New Collection on NYH takes us inside an isolated community

December 1st, 2016

Our latest WNYLRC collection on New York Heritage comes from the Museum of disABILITY History, taking a look at J. N. Adam Memorial Hospital through postcards and magazines.

The hospital opened in Perrysburg, NY in 1912 as an in-patient tuberculosis treatment center. However, there was no cure yet for the highly-contagious disease (only symptom management), so for the 1 in 170 Americans living in a sanitorium during this time, they were essentially in exile.

Tuberculosis patients and beds lined up in open air around building, c. 1930s.

Postcard showing tuberculosis patients and beds lined up in open air around building, c. 1930s.


The isolated group of patients and staff members during this time formed their own community. The J. N. Adam Memorial Hospital collection includes issues of Grit-Grin, a magazine produced by the residents and staff, providing a venue where they could express themselves.

Title page of Grit-Grin, August 1939.

Title page of Grit-Grin, August 1939.


Grit-Grin Magazine, August 1927

Cover of Grit-Grin, August 1927

Content included columns documenting stories about the patients, events happening within the immediate area, and drawings and poetry. The social isolation experienced by the patients is an important context to view this material. The social fear of tuberculosis was a barrier that kept people away. Patients were often unable to see family or friends for weeks or even years.

Column from January, 1928.

Column from January, 1928.

And this hospital was not an unusual case. Take these examples:

In fact, there was enough material on the topic for a presentation at the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association conference in 2013, summarized here. The author proposes the idea that involvement in creating publications like these could have helped patients recover more quickly.

The J. N. Adam Memorial Hospital was used as a tubercular facility until 1960, when it was turned over to the State of New York for use as a developmental disability center. The building still stands but has been abandoned since 1995. If you are interested in its current state, the blog Untapped Cities has a fascinating photo essay about the building.

Coincidentally, the J.N. Adam Memorial Hospital was the subject of a Buffalo News article this week, related to a book on the subject being published by the Museum of disABILITY History.

Don’t forget to look at the J. N. Adam Memorial Hospital collection on New York Heritage.

Minnesota Library Cooperative Explains Metadata and Other Concepts

November 17th, 2016

New York is unique in having 9 Library Councils to serve libraries in each region of the state. But there are other types and sizes of consortia throughout the country. For example, Minitex, located at the University of Minnesota campus, serves libraries in the three-state region of Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

Minitex started a new series of videos on their YouTube channel to explain different library concepts. Their first one, on Metadata, is humorous as well as educational. If you are new to metadata, this is a good place to start.

Reformatting VHS: WNYLRC’s Lawyer Answers

November 16th, 2016

WNYLRC’s Ask the Lawyer service is new, but already getting plenty of use. Every so often, we’ll be posting questions received (with no identifying information from the sender) and our lawyer’s response, for everyone to learn from.

Member Question

4596881695We are shifting away from VHS here on this campus (along with everywhere else), and have a question from an instructor about transferring a VHS tape to DVD. She’s not able to get the tape on DVD or streaming, but knows that it’s under copyright. Are there any loopholes to allow for making a digital backup of a VHS tape because VHS is an obsolete medium? Does going through a good-faith effort to find a digital version give some protection or leniency? Should we encourage the instructor to contact PBS or the show’s producers to obtain copyright clearance for making a digital copy?

WNYLRC Attorney’s Response

We’ll start out with the best advice: unless you stand on the legal high ground of a disability accommodation or a crumbling single copy unavailable in the original medium, when it comes to creating a new format of a work, written permission from the copyright owner is always best.  That is the gold standard.  If you have permission, the blood, sweat, and tears (or stress, more likely) of a Fair Use analysis are not needed.

This scenario does not occupy any legal high ground.  For a library in this position—dealing with the increasing rarity of VHS players—there is great guidance out there from the Association of Research Libraries’ “Code of Best Practices in Fair Use”: Here is what the code has to say on this issue…

Even when libraries retain the originals of preserved items, digital surrogates can spare the original items the wear and tear that access necessarily inflicts. Section 108 of the Copyright Act authorizes some preservation activities, but does not address some of today’s most pressing needs…[including] the transfer to new formats of materials whose original formats (such as VHS magnetic tape) are not yet obsolete (as the term is narrowly defined in section 108(c)) but have become increasingly difficult for contemporary users to consult.

