Getting by with a little help from even more friends

Local copyright communities of practice and the CoOL SIG

By Neil Sprunt – Teaching and Learning Services Manager and Copyright Manager at the University of Manchester Library

The copyright network in Higher Education (HE) feels more connected than ever and the Copyright and Online Learning Special Interest Group (CoOL SIG) already plays a significant role in that connectivity. This post will examine the role of regional copyright groups and Communities of Practices (CoPs) in our network, and discuss how the CoOL SIG can work effectively with them to support copyright practitioners at a local and national level.

Bringing copyright practitioners together

Back in June 2019, my colleague Charlotte Evans along with Rachel Scanlon (Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford), delivered a Pecha Kucha presentation at the Icepops Conference entitled ‘Getting by with a little help from your friends’ about the benefits of copyright communities of practices. Watching the presentation back then it struck me how far we had come as a community of practitioners since I first started working on copyright in 2012, and how regional groups and communities of practice were an integral part of that. 

There are a number of such groups across the UK, including SHERLOCK representing London and the Southeast, and the new Academic Libraries North (ALN) Copyright CoP which I co-chair with Rachel Thornton (Leeds-Beckett), representing academic libraries across the North of England, as well as the British Library Document Supply Centre. These along with other relevant groups and committees, have helped develop a sharing culture across the sector, and this should be maintained and built upon. 

How do Local CoPs work?

Different groups will work in different ways, but the majority will highlight specific issues and then share experience and offer support if required. Rachel and I tend to run the ALN Copyright CoP in a semi-structured way. We meet quarterly (currently online) and communicate outside of meetings via a mailing list and a dedicated Teams space/channel. For each meeting we develop a relatively loose (participant developed) agenda with around three or four topics for discussion, plus an open item where attendees can ask the group for support if necessary. This provides those attending with opportunities to share ideas they are working on, ask questions, and talk about their own experiences. We also discuss the work of other groups where appropriate, and discuss how we might tap into or feedback on that work. 

Local CoPs are important, as for me they dovetail nicely with the other communication channels, organisations and events that now make up our network. For example, they add an additional layer of support on top of the still incredibly helpful Lis-Copyseek forum, and they build on the work of Copyright and other relevant committees and groups, such as the CoOL SIG.

The regular webinars put together by ALT and the Copyright Literacy partnership of Jane Secker and Chris Morrison over the past two years demonstrate how CoPs can and should work. They highlight issues that require solutions/guidance, promote sharing and collaboration, and connect people from different areas of copyright together under a common cause to support one another and develop best practice. In many ways you could argue that over the past two years, the Covid Pandemic has actually brought us all closer together (just not physically), with such online meetings increasing access, reach and therefore inclusivity.  

Many of the issues and topics discussed in the webinars are taken into conversations at a local level, where regional copyright groups and CoPs provide the ideal platform to discuss them in more detail. Sharing experiences through these channels helps develop confidence amongst practitioners, who then feel empowered to offer appropriate guidance knowing that other institutions and fellow practitioners are doing the same thing, and that this is all backed up by expert analysis and research. For example, Emily Hudson’s Guidance for Using Films, Audiovisual Works and Images in Online Teaching which was of massive help to the sector at a time of great uncertainty.

Sense of community (and a bit of fun!)

What next?

When it comes to my own copyright work at the University of Manchester, I have always placed great importance in building effective relationships and communication structures with other relevant areas of the University. This has served me well, and should be applied more generally across our copyright community. 

The CoOL SIG, as a community of practice itself, can help connect all the different local groups and CoPs together. This then enables us to identify the common issues and challenges we face, and look to develop solutions, or appropriate best practice. Working together, we can also promote important activities and events, such as the recent ‘Fair Dealing week’ in February. 

However, local CoPs are also important in isolation, as they help fill the space between national level groups, different events and activities across the sector, and the discussions that happen on forums such as Lis-Copyseek. They are important sounding boards for their members, and provide another layer of support within a larger network. 

Even before the pandemic, through events such as Icepops, it felt like I had gotten to know so many different people, from different institutions across the country (and the World) and that has to be a really good thing! Connecting online has definitely brought benefits to how we connect, as mentioned earlier, but hopefully in a post-Covid world, we will all meet again in person as part of the CoOL SIG and in our local CoPs, preferably over some cake and a brew, or maybe a beer too. But whatever happens, the continued connectivity between us all means we are sure to get by with a little a lot more help, from even more friends! 

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