Public domain

Librarians and the Public Domain


Librarians play an important role in information management and dissemination in Nigeria. Access to materials in the public domain is an important aspect of their work. The term “public domain” refers to works that are not copyrighted and are thus freely available for use. Librarians in Nigeria are required to ensure that their users have access to these works which can range from historical documents and literary works to scientific articles and government reports.

The acquisition of materials is the first step in librarians’ role in managing the public domain. To determine which materials are in the public domain and which are protected by copyright, librarians must be knowledgeable about copyright laws and regulations. When materials are identified, librarians can acquire them and incorporate them into their collections. This can be accomplished by purchasing copies of works that are no longer copyright-protected, digitizing materials in the public domain, or collaborating with other institutions to share resources.

Importance of Cataloging Materials in the Public Domain

Librarians play an important role in making these materials available. This can include cataloging materials in an easy-to-find and navigation format, developing finding aids or guides to assist researchers in locating specific items, and digitizing materials so that they can be accessed online.

Librarians catalog materials in the public domain to help organize and provide access to these materials for researchers, scholars, and other library users who may require them for a variety of reasons. Here are some of the reasons why it is critical for libraries to catalog materials in the Public Domain:

1. Cataloging these materials aid in their preservation for future generations. Librarians can ensure that these materials are properly stored and cared for by providing detailed information about them, as well as that their value as cultural artifacts is recognized.

2. Cataloging these materials makes it easier for people to find and use them. Librarians can assist researchers and scholars in locating specific works and identifying relevant sources by keeping detailed records of each item.

3. Cataloging these materials improves their discoverability. Librarians can help make these materials more widely known and accessible to a wider audience by including them in library catalogs and online databases.

4. Cataloging materials in the public domain is an important part of a library’s educational mission. Librarians can promote learning and scholarship in a variety of fields by making these materials available to students and researchers.

5. Cataloging materials in the public domain also keeps account and tells the coming generation when a particular book was at a particular library at a particular point in time.

Overall, cataloging these materials is important because it helps to ensure that these valuable resources are preserved, accessible, and discoverable for future generations.

Importance of the Public Domain to libraries

Given the country’s rich cultural heritage and history, the public domain is especially important in Nigeria. Librarians are responsible for preserving and making accessible materials that document this history, such as pre-colonial documents and artifacts, as well as works by prominent Nigerian authors and artists. Librarians help to preserve Nigeria’s cultural heritage and promote a better understanding of the country’s history and identity by making these materials available to the public. The public domain is an essential resource for libraries because it allows them to provide free and unrestricted access to knowledge and culture.

To begin with, the public domain provides libraries with a plethora of resources that they can use to better serve their patrons. These works can be freely accessed, copied, and shared without violating anyone’s intellectual property rights. This means that libraries can amass large collections of these works covering a broad range of topics and genres. These collections can be used to support research, education, and other learning and cultural enrichment activities.

Furthermore, the public domain allows libraries to make works available that would otherwise be unavailable due to copyright restrictions. Many still-copyrighted works are simply too expensive or difficult to obtain for libraries with limited budgets. Public domain works, on the other hand, can be freely accessed and distributed, making them an invaluable resource for libraries looking to provide access to a diverse range of materials.

Another advantage of the public domain is that libraries can preserve and protect cultural heritage. These works are frequently historical artifacts that shed light on the past. Libraries can ensure that these works are available to future generations by preserving and digitizing them. This is especially true for works that are at risk of being lost or destroyed due to deterioration, decay, or other factors.

The ability to create new works based on existing ones is another significant benefit of the public domain for libraries. Researchers can use these materials to generate new insights and knowledge through activities such as text mining and data analysis. Furthermore, the public domain allows libraries to create educational materials such as textbooks and online courses without fear of infringement, making education more affordable and accessible. Also, by allowing artists and creators to build on existing works, the public domain fosters innovation and creativity. As a result, new and original works are created that benefit society and enrich our cultural heritage. Libraries can also help with this process by providing resources and assistance to creators who want to create new works using these materials.

Finally, the public domain is critical to the work of libraries because it allows them to provide a wide range of resources and services to their users and also critical for libraries to achieve their mission of promoting knowledge and lifelong learning, from preserving historical documents to fostering innovation and creativity. As a result, libraries must continue to protect and support the public domain in order to ensure that future generations have access to the wealth of knowledge.

Ways Librarians can Identify Public Domain Materials in the Library

An article has earlier been written on how Public domain works can be identified. some other ways librarians in Nigeria can identify these materials as as follows:

1. Consult the Nigerian Copyright Act to determine the duration of copyright protection for various types of works. Literary works, for example, are protected under the Nigerian Copyright Act for the author’s lifetime plus 70 years from the end of the year in which the author died.

