Author Archives: Caralee Adams

Economics Professor Data Mines Technology Trends Using Vintage Public Documents at the Internet Archive

Card catalog image CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Michelle Alexopoulos is interested in tracking technology trends.

For a recent project that involved out-of-print government publications, the economics professor and her coauthor Jon Cohen tapped into resources from Internet Archive—available free and online—conveniently from her campus at the University of Toronto.

Alexopoulos specializes in studying the effects of technical change on the economy and labor markets. She uses library classification systems, including metadata from the Library of Congress, to understand how quickly technology is coming to market by tracing the emergence of new books on tech subjects. When it came to looking up old library cataloging practices, some documents were difficult to find.

Dr. Michelle Alexopoulos, Department of Economics, University of Toronto – CV

“The Internet Archive has always been very good about preservation,” says Alexopoulos. She reached out to the Internet Archive for assistance in digitizing older Dewey Decimal classification documents and unlocking useful materials from the Library of Congress. The scanning center at the University of Toronto digitized some of the books for the project. “The Internet Archive makes content searchable and that helps facilitate the kind of research we are doing,” she says.

With the historical documents scanned, Alexopoulos was able to do data mining and text analysis to compare new categories and subentries librarians created over time when they identified a new technology emerging. As electricity, cars, airplanes and computers were invented, new published lists of terms were adopted to classify those topics in the books and materials that were being added to public and academic libraries.

“We are trying to capture when new technologies are coming to market and when they’re recognized as something significantly different than what we had before to get an idea of what is major and what is more minor in terms of impact,” Alexopoulos says.

The goal is to be able to recognize future trends in real time to predict which industries will be affected by the next big innovation. Economists love to blame technical change for all sorts of things, Alexopoulos says. For instance, there is debate now about whether artificial intelligence is going to “destroy us all” or whether it will lead to productivity growth, she says.

“Changes in technology can be linked to business cycles and they are really important for getting long-run economic growth,” Alexopoulos says. “The problem is our models rely on technical change, but it’s very difficult to measure it.”

Examples of books used in Alexopoulos’ research:

To describe technical change, some academics follow research and development expenditures; others look at the number of patents filed. But Alexopoulos believes that libraries are on the front lines and how they categorize new books on technology reflect trends in society. Examining the historical evolution of library classifications can show the spread of the technology and other terms linked to it.

Early indications from the analysis shows that artificial intelligence and robotics are indeed major developments that will lead to productivity gains, says Alexopoulos. She is writing up her findings now and hopes the information will help inform economists as they forecast the labor market trends in the future.

“I’m grateful to the Internet Archive for providing access and having the forethought to accumulate a lot of these historical materials that others may not have had the capacity to collect and make available to researchers,” Alexopoulos says. “I think its mission is very important. The Internet Archive has been a wonderful resource during the pandemic. It’s had a positive impact not just on research for faculty, but on the learning for students as well.”

Calls Intensify to Allow Libraries to Narrow Digital Divide

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At an event discussing disinformation and the digital divide, U.S. Senator Ron Wyden from Oregon said he was committed to supporting a balanced copyright system that promotes fair use, digital lending, and the work of libraries.

“Libraries provide vital public services by making high quality resources available to everybody. And that’s true no matter what you’ve got in your bank account or your zip code,” said Wyden, noting he is the son of a librarian.  “If the system is filled with draconian copyright laws and digital restrictions that make it hard for real news to be read, shared, and discussed, that particular vacuum is filled with more misinformation and lies.”

Wyden’s remarks were part of the webinar, Burying Information – Big Tech & Access to Information, sponsored by the Institute for Technology Law & Policy at Georgetown University, Public Knowledge and Library Futures on March 24. A recording of the event is now available.

Big special interests have always pushed for tighter restrictions on content, Wyden said, and now powerful corporations are trying to get a tighter grip on the internet. He cautioned that the proposed Digital Copyright Act is not the answer, saying he would fight for more balanced intellectual property laws and support libraries to provide easy, free access to reliable information from trustworthy sources.

