How important is Licensing?

As more and more books and periodicals have been made available electronically, the manner in which these materials are obtained by libraries has changed from purchase to licenseAccording to the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) it is likely that in 2009, most colleges spend more than 50% of their total budgets on licensed electronic resources. During the past decade, the OWHL has significantly increased its holdings of licensed resources.  Many of these licenses are individually negotiated with the vendors.  Some resources, obtained through consortial contracts with NOBLE and Nelinet, are negotiated on behalf of the group of participating libraries.  Other products are freely available to us as a condition of our membership in the Northern Massachusetts Regional Library system.  We do not negotiate (or even see!) these contracts.

Implications for the OWHL

When libraries purchase books or subscribe to printed periodicals, they own those materials in perpetuity.  They may loan them, sell them, or otherwise dispose of them.  A provision of the copyright code (section 109) covers these uses.  When access to materials is obtained via license, however, copyright compliance is more complicated.  What libraries can do is governed by the contract, rather than by the statute.

Any licenses that we must negotiate (or accept) must be supportive of the functions of the library to acquire, preserve, and disseminate information to our users.  We should not accept licenses that require us to police user behavior or waive our statutory rights in any way.

Who are our users?

Under the terms of our current contracts, our users are faculty, staff, and students of Phillips Academy.  We have frequently been asked to provide access to alumni, faculty emeriti and to Trustees, but we are contractually unable to do that.

What can our users do?

Library Licensing Principles


  1. Liblicense: Licensing Digital Information (2009), Yale University Library, Council on Library & Information Resources
  2. Software and Database License Agreement Checklist (2006), University of Texas System, Copyright Crash Course
  3. California Digital Library Vendors and Content Providers, Regents of the University of California, California Digital Library
  4. NCSU Licensing Tutorial (2003), North Carolina State University, Scholarly Communication Center of the NCSU Libraries
  5. ARL Scholarly Communication: Licensing De-Mystifying the Licensing of Electronic Resources: A Glossary of License Terms (2008), Association of Research Libraries, Scholarly Communication
  6. Dartmouth Digital Resources License Guidelines (1998), Dartmouth College Library
  7. SERU (Shared Electronic Resource Understanding)Opening Up New Possibilities for Electronic Resource Transactions
  8. University of Texas System Office of the General Counsel.  (2006). Software and Database License Agreement Checklist . Retrieved August 27, 2008 from
  9. NISO Shared E-Resource Understanding (SERU)
  10. ARL News Release
  11. Yale University Library. (2007, October 13). Licensing Resources. Licensing Digital Information. Retrieved August 27, 2008, from
  12. Copyright in the Library Crash Course



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