The Hamilton Public Library should embrace the opportunity to benefit from community sharing and promotion, instead of wasting resources in a futile attempt to stop it.
By Wayne MacPhail
Published January 20, 2011
On January 19, I had five minutes to present to the Hamilton Public Library Board my view that their existing photo policy was overly draconian, especially since I considered the library a public space. Afterwards, the Board decided not to change its policy but to make its forms more available to the public.
Below is the text of my presentation.
Ladies and Gentlemen. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak to you this evening. I am presenting as a photographer, as a citizen journalist and as a citizen.
I recently had the experience of being prevented from taking pictures in the Hamilton Public Library by a librarian and a security guard.
This is, unfortunately, becoming a more frequent occurrence in Canada, the U.S., the U.K. and worldwide. Photographers are being harassed, prevented and questioned by security guards and police, simply because they took photographs of buildings or of citizens in public places.
This should not be the case. Photography is not a crime.
In Canada, photographers are free to take photographs of whatever, whomever, whenever we like in public spaces for non-commercial purposes.
Citizens in parks, on streets etc. do not have, or should not have, a reasonable expectation of privacy. They are in public. I would argue the same for someone at a work station in the midst of a well-lit, glass-walled public library.
However, the library and I disagree that the Hamilton Public Library - despite its name, public mandate and public funding - is a public space. Let us, for the moment, set that aside.
Right now, in order to take photographs in the library a visitor must get permission from the communications department, outline the reason why he or she wishes to take photos, schedule when the photo will be taken, and indicate how the photos are going to be used.
Public space or not, I would argue this is an overly draconian, unproductive, outdated and ultimately unenforceable measure. I am here to encourage you to amend it.
I say it unproductive because it requires staff time that could be better spent elsewhere, I'm certain.
It is outdated because we have seen, in the past two years, an explosion of mobile devices. Images from these devices are being shared every day, in the millions, on social networks such as flickr, twitter, facebook and many others.
For the current generation (and old folks like me), these devices and these social networks have become a powerful means of celebrating moments, sharing discoveries and promoting destinations and events.
Many organizations have discovered and cherish the power of crowdsourced videos and images as a free means of brand extension and exposure. In fact, this was precisely what I wanted to do with the images I was prevented from shooting and sharing.
It is unenforceable because, using those same small mobile devices, patrons are routinely taking pictures and videos in the library. They also engage in video chats with patrons showing up behind them. And, of course, lots of parents are snapping cellphone pictures of their children at play.
Also, two computers in the children's area have built in webcams and applications that have enabled patrons to take photographs.
Many of these images will be shared on social networks. While you could request the images and videos be removed, again, it would be unproductive and would create mounting ill-will. And again, you must have better things to do.
If you prevent only those photographers who have, say, DSLRs, then you are enforcing a policy in an arbitrary and discriminatory manner. That is no way to engender compliance or good will. On the other hand, if you enforce it continually ... Well, you must have better things to do.
The situation, right now, is a lose/lose. You miss the opportunity for powerful social media celebration of all the library has to offer. Your library staff will be engaged in an increasingly frustrating game of Whack-a-Mole with patrons - a game which has not gone well for the record industry. Patrons lose by not being able to practice their art or cover their community with greater ease.
I would argue that the public library is a public place. The guidelines established by the Muehl Public Library in Wisconsin acknowledge the library as a public space, a priori, and offer a brilliant and polite solution.
That policy, which I encourage you to adopt, is that photography is allowed in their space, but that photographers show some simple courtesy when taking pictures of patrons. According to the Public Libraries Act Section 23(4)a, you have the power, as a board, to make this change. I encourage you to do just that.
Another option, although my second choice, is the policy of the Toronto Reference Library.
I recently visited that library and informed a librarian that I wished to take pictures. I was directed to the security desk. I was asked to fill out a simple form, which I have provided to you. With this signed form in hand I was free to take pictures of the library and of patrons, with their permission.
For the next half hour I shot panoramas of the atrium, shared those images with my nearly 3,000 followers on Twitter and shared pictures of the library's Sherlock Holmes room and materials - this all to the delight of the curator and the patron I photographed after asking permission.
I got very positive feedback on Twitter, especially from folks who had no idea there was a Sherlock Holmes room there.
In my day job I consult to universities, health care organizations and book publishers about social media. My message to them is the same one I am suggesting to you: Embrace the opportunity instead of resisting the change.
The ability to sample and to share our world is now in the hands of almost everyone. We are social beings - we will share. This is a wonderful, human response to a complex and frightening world.
We want to celebrate, to laugh together, to document, to remember and to express ourselves freely. These are good, natural impulses amplified by the tools that now fall so easily to hand.
Find ways to use that river of sharing to your advantage. If you continually attempt to stop photography you will fail, you will apply rules in a discriminatory manner and, of course, on blogs and other social media tools, tales of your arbitrary draconian measures will appear and echo unstoppably. That too is reality.
So, a solution? I suggest that the Hamilton Public Library follow either the Muehl Public Library or the Toronto Reference Library's leads. Either process is less time-consuming and onerous for you and satisfies your legal responsibilities.
You get great social media coverage and patrons have more ease when they wish to photograph and celebrate your facility. You will find photographers, when treated with respect, will return respect in kind to you and your patrons.
I hope you will consider my proposal seriously. I look forward to hearing of the results.
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