Case law also acknowledges this VHS problem, but gives no relief: “Fair use has never been held to be a guarantee of access to copyrighted material in order to copy it by the fair user’s preferred technique or in the format of the original.” (University Studios et al v. Corley, U.S. Court of Appeal 2nd Circuit, 2001).  This case is 15 years old, which means a lot has happened in the world of technology, but is still good law.

So the answer is, for now, unless you are making a disability accommodation, or faced with a crumbling copy, there is no iron-clad loophole or clear precedent to allow the proposed conversion to be a “fair use.”

That said, if you have a deteriorating copy, a good-faith effort to re-purchase it in the original medium will certainly contribute to a fair use defense if you duplicate it to preserve this resource.

To help both you and your institution show that you have gone through this exercise, when you address such questions, I advise that you compose short emails to yourself, documenting the question, process, and conclusion.  A simple:

“Instructor stopped by today and asked if we could convert VHS in the collection to DVD for ease of access.   I let her know we’ll try to purchase a copy on DVD or seek permission of the copyright holder to make a copy on DVD.”


“Instructor stopped by today and asked if we could convert VHS to a format that would allow Deaf student to view closed-captioned version; we are arranging conversion solely to allow reasonable accommodation under the ADA.”


“Instructor pointed out that VHS tape in collection was not working right.  [Co-worker] and I verified the condition.   As best practices state it is fair use to make digital copies of collection items that are likely to deteriorate, or that exist only in difficult-to-access formats, for purposes of preservation, and to make those copies available as surrogates for fragile or otherwise inaccessible materials, the library will create a back-up copy, UNLESS a fully equivalent digital copy is commercially available at a reasonable cost.  We will of course not provide access to or circulate original and preservation copies simultaneously.”

This July, various news outlets reported that the world’s last manufacturer of VCR’s has cease production.  Please check back on this issue; we’ll update this entry in the FAQ when we have better guidance, which should be coming soon.  Congress is working on new guidelines, and was recently told by the Register of Copyrights, Susan Pallante: “In its current state, Section 108 is replete with references to analog works and fails to address the ways in which libraries really function in the digital era, including the copies they must make to properly preserve a work and the manner in which they share or seek to share works with other libraries.”

WNYLRC Member & Staff Publication

November 15th, 2016

WNYLRC employee Jaclyn McKewan and WNYLRC member Scott Richmond (State University of New York at Fredonia) were recently published in The Reference Librarian.

Over the past year, they conducted an analysis of chat transcripts from Ask Us 24/7, New York State’s virtual reference service, which Jaclyn manages. They coded transcripts by question type and resolution, for a set of chats from 2006 and a set from 2014.

You can read the full article at one of the links below.

“Needs and Results in Virtual Reference Transactions: A Longitudinal Study,” The Reference Librarian, November 1, 2016.

Digitizing pre-1923 issues of a newspaper? WNYLRC’s lawyer weighs in.

October 25th, 2016

Questionmark_copyright.svgWNYLRC’s Ask the Lawyer service is new, but already getting plenty of use. Every so often, we’ll beposting questions received (with no identifying information from the sender) and our lawyer’s response, for everyone to learn from. This question will be of particular interest for anyone looking to digitize newspapers for the New York State Historic Newspapers project.

Digitization of Newspapers Prior to 1923

Member Question
We would like to digitize newspapers that were published prior to 1923. Since the paper is still in business, does public domain apply in this case? They are very difficult to deal with. We do have a contact there. However, if there is nothing stopping us from digitizing the older issues, we prefer not to deal with them.

Would this also apply to other newspapers who are still publishing today but whose content does exist prior to 1923?

WNYLRC Attorney’s Response
You have confirmed that the paper (and other iterations) content originates BEFORE the strategic “1923” date confirmed by the Copyright Office (Circular 15a) as in the public domain.  This is true whether the original article or image was owned by the paper, or licensed by the paper and owned by another person or entity.

Once an item is in the public domain, there are numerous ways for either the original owner, or another, to create a copyright in a new medium re-presenting the content (this is a motivating factor in many “special editions”), but the original is no longer protected, and may be digitized as you describe, without concern about an successful infringement claim.

One caveat on the newspaper content: there could be a concern as you promote the newly created resource.  [The paper’s name] is a trademark owned by (interestingly) The Columbia Insurance Co. (registration # 75834888).  So while you can list the resource, I advise against using the name in any promotion of the collection.  That is for optimal safety and so you don’t get a cease-and-desist.

The good news is that the [paper’s previous name] trademark is officially “dead.”  This may be used to promote the service, should you wish to do so.

This analysis and a similar caveat would apply to any other newspaper.