Chris Oliver &     
Victoria Owen

Notes from the Field: Observations from the CARL-ARL Project to Implement Marrakesh in Research Libraries in Canada and the U.S. 

CARL and ARL undertook an international accessibility initiative with research libraries in Canada and the United States to implement the Marrakesh Treaty and provide a pathway of practices and documentation to fulfil the Marrakesh Treaty’s promise of access to works and ending the book famine.   

The dearth of accessible format works is caused in part by constraints integral to copyright laws that the Marrakesh Treaty sought to resolve through mandatory limitations and exceptions to copyright. It is an historic treaty because it is the first treaty with a human rights focus at its core and it is the first users’ rights treaty in the history of WIPO.  Libraries, with their mandates to provide equitable access to information, are key players in the practical implementation of the Marrakesh Treaty.

The Task Force worked with four research libraries, Bibliothèque et Archives national de Québec, Cornell University, the University of Florida, and York University, delving into three main areas: metadata; systems implementation; and beneficiaries. Consideration was given to:  

  • discovery, through the development and use of standardized accessibility metadata; 

  • delivery, through library management systems that can search across systems, manage works as part of collections or in repositories, authenticate users, and deliver the work; 

  • tailoring the access, systems and content, to the needs of the end user; and 

  • creating and communicating the documentation and processes for a successful pilot implementation, to inform broader implementation across ARL and CARL institutions and beyond. 

Libraries, with their mandates to provide equitable access to information, are key players in the practical implementation of the Marrakesh Treaty.

In particular, the fundamental linchpin in facilitating access is metadata.

Firstly, an immediately noticeable pattern was the scarce or complete non-use of the new MARC 21 accessibility fields, 341, Accessibility Content, and 532, Accessibility Note. Library management systems and platforms did not display data recorded in these fields, nor were these fields indexed. When libraries communicated information related to accessibility, they often used other fields, such as the General Note, field 500. Secondly, there was a lack of detailed guidance on how to use these accessibility fields in day-to-day cataloguing work.   

There are appropriate data elements/MARC 21 fields for recording information about the characteristics of each type of resource. Some accessibility information is being recorded, but it is split into multiple places in the MARC record and practices vary from one library to the next.  Information related to accessibility may be found in fixed fields, in fields that encourage use of a source vocabulary, and in free text fields.  

Fragmentation across fields makes it more complicated to create filters for accessibility features and to standardize search and display across systems. There is no one way for a library user who is print disabled to be able to retrieve all accessible resources, or to filter a search set for the resources that they may be able to access. In a research library context, this user is disadvantaged compared to classmates and fellow researchers.    

A full pilot project was not feasible within the Task Force’s timeline. However, attempts to set-up the pilot generated a better understanding of the practical challenges involved in making systems interoperate. The pilot uncovered complexities with the indexing and display of accessibility features, and constraints with testing authentication.  

Standardizing the recording of accessibility metadata and augmenting its use in libraries would support better access to works and permit the exchange of accessible works between institutions and across borders, in French and English. The outcomes of the pilot and the knowledge gained throughout informed the recommendations for the broad implementation of the Treaty, and the advancement of accessibility across CARL and ARL institutions.