The following post is by Lucy Jakub, one of the 36 college students who participated in the Library of Congress 2015 Junior Fellows Summer Intern Program. Jakub is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in creative nonfiction at Columbia University. Her independent work in graphic design led her to her internship with the Library’s Conservation Division, making posters and other outreach materials that advocate care and respect for books and library collections.
My job this summer has been to design posters that advocate book preservation for schools and libraries. I was inspired by the work of Works Project Administration artist Arlington Gregg, whose poster series, in simple language and bold graphics, outlined the don’ts of book handling in the 1930s. I decided to make an updated series conveying the same messages in a fresh but reverential style. Each of my designs features a literary character from the public domain, recruited to teach kids how to take care of their books: Dracula cautions against exposing paper to the sun. Dorothy and the Wicked Witch of the West demonstrate water damage.
For artists scouring the public domain for free material, the Library’s digitized collections are a gold mine. Finding public domain images that are still instantly recognizable in today’s culture, however, can be a challenge. Even the greatest hits are sometimes fuzzy to contemporary children. There are sure to be some people asking why Dorothy’s shoe on my poster is silver and not red. When
Disney MGM filmed the “Wizard of Oz,” they changed L. Frank Baum’s silver shoes to ruby so they would sparkle in Technicolor. So though Disney MGM cannot own a copyright on Baum’s character, they own the iconic ruby slippers.
In the interest of trying to make my posters a bit more contemporary, I decided to pursue a license for a character still under copyright. I went for my personal favorite: the Amazing Spider-man. The Library’s collections include the original art for Amazing Fantasy #15, Peter Parker’s comic debut. I wanted to put him on a poster telling kids not to touch their books with “sticky fingers.”
“If any super hero is suited to encourage children to read and care for books, it is Peter Parker, super-nerd and role model for us all,” I wrote to Marvel Comics.
Unfortunately, Marvel said no and wished me well. Disappointed but not to be deterred, I set my sights on Tarzan, whose disregard for cleanliness would make him a good fit for my poster: swings from a vine, half man half beast. I initially assumed Tarzan was in the public domain and free for artists to use because “Tarzan of the Apes” was published by Edgar Rice Burroughs in 1914, and its copyright has expired.
Trademarks are a little different from copyrights. A trademark essentially serves as a symbol for a commodity. It must be renewed every 10 years but in theory can exist in perpetuity as long as it is continually renewed. A copyright, on the other hand, has an expiration date past which it cannot be owned by an individual or a corporation (right now, the term is 70 years after the death of the author).
Working with Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc. was a positive experience. They were excited about being part of my project and were accommodating to the Library’s limited resources. They were giving me Tarzan, but I was giving them something, too: a highly visible and positive platform for their character.
All five of the “Be Kind To Books Club” posters will soon be freely available to download and print from the Library’s website at www.loc.gov/preservation/.