“We’re seeing a change in the environment, which means you still need a card to get access to books, but it’s no longer a library card, it’s increasingly a credit card.”

Heather Joseph, Executive Director, SPARC

“We want a game with many winners. We want to have many authors, publishers, booksellers, libraries—and everyone a reader,” said Internet Archive Founder Brewster Kahle at the event. “The only way to do that is to have a level playing field that doesn’t have monopoly control.”

The pandemic has underscored the need for digital content to be readily available to the public. Libraries should be able to lend and preserve just as they have with print materials for years, however, many large publishers refuse to sell e-books to libraries and instead have restrictive licensing agreements.

“We’re seeing a change in the environment, which means you still need a card to get access to books, but it’s no longer a library card, it’s increasingly a credit card,” said Heather Joseph, executive director of SPARC, a global advocacy organization working to make education and research open and equitable by design for everyone. “We really need interventions that work to combat that shift, to flip that dynamic.”

To expand access to knowledge, Internet Archive has been digitizing the materials and respectfully lending them one copy at a time through Controlled Digital Lending (CDL) since 2011. The widespread practice is embraced by more than 80 libraries as part of Internet Archive’s Open Libraries program, and is growing across the country in various implementations elsewhere as demand increases.

“If you actually take a look at how [CDL] operates, the lending function is really no more and no less than what libraries are able to do in print. It’s just changed formats,” said Michelle Wu, an attorney and law librarian who pioneered the concept of CDL. The practice can serve people who aren’t able to physically get to a library because they live in a rural area, have a disability that limits transportation, work odd hours, are ill or quarantined during a pandemic. Libraries want to reward authors for creating their works, but also ensure the public has access to those works, Wu said.

It would be a better use of public funds for libraries to be able to purchase ebooks, rather than paying repeatedly for licensing fees, said Wu. Also, a library that digitizes its collection ensures access in an emergency, such as a pandemic, and preservation in the case of a natural disaster, saving the government money in having to replace damaged materials.

To counter disinformation, the public needs reliable information—and libraries are at the center of this battle, said SPARC’s Joseph.

“We can’t amplify content that we can’t access. And that’s really at the root of what libraries do for society,” Joseph said. “We’ve always been the equalizer in providing access to this high-quality information.” Rather than libraries being a trusted and critical distribution channel, they are being treated by publishers as adversaries, which Joseph said is a dangerous trend.

The discussion touched on a variety of remedies including legislative protections to enshrine practices like CDL, antitrust regulations, and building market competition. The work of Library Futures was highlighted as an avenue for concerned citizens to raise their voices and panelists underscored the need for action that reflects the best interest of the public.

“This is not just an inconvenience, it’s not just an additional expense to us as consumers. It’s creating an enormous divide in who can access critical knowledge,” Joseph said of publishers’ actions to restrict access to digital content. “The right to access knowledge is a human right. And a world in which one player—or worse a company—decides who’s in and who’s out is unacceptable.”

Major SciFi Discovery Hiding in Plain Sight at the Internet Archive

Fans of science fiction learned last week that the word “robot” was first used in 1920—a full three years earlier than originally thought.

The “massively important yet obvious” change in date was confirmed with a search of the Internet Archive, which has a digitized first edition of the Czech play, R.U.R. Rossum’s Universal Robots, published in 1920. There on the title page, hiding in plain sight in an English-language subtitle to the work, is the earliest known use of the word “robot.”

This important piece of information is one of many little-known facts captured in the Historical Dictionary of Science Fiction. The project was completed this year by historian Jesse Sheidlower, who credits two things that enabled him to publish this project, decades in the making.  “One, we had a pandemic so I had a lot of enforced time at home that I could spend on it,” explained Sheidlower. “The second was the existence of the Internet Archive. Because it turns out the Internet Archive has the Pulp Magazine collection that holds almost all the science fiction pulps from this core period.”

The New York-based lexicographer—a person who compiles dictionaries—sat down with the Internet Archive’s Director of Partnerships, Wendy Hanamura, to demonstrate how he goes about his work.

