How The Citation Project Helps Librarians Promote Fair Use

As I think about Fair Use this week, I find myself reflecting on a conversation that I had several years ago with a writing instructor friend. We are at The University of Alabama, and a student of hers wanted to know if he needed to find a source to support a statement that he considered common knowledge– Bear Bryant coached alabama football and won several national championships. This anecdote brings up a more complex question for many students: what is “public knowledge” and what needs to be cited? How do I know the difference?
The Citation Project has given us a lot of information about the patterns of student writing that are typically classified as “plagiarism. ” Through the data they have collected, we gain insight into how students are engaging with sources, and we can examine plagiarism cases through a more complex lens. The exciting thing about the Citation Project’s work is that it helps educators take advantage of the teaching moment. It helps us examine these wayward “plagiarism” cases as formative assessments, allowing us to adjust our pedagogy to reflect the confusion that a student has about fair use of sources, and the ethics of writing. The Citation Project’s usefulness is not limited to the writing instructor. Librarians can use the information provided in the data gathered to help support the ethical use of information through conversations about the iterative nature of research (coaching them away from what Bartholomae calls “dogmatic writing”). By convincing students to write about what they learn while researching rather than researching for a preconceived idea, we can perhaps help them gain a better understanding of what needs to be cited, and we further them along the road to informed citizenship.

Fair use, Library Instruction, and First-year Students

Association of Research Libraries
Fair Use/Fair Dealing Week- 22-26 February 2016

“Fair Use/Fair Dealing Week is an annual celebration of the doctrine of fair use and fair dealing. It celebrates the important role fair use plays in achieving the Constitutional purpose of intellectual property rights in the US.” – Association of Research Libraries

In this series, bloggers from within the libraries and from the UA campus community talk about Fair Use, and how it applies to our lives as citizens and scholars.

The Framework for Information Literacy states that “Scholarship is a Conversation– Communities of scholars, researchers, or professionals engage in sustained discourse with new insights and discoveries occurring over time as a result of varied perspectives and interpretations.” Without the fundamental right of fair use, the scholarly conversation would be impeded, and student engagement with new and unfamiliar ideas would be stymied. Through library instruction, we have the opportunity to facilitate a student’s engagement in the scholarly conversation, and to encourage fair use of information- the analysis of a visual artifact, the use of a quote as evidence, and even the provision of information through the libraries’ collections– in order to provide the environment and the resources for a rich and deep learning experience.

Some of the many skills we hope to teach our students during their college experience are finding, evaluating, and using sources to support their research. While students have had some experience with academic writing and research in their high school experience, many of the skills and expectations introduced to them in these first two semesters are completely different from anything that they’ve done before. Through our  partnership with First-year Writing, the University Libraries help to educate new students in these very skills, which enable them to exercise their fundamental right of fair use. From newspaper articles, to personal blogs, to a student taking their first steps in engaging in the scholarship in their chosen discipline, librarians partnering with first-year writing instructors to teach students to engage with sources and keep track of their research. Engagement through fair use comes in the form of summary, paraphrase, and quotation, and is an integral part of teaching source engagement. As students move on to life after graduation, they retain these skills, allowing them to participate as active citizens in a world filled with information.