Week 2.1: Libraries vs. YouTube – Collection Development

Libraries have things in all kinds of shapes and formats, and generally these things are acquired according to some kind of policy. For ease (as I just finished my course on Collection Management this summer), here’s a definition by Peggy Johnson in “Fundamentals of Collection Development & Management”:
Collection development: Originally denoted activities involved in developing a library collection in response to institutional priorities and user needs and interests— that is, the selection of materials to build a collection. Collection development was understood to cover several activities related to the development of library collections, including selection, determination and coordination of policies, needs assessment, collection use studies, collection analysis, budget management, community and user outreach and liaison, and planning for resource sharing.
Johnson, Peggy.  (2014).  Fundamentals of Collection Development & Management, 3rd edition.  Chicago, IL:  American Library Association.  (Emphases mine) The point I want to make is, when a library does things with their collection, it’s intentional. Every book that ends up on a library shelf gets there because a human who’s responsible for the collection decided it had a place there. And within the context of libraries, the decision was made, at least in part, by considering the needs of the community that the library serves.

The Tension

This is in contrast with YouTube, which has no such management or development policy beyond its terms of service. Anyone can upload anything. Only after something has been uploaded does meaningful management take place, and that management is not necessarily done by a human nor in a timely manner. Of course, it makes sense that any management is done after the fact: YouTube’s design makes it virtually (economically) impossible for humans to curate everything sent to it, as beautifully demonstrated by everysecond.io/youtube. This after-the-fact collection management is governed by YouTube’s body of policy. YouTube’s rules include prohibitions against things like threatening contentcopyright-infringing content, and  content that endangers children — things that fall on the opposite side of the law. But they also prohibit things like nudity or sexual content, depictions of violence, and content that contains hate speech, which (depending on one’s jurisdiction) might otherwise be protected because of freedom of speech or expression laws. YouTube’s restrictions don’t necessarily mean that items will be removed, however. If we look at sexual content for example, the policy is written to exclude pornographic material while allowing some wiggle room for artistic, scientific, documentary, or educational content. But educational content (or even content that only mentions queerness) might still be age-restricted, which is problematic when content is uploaded specifically to serve the needs of young people who are trying to learn about their bodies or themselves. Ultimately, what determines whether or not something is restricted is whether or not someone reports it. But not all materials are restricted equally on YouTube. For one, it’s placed a priority on finding and flagging material that infringes on copyright by automatically comparing new content against a database of copyrighted materials (music, movies, and such) by using a system called Content ID. Further, there have been examples (especially as of late) where content on YouTube gets removed only after violating YouTube’s community guidelines for an extended period of time. But it hasn’t been consistent in this; while larger channels can go for extended periods of time without facing repercussions, other channels (typically smaller ones, which are likely to bring less ad revenue to the platform) don’t have the same luxury. And then there are all the issues around content targeting children. Gross. All that said: YouTube is a corporation (more specifically, a subsidiary of Google) and has corporate priorities, while libraries are (usually) public institutions that aim to serve the public good. While Google has caused a lot of the technical problems that trip libraries up, they face their own set of problems that come with the territory of developing and pushing new technology.

The Opportunity

Libraries can and do highlight the fact that they prioritize free access to information, without having to worry about chasing advertiser’s dollars to stay afloat. While they do have to take into consideration what private donors and what their boards of directors might think, they can also point to the laws of the land and ALA policy that concern censorship and the sticky ethics of that. Further, libraries offer curated experiences that are tailored to their community’s needs and realities. I talk a little bit more about that in the first part of this week’s blog concerning reference services, but it’s a thing to expand on in a big way later. So stay tuned, and until next time, don’t forget to ask questions!

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