The comprehensive, online dictionary includes not only definitions, but also how nearly 1,800 sci-fi terms were first used, and their context over time. From “actifan” to “zine,” the historical evolution of the core vocabulary of science fiction is now online, linked to original sources in the Internet Archive and beyond.  

The project began nearly twenty years ago at Oxford English Dictionary (OED) as the Science Fiction Citations Project. The idea was that science fiction fans would send in references from  mid-20th century pop culture materials that weren’t otherwise archived in libraries. Back then, volunteers mailed in citations they found in books and magazines, and moderators entered the details into a database of these crowdsourced references. In 2007, the project resulted in Brave New Words: The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction, edited by Jeff Prutcher.

Amazing Stories, v13, n5, 1935. View hundreds of classic issues in the Amazing Stories Collection.

Sheidlower moved on from the OED in 2013. But the potential of this dictionary of science fiction never left him. Sheidlower’s vision was to make the resource even more useful to the public by completing the work and offering it for free use. In 2020, OED gave him permission to dive back in. Working from home during the pandemic, the editor discovered the Internet Archive had a rich Pulp Magazine collection that he could tap into from his desk in New York.

“Instead of hoping that someone, somewhere might have something and send it in, I could just search at the Archive. It made research much easier,” Sheidlower says. He then linked any piece of information cited to the original sources online—providing readers with an avenue for more details to keep reading.

In January, the first public version of the dictionary was made available via a new website, built by Sheidlower. 

Because it is in a digital format, readers can search for terms—such as “transporter” or “hyperspace”—and be directed to the entry, complete with quotes and links to click through to the original source where it first appeared. There are also hundreds of pending entries that are being considered for inclusion in the dictionary, which is a living document that can be updated in response to reader suggestions, Sheidlower says.

Response so far to the revised dictionary has been positive from readers and the media. “I hope that the dictionary is of broad interest to anyone,” Sheidlower says. “Anyone, almost anywhere, can have access to the same kind of resources now. You don’t need to have people physically in libraries reading through absolutely everything, you can do a lot of searching online. The barrier to entry for this kind of research is reduced. Anyone can make contributions.”

Sheidlower comes to this work with a background studying in the classics, linguistics, Latin and the history of the English language. He worked in the dictionary department at Random House, before moving to the OED.  Sheidlower also does language consulting for television shows such as Amazon’s “The Man in the High Castle,”  to ensure that expressions being used match the historical period.

Author and Open Source Advocate VM Brasseur: Internet Archive ‘Legitimately Useful’ for Lending and Preservation of Her Work

In her 20-year career in the tech industry, VM (Vicky) Brasseur has championed the use of free and open source software (FOSS). She hails it as good for businesses and the community, writing and presenting extensively about its merits.

VM Brasseur, Raleigh, North Carolina, 2018. Credit: Peter Adams Photography

To spread the word, Brasseur has made her book, Forge Your Future With Open Source, available for borrowing through the Internet Archive. She’s also saved all of her blogs, articles, talks and slides in the Wayback Machine for preservation and access to anyone.  

“I do it to share the knowledge,” Brasseur said. “Uploading the resources to Internet Archive ensures that more people will be able to see it and will be able to see it forever.”

As soon as her book was published by The Pragmatic Programmers in 2018, Brasseur said she wanted to have it represented in the Internet Archive. She donated a copy so it could be available through Controlled Digital Lending (CDL).

“I think CDL is great. I love libraries,” Brasseur said. “To me, I don’t see how CDL is any different from walking into my local branch of the public library, picking up one of the copies that they have, going up to the circ desk, and taking it home. How is that different from the Internet Archive? They have one copy of my book and check it out one copy at a time. It just happens to be an e-book version. I, frankly, don’t see the material difference.”

A supporter of the Internet Archive since its inception, Brasseur says she’s a regular user of the Wayback Machine. It’s been useful for her to be able to do research and for others to find her body of work. Recently, she revamped her blog and removed some pages—later getting a request from someone who wanted some of the deleted material. Brasseur provided a Wayback Machine link to where she’d stored them, making it easy for that person to find the missing pages. “It’s a gift. It’s legitimately useful,” she