the USB flash drives to our archival collections. The lack of ISBN or any kind of commercial packaging was a factor, but the decider was the realisation that write-protecting flash drives is close to impossible. Even if we were to add the drives to our library stack and only permit users to use them in the building, we would have no way of knowing whether someone was tampering with the drive while they used it. A professionally-produced DVD is a read-only medium, which I think we would feel better about having in the library collection.
The major downside to classifying the drives as archive material is that it means a lot more work for us. Naturally, I hadn’t thought to request a deed of gift or copyright clearances from the community organisation, so we’ll have to chase that up. If they in turn didn’t ask the participants to sign anything (which is unlikely but possible), that will also create some difficulties. And of course, at some point I’ll have to copy the contents of the drives to our rudimentary digital preservation setup. I’ve wound up being responsible for that too, but that’s a story for another time.