Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Digitizing books and the recent FHL Request to Photocopy change

I live in Virginia and have access to several FamilySearch Centers. I have read the FHL statement describing this service and all of the comments. As I understand the process, any film that circulates is excluded from this offer. The only items that are covered are the books and films that are not permitted to be sent to the Family Search Centers. However, to request a copy of information in a book, I have to specify the exact page of the book for which I want a copy. To know the exact page, I would need to have seen the book. Why wouldn't I just copy the page when I saw the book rather than send the FHL an e-mail and wait 4 weeks to get a copy? What am I missing?

Dear Harold,
The FHL: Change in Requests to Photocopy service is merely notice of a change from paper to digital fulfilment in all but a few cases.

If the book is in your local FamilySearch Center you are free to make copies of the pages you need from the book, provided your copying doesn't involve the entire book, as governed by US copyright law.  The same would be true if you are visiting the Family History Library in Salt Lake City in person. You'll observe on or near each photocopy and digital imaging workstation in FamilySearch Centers and the Family History Library, the posted notice requiring adherence to US copyright law.

In some rare cases, while attempting to view a microfilm in person in Salt Lake City, you may not be able to view the entire film, except at the assistant's desk and/or you may not be able to copy from that microfilm. In that latter case, a FHLibrary staff member usually blocks out all but your ancestor's entry on a page, and provides a digital image for you. This happened to me with Salt Lake County birth records on film for several ancestors on my father's side.


FamilySearch's "Request to Photocopy" process mentioned in my post FHL: Change in Requests to Photocopy service is for distant researcher patrons who cannot locate a book elsewhere, say perhaps on GoogleBooks, or by using WordCat and the interlibrary loan process through a local public library. The distant researcher patron locates the book in the Family History Library Catalog, but books do not circulate. A very few films are on the "do not circulate" list.  David Rencher explained this is not imposed by the Family History Library, rather it is per contractual agreement with the owner of the original record, say a courthouse or archive. In my case, the county of Salt Lake would not permit the viewing of the entire film by a patron, nor the photocoping by said patron.

When the Family History Library in Salt LakeCity, Utah processes a "Request to Photocopy" the activity is governed first by contractual arrangements with the owner of the original work, and second by US copyright law regarding how much, of a published work can be photocopied in one session. These guidelines have been practiced as follows:

distant researcher patron will: 

1. Submit a “Request to Photocopy” only that portion of the index that might list the patron's specific ancestor.

On receipt of that info the patron will:

2. Submit a second “Request to Photocopy” the specific pages specified in the index, plus a few pages before and after to get the “context.”

This two-step process provides documentation proving compliance with contractual and US copyright law each time the Family History Library staff provides a distant researcher patron with small portions of a published work. The patron provides the expressed written statement the copies are for individual researcher use. This may include work for a client.

Stepping back a bit, there is a move underway to digitize books in the Family History Library collection, but each book must be evaluated with regards:

1. Is the book still in copyright by the original author/compiler or his descendant?

2. Is the copyright holder located?

2. Is the copyright holder amenable to digitization?

3. What forms of distribution are acceptable to the copyright holder?

This is an extremely time consuming process and must be worked through via contract on an individual basis. (Remember most items purchased or donated to the FHLibrary were cataloged years before digital imaging was possible.)

To provide access to books in the Family History Library collection until full digitization can occur, FamilySearch long ago developed the “Request for Photocopy” form, which they are now amending to include digital rather than paper return of photocopies for the majority of distant researcher patrons.

The process for digitization and distribution of works under copyright is distinctly different from, say, public records available in textual format at the National Archives. The Family History Library has an established, approved method for distributing small portions of books to  distant researcher patrons who would not otherwise have access to the books in their collection.

Did I mention this specifically concerns  distant researcher patrons ?

Happy family tree climbing!
Myrt     :)
Your friend in genealogy.

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  1. Thanks for this, Myrt, it's very helpful. Regarding the digitisation of books stil in copyright, do you know if copyright holders can speed this up by notifying the FHL that they are happy for this to be done? I am the copyright holder of a few items in the collection, and I have made what little profit I am ever going to make from them, so it's fine by me if they can reach a wider audience this way.

  2. Audrey, The answer is yes, there is a form to allow the digitizing to happen. It is covered under donations here: