Managing Rights in a Medium-Scale Audio Digitization Project

The following chapter excerpt is from the second section of the book: "A Diverse Digital Landscape: Digital Collections in Public Libraries, Museums, Cultural Heritage Institutions, and Knowledge-Based Organizations."  Download the entire chapter (PDF) or purchase online at


Barbara Taranto and Elizabeth Bradley (New York Public Library)


In 2007 New York Public Library received a small grant to digitize a selection of audio recordings of public programs, including lectures, interviews, and panel discussions that took place at the Humanities and Social Sciences Library between 1983 and 2003. This chapter briefly discusses the scope of the project and the institutional reasons for the initiative. The chapter then discusses some of the significant challenges regarding Intellectual Property Rights, faced by the Library and the strategies it employed to deal with the issues. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the policies and procedures the Library has since put in place to manage audio rights.

The Genesis of the Project

New York Public Library has been engaged in digital projects since the mid 1990’s when it launched its first public website. In 1998 it published a compilation of digital “reprints” African American Women Writers of the 19thCentury (Webpage Dodson, 1998)  of out of print, and essentially unavailable 19th century materials from the holdings of the Schomburg Center For Research In Black Culture. By 2000 the Library had established a new unit, the Digital Library Program, to manage the creation and publication of digitized content from its collections.  Within the year an even larger project – the digitization of half a million pictorial items – NYPL Digital Gallery (see New York Public Library Digital Gallery, n.d.)  - was undertaken and by 2003 the Library was producing approximately 1250 new image files – complete with metadata - per week.

Public domain items were chosen for the first digitization efforts. This allowed the Library to leverage existing bibliographic records for metadata creation without additional research into intellectual property rights. It also allowed the Library to provide a new and exciting online  resource for the public.

As the program matured policies and best practices were developed, including how to manage the rare but occasional issue of Intellectual Property (IP). The metadata system was modified to record Intellectual Property rights and access permissions. Processes were established to redact items that were mistakenly digitized and/or published before IP permissions had been received, and new content was being created daily. At the same time the Library began experimenting with new formats such as geospatial data and media files. It also began to look closely at user needs and at new avenues for distribution such as mobile and cellular applications.

As patrons became more experienced web users and their home computing technology improved, user expectations for easy and quick access to rich content increased substantially. Public domain materials were no longer sufficient. Consequently in 2007, the Library decided to initiate a pilot project to determine what was involved in managing rights-encumbered collections in the digital environment. It requested and received a grant from the Metropolitan Library Association to digitize recordings of well-known public personalities and ultimately make them available to the public via the web under the title 24 Hours at NYPL.

The Scope of the Project

We wanted to test the waters for audio rights management at an institution with a mandate for accessible content delivered at no charge. There were three key goals: 1) discover the issues involved in rights encumbered audio; 2) determine best practices for resolving these issues; and 3) develop a workflow to manage collections with similar issues.  A small sample from a contemporary, but relatively high profile collection would be suitable for this purpose since the subjects involved were already rights-savvy performers. It was also decided that to the best of its ability, the Library would seek permission from these rights holders to make these materials freely available to the public without cumbersome access controls.

Download the entire chapter (PDF) or purchase online at


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