How do you feel about using digital cameras to copy documents at a library? I see people pulling their cameras out and snapping photos of microfilm documents at the Library of Virginia more and more frequently. I never liked the practice and always felt that the library probably needed the money from copies to survive. At $0.75 each, that could add up quickly. Every photo snapped felt to me like someone was stealing from the library, three quarters at a time.
Well, I threw this topic out on Facebook and a few people responded. Some felt that taking photos was disrespectful, both to the library and to fellow patrons, especailly if a flash was used. Others felt that snapping photos was more efficent and produced better-quality images. With this debate in mind, I went to the state archives this weekend and asked three reference librarians what they thought on both a personal and professional level; if the library had an official stance. I was honestly surprised at their answers.
It turns out that the Library of Virginia has no problem with anyone taking photos of anything in the public section(s) of the facility. You can photograph books, paintings, microfilm, etc. (as long as there is no sign posted that trumphs that policy for a particular item). You can even photograph items from the closed stacks, if they can be called down and used in the public areas of the library. What cannot be photographed are items in special collections, that have to be used in a secure portion of the facility. These items generally have contractual copyright protection.
To my surprise, the librarians actually encourage the use of digital cameras. They said that the cost of maintaining the copy machines is much higher than the $0.75 they charge per copy. It is actually in the library's best interest for you not to make copies. As long as you do not use a flash, you are free to take all the pictures that you want. I still don't feel right about it but I am going to have to give it a try. I will be curious to see how well they turn out.
Maybe you can ask around at your local library or state archives and see how they feel? I would be intereted to know if all facilities are as open to cameras as the one in Virginia.