3. Citizenship: Using open resources

(This video can be downloaded from Media Hopper Create.)

What are the conditions of use for NLS resources?

The material that has been digitised from the NLS is free and openly available usually under a CC-BY 4.0 licence. This means that you can reuse it, and adapt it, but you must always say what changes you have made and always acknowledge the National Library of Scotland.

If you want to use an item from a purchased database you will have to check what the conditions that particular database has, as each one is different, and sometimes the licenses for each item are also different. This information is usually found at the bottom of the page. Like with any other resource you have to check the small print.

Usually, for anything that is used for educational purposes, as long as you cite your source, and you are not going to openly publish the information, you will usually be within the terms of the licence.

What will the outputs of this project be?

Once the learners have done the research, found their own stories either by accessing information through archives like the one found at the NLS, though oral histories that they have gathered themselves and so on, the WEA Scotland is looking to produce a number of different outputs.

The learners themselves will guide these outputs, so this is very open at the project kick-off.  The type of thing that might be produced might include a national booklet to bring together research across the different regions. Another will be to update existing online resources to reflect the lives of the conscientious objectors, for example through a Wikipedia editathon. Another idea is to have a number of exhibitions in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee. However, if any learner has a particular desire to express the research in any other way the WEA will support them to produce it, whether that is theatre, art, or poetry.

Projects at WEA tend to be very open ended because the philosophy and approach is very learner centred which means that the learners have control over the direction of the products and other outputs.

What kinds of licences are appropriate for this kind of work?

The types of licences you need are entirely dependent on your product or outcome. So, if you are looking at resources for your own research, you can usually get access fairly easily. However, if that research is going to be used for a product that will be widely distributed or commercialised that is where the restrictions will come in. This usually means payment for use, and normally, the wider the distribution, the more you pay.

The resources the NLS produce themselves have a CC-BY license, which means that you can use it freely and adapt it freely, just as long as you say where you got the resource from. If you create a booklet and publish material, you must accredit where you got the information.  If you adapt your information, you need to say what you have adapted, and how it was adapted.

However, the other products, such as the subscription databases have a range of licenses and you would have to check the terms and conditions on a case-by-case basis. It is important to read the small print at the bottom of each resource.

The original owners of the information – that is the person or organisation that created or digitised it in the first instance – will determine how it can be used. For instance, if a library created the resource you want to use, and you want to put on an exhibition or poster featuring material generated with those resources, within the library itself, then obviously gaining permission is likely to be fairly easy. If you want to distribute your materials further, say in another country, then it is likely to start becoming more difficult. In the case of libraries, there is always someone at the end of a phone willing to help you with this. Even if you are using material from elsewhere, and need some advice on the terms of the license, someone at the National Library can help to keep you right.

Has there been any resource that could not be used in this project because of a restrictive license?

There have been a few resources where there was a very limited usage due to the license, and WEA were not able to use them, as they would have liked. For instance, documents found about Scotland’s people may have very useful information such as names, dates and locations of people who asked for exemptions through the tribunal system. However, to get hold of the actual record, or full, digitised piece of evidence would require a payment. Another example is that the Imperial War Museum is partnered with commercial entities, so the barrier to entry is higher than with open access materials. In this case access may is paid for, and usage and distribution are likely to require additional fees.

For an educational charity such as the WEA Scotland that is working with a number of groups across the country, these costs can stack up. So, using paid for resources in the work becomes unfeasible. When access is paid for it is a real obstacle, as it is impossible to do all the cross-referencing and connecting of information that was talked about in the previous video interviews.

What can you do in a situation where access and distribution is restricted?

The best thing you can do is to join a large institution that will give you access to those resources freely. Organisations such as libraries like the NLS have subscription to a lot of databases that you can access for free when you are a member. Distribution is still likely to require payment, so depending on how you use the finished information you may still have to pay some fees.


Go to each of the resources that you found in the search challenge for this topic and identify the license that it is published under.

  1. Find out what the license restrictions are, and consider how that might affect your project.
  2. Find out how to reference a quote properly from the original resource
  3. Find out how to correctly attribute the resource under a CC-BY licence

Useful resources for this activity

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