Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Thomas Jefferson Books

Yesterday there was a AP story on Thomas Jefferson's books that was picked up by major newspapers and services including the Huffington Post and the New York Times. See click here for the full story. Briefly, they reported 28 books that once belonged to former president, Thomas Jefferson, were found in the Special Collections of Washington University Library.

I wondered why this was news. Did the library suddenly decide to catalog books that were sitting around since 1880? As a good researcher, I went to the library catalog. The books are all in the catalog. The cataloger made local added entries, Jefferson, Thomas, 1743-1826. Former owner. and Dwight, Ellen Randolph Coolidge, 1826-1894. That means the library always knew the provenance of these books. While I can't tell when the books were first cataloged from information in the public areas of the catalog, these are good cataloging records done to the latest standards. The MARC 005 field includes a date of last change. From these dates we know the records were edited between 1991 and 2007. Some have a note that they appear in the Catalogue. President Jefferson's library (1829.) This book is available from Google Books, Click here

Washington University's catalogers did a great job on preparing the catalog records for these books. Anyone who checked the catalog of Jefferson's library could have found these books. Anyone could have checked WorldCat to find that Washington University Library owned these books.

Why is this news? Why did no news organization check the library catalog?
Comments received via e-mail
From Patrick Cates, General Theological Seminary

MARC tag 005 (Date and Time of Latest Transaction) should provide an
answer. A check of 2 records from Washington University's catalog
shows dates in 2007 and 1991, so I think we can safely assume these
notes and added entries predate the current hoopla.

I didn't know this about the 005 tag as it is not in the OCLC list of tags. I heard from others who said that not all systems use the 005 field in the same way. Some will enter the first time the book is cataloged and some will update this field when the record is edited. In either case the 005 field date indicates these records were done at least before 2007.

02/24/2011, from Esther Mandel, Sarasota County Public Libraries
1. I'm inclined to feel that sloppy research methods following the advent of Google doesn't do much to cover the time from 1880 to the new millennium.

2. If the cataloging is so up to date, it must be recent. Who's to say if there was anything in the catalog previous to the recent discovery?

3. Before search engines, a scholar could only have found these if they appeared in a bibliography, in Mansell, or by browsing the shelves. It's a case of not found because never found, I think.

4. J'accuse. The head librarian, history professors, lit professors, scholars at the university appear to have been better administrators/teachers than scholars. Interesting that no one looked at the items before, although I can think of a dozen reasons why not. Unless, of course, they had actually been in some university catalog somewhere.

5. When I was in library school, the rare books class professor sent his classes out into the pre-recon stacks (we still had quite a chunk) to search for rare and unusual books, although he warned us that he'd been doing this for years, and pickings were getting slim. I found a Danish Hamlet from about a hundred + years ago, printed on paper made from chopped straw, and a 1797 V. 2. of a British novel in French written by the first woman to actually make a living as an author: Elizabeth something or other, in the original paper-covered boards with a text block in simply magnificent old paper, watermarked, signatured, with depressed
print. Lovely. Every school should have some such project. Everyone in class found something interesting.

6. If the cataloging came before the "discovery," shouldn't the cataloger have brought the items to someone's attention? Maybe he did. Maybe that's how they were "found."

Thanks for your comments. If the news came from the library after a special project, I would react differently. The library would have presented the story in a different light than a journalist. I don't have a way to look at an old version of the catalog. This is one time that I wish there was a book catalog.
02/24/2011, John F. Myers, Schaffer Library, Union College wrote:

While the cataloging records found in the WUL catalog are delightfully upgraded to AACR2 and have a full range of local added entries for the provenance history, we cannot determine the editorial history of the records. Numerous records have evidence of being recon additions to the online catalog, during WUL's time with a DRA ILS. As recon records, it is doubtful they were in such beautiful AACR2 condition, so the AACR2 upgrades and the provenance additions have occurred at some indeterminate point since recon. Curiously, the Hippocrates title, Peri aeron, hydaton, topon, lacks the recon data in the 910 field, but has indication of Marcive authority review in 2008 -- indicating a recent addition to the catalog. The catalog indicates 28 records with the Jefferson provenance, but the article states that there are a total of 74 now known to be in the WUL's collection. My suspicion therefore, based on the incompleteness of the provenance ascription and the quality of those records with provenance ascription, would be that the edits are relatively recent and due to the closer examination of the material engendered by the research process that led to their recent "discovery".

The library cataloged them, yes, but its positive and active knowledge of the Jefferson provenance up to now is questionable and the point of the reporting. I would take the reporting at face value, which quotes the WUL's Rare Book Curator that the discovery came from "out of the blue".

I looked at the first 10 or so records myself; they exhibited the markers I mentioned.

Thanks for your comments. You add some ideas that I did not consider.
I finally heard from a librarian at Washington University Library.
02:05 PM 02/25/2011, Masha Sapp, Catalog Librarian/Russian & Spanish Bibliographer
Olin Library, Washington University wrote:
Only two of the 28 titles had previously been identified as belonging to Jefferson (with the appropriate tracings in the catalog records). The other records were updated with the correct provenance information only last week (by me), as the University prepared to announce the discovery. Until a couple of months ago, we had no idea these books had belonged to Jefferson (there was no announcement of his former ownership when the gift was made in 1880), so the information was not in the records.

This ends the mystery as to why the announcement was made at this time. However, the AP wire story that was picked up by many newspapers gave a slant to the article that seemed to diminish the role of the library catalogers.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Copyright of Art Objects – Copyright part 7

Can Clothing be Protected from Copying?

Revelers in the New Orleans Mardi Gras make elaborate Indian costumes that could cost more than $1000 to make. They want some of the profits when photos are sold and end up in books and on posters. On February 8, 2011 an AP wire story by Mary Foster [1] appeared in many newspapers about the costume creators’ desire to protect their work with copyright. The article has pictures that I can’t reproduce here because AP holds the copyright, Click this link to see one picture. Rather than deal with the factual errors in the article, I want to discuss the copyright issues.

U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17 section 101)[2]includes protection of art. Clothes and costumes can not be included in the definition of art.
“Pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works” include two-dimensional and three-dimensional works of fine, graphic, and applied art, photographs, prints and art reproductions, maps, globes, charts, diagrams, models, and technical drawings, including architectural plans. Such works shall include works of artistic craftsmanship insofar as their form but not their mechanical or utilitarian aspects are concerned; the design of a useful article, as defined in this section, shall be considered a pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work only if, and only to the extent that, such design incorporates pictorial, graphic, or sculptural features that can be identified separately from, and are capable of existing independently of, the utilitarian aspects of the article.

Have you ever wondered why legal knock off designs of dress famous designers appear within days of the viewing on a fashion runway? [3] Since fashions appear on the runway several weeks before appearing in stores, knockoffs can be readied for market at the same time. I have even seen segments on the Today Show about knockoffs fashions. (See: “Look like a celeb without breaking the bank” Today Show 7/21/2006 Objects that are “useful” can not be protected with copyright. Clothing, furniture, automobiles can not be protected; however, they can contain portions that are protected. Art work on a”useful article” is protected. For example a carving on the frame of a chair, picture on a shirt, or the figurine on a car’s hood can be protected. The drawings to make a car or dress can be protected as works of art. The photograph or sketch of a dress or automobile may be protected, but that protection applied to the artistic aspect of the picture. It does not give the artist exclusive rights to make a dress or automobile. [4] To the left is an example of a dress with artwork.

On March 30, 2006 H.R.5055 was introduced to provide copyright protection for fashion design. This amendment of Title 17 (copyright code) would allow fashion designers three years of protection. In the amendment is a definition of apparel that includes any kind of garments, handbags, belts, and frames for eyeglasses. On July 27, 2006 the United States Copyright Office issued a statement concerning this proposed legislation. [5] They stated that they do not have enough information to determine if the fashion industry and designed have suffered from the lack of copyright protection. They could not make a judgment as to whether this bill would be desirable. They did offer some amendments to improve the bill.

Patent protection for fashion designs would not work for several reasons. The application procedure takes 18 months and only about half get approved. Even if the designers could prove that clothing was a new invention, the value after 18 months would be diminished. If granted a patent and the designer found someone infringing on their rights, they could sue, but fewer than 50% of the suits succeed and that would eat more time. Since the useful lifetime of high fashion is one season, designers rarely seek patent protection.