2. Examine catalog records: Librarians can examine catalog records to see if there is any information about the item’s copyright status. The catalog will sometimes indicate whether or not a work is in the public domain.

3. Consult reference materials: Librarians can consult reference materials such as the Public Domain Sherpa, which provides information on identifying these works in a variety of formats.

4. Conduct a copyright search: Librarians can perform a copyright search to determine a work’s copyright status. This entails looking through copyright databases or contacting the copyright holder to see if the work is still protected.

5. Seek legal advice: If librarians are unsure about a work’s copyright status, they can consult a copyright lawyer or the library’s legal department.

Overall, librarians in Nigeria must be diligent in identifying these materials in order to comply with copyright law and provide access to information that is free for general use. They should also keep up with changes in Nigerian copyright legislation and guidelines for identifying public domain materials.

Interlibrary Loan of Public Domain materials among Nigerian Libraries

Interlibrary loan of these works is generally permitted in Nigeria, but the specific rules and regulations vary depending on the institution and the type of work requested.

To request an interlibrary loan for public domain work in Nigeria, contact the interlibrary loan department of your local library or institution. They will give you the necessary information and procedures to follow, such as filling out a request form, providing information about the work you want to borrow, and paying any applicable fees.

It is important to note that, while these works are free to use, they may still be subject to other legal constraints such as privacy laws or cultural heritage regulations. As a result, it is critical to review the specific rules and regulations that apply to the work you wish to borrow and ensure that you comply with them.

Challenges Libraries face when managing the Public Domain

When managing the public domain, librarians may face a number of challenges, some of which are as follows:

1. Inaccessibility: While works in the public domain are free to use, they may not always be easily accessible. To make these works more accessible to the public, librarians may need to invest in digitization and other technologies.

2. Copyright Confusion: There may be confusion about the copyright status of works, particularly those created prior to the establishment of copyright laws. Before making works available to the public, librarians may need to conduct extensive research to determine their copyright status.

3. Preservation: Public domain works are not always well preserved, and librarians may need to go above and beyond to ensure that they are properly preserved for future generations.

4. Language and Format: Many of these works may be in languages or formats that are not widely used or easily accessible. To make these works more accessible, librarians may need to invest in translation and other technologies.

5. Ownership: Ownership of works in the public domain can be unclear or disputed, making it difficult for librarians to effectively manage them. Librarians may be required to collaborate with legal experts to determine ownership and resolve any disputes that may arise.

6. Lack of funding: Libraries and other cultural institutions are underfunded. Without adequate resources, librarians may struggle to acquire and preserve materials, digitize resources, or promote access to these materials.

7. Lack of awareness about the importance of the public domain: Many people are unaware that certain materials are in the public domain and freely accessible, or they do not recognize the importance of preserving and making these materials available. Librarians must work to educate the public about the public domain’s importance and the role that libraries and cultural institutions play in preserving and promoting access to these materials.

Fears Librarians may have as regards the Public Domain

While managing the public domain can be a rewarding experience for librarians, they may also have some fears and concerns, such as fears about the quality and relevance of these materials. Librarians may be concerned about the quality and relevance of materials, particularly older works. They may be concerned that these materials will not meet their patrons’ needs or interests, or that they will contain outdated or inaccurate information.

Another very important fear librarians may have is the issue of Copyright Infringement. While works in the public domain are free of copyright restrictions, librarians may be concerned about inadvertently infringing on the copyright by using or sharing works that are not in the public domain. This can lead to legal issues and damage to the library’s reputation.

Furthermore, these works may contain offensive or culturally insensitive content, especially older works reflecting attitudes and beliefs that are no longer widely accepted. Librarians may be concerned about how to handle these materials in a respectful and sensitive manner to all patrons.

As previously stated, accessibility can be a problem for these materials. Librarians may be concerned about how to make these materials more accessible to all patrons, particularly those who are disabled or speak a different language.

Resource Constraint is another concern for librarians because of the cost and time required to manage these materials, especially if they lack the necessary resources or staff. This can lead to exhaustion and frustration among library staff


The Public domain day is observed on the 1st of January every year to celebrate the books and authors whos works will be entering the public domain for that year. In a bid to celebrate the 2023 public domain day, Free Knowledge Africa organized an event tagged ‘Navigating Copyright: The Librarian’s guide to the public Domain’. Members of the Nigerian Library Association, Kwara State Chapter were invited to discuss how librarians could contribute to making these works assessible.

Librarians play an important role in managing and promoting access to these materials in Nigeria. Librarians help to preserve Nigeria’s cultural heritage and promote a better understanding of the country’s history and identity by acquiring, preserving, and making these materials accessible. While managing the public domain in Nigeria presents challenges, librarians continue to work tirelessly to ensure that these materials are available and accessible to future generations.

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