If a trademark such as the double G for Gucci is copied, the offending copier can be suit for trademark violation. See Magdo’s article, section “Trade symbols – trademark and trade dress” for a fuller discussion. Trademarks registration can protect a symbol or mark that clearly identifies the creator. The symbol is artwork that has no utilitarian purpose. If the symbol was removed from the item, it could still be used. This protects companies from pirating and sale of counterfeit goods.

As long as a work is in a tangible form, it can be protected. If a costume could not be worn and it was just on display it is a type of sculpture. Barbie Dolls are protected by copyright. They have defended their copyright on several occasions. In 2008 Mattel was awarded $100 million from MGM, the maker of the Bratz dolls. Barbie’s clothing may be protected because it may be considered art, not fashion.

The question remains for the Mardi Gras Indian costumes as to whether they are art of fashion. Makers don’t care about individuals taking pictures for their personal use; the care about sales of photographs by professional photographers. Even though the Indians have legal advice, I still think that copyright protection is not certain. One lawyer suggests that they have some sort of notice of a copyright claim. If they want protection trademarks would work better than copyrights. Just as Gucci, Chanel, and other companies protect their products with unique symbols, the Indians costumes could have some sort of art or mark that could be protected. That way if someone published a picture with this mark visible, the owner could sue to protect his rights. Note this is not legal advice. It is based on the above examination of what is fashion and what is art.


1. “Mardi Gras costumes inspire photographers - and a copyright claim” / Mary Foster. Source include: Washington Post’s web site: NPR’s site:


3. For more information see: “Protecting works of fashion from design piracy” / by Christine Magdo from documents in the Harvard Law School Library [2000?]

4. See: Copyright Registration for Works of the Visual Arts, Circular 40 Copyright Office, 2010.

5. For the full text see:

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Privacy in the Library -- Part 2

Should Librarians Respect Research Secrecy?

My son asked me for research help on an historical topic. I was more than glad to help him, but he requested secrecy. He did not want anyone outside of his team to know they were even studying these historical questions because this was for a competitive conference. This question had not been debated in competition before. His question had four parts. Since it was a topic that I was very familiar with, I told him that three parts of his question were debated in and out of the government at the time. One part had to be dismissed because the issue had no valid arguments based on the historical facts.

I have taken graduate level courses in this historical era; while not an expert I have done a significant amount of research in the subject. I have more than 100 books on the topic in my library. I examined the catalog and out of more than 1000 books I found I selected 10 that were most appropriate for these questions. I also found journal and year book articles.

I am really amazed at how much research they need to study to prepare their subject. This easily covers more reading and analysis than a semester college course. I assured him that I would respect his right of secrecy. There is no similar team at my college, I doubt anyone would research this question at the level of sophistication that his team requires, and I have no contact with his rival universities.

What do I really need to keep secret? He said the conference is on March 5 and so after he makes his research public, I will be able to share the questions. If a young girl came to the library, asked about birth control books, and said that she didn’t want her parents to know, I would not be able to tell her parents or anyone else what books she requested or is reading. If a young student asked for help with a report on Illinois government, and later the parents asked, “Did my children talk to you about her report? Did she get any books on the topic?” I would have no problem sharing my advice.

There are times when the librarian should help two researchers connect in their research. Sometimes a scholar may ask for help finding someone who is an expert in the area of investigation. Sometimes teachers give such narrow assignments that many students want the same materials. In those cases the research is not secret because all the students know the assignment. In some of the classes I taught students were encouraged to share what they learned.

When a library user asks for help on a sensitive subject, librarians need to keep this interaction private. When a library user requests that his whole area of study a secret, especially when the limits of secrecy are reasonable, we should respect the request. "Secrecy" and "privacy" are not synonymous. "Secrecy" is a request of the researcher or a legal requirement of the institution or government. "Privacy" is an issue of ethics or sensitivity to the people involved. However, when the topic is not sensitive or privacy is not requested, we may share if there is a good reason.

The knowledge that I learn from answering one question is frequently used for other reference questions. I would have no problem recommending the same books and articles to more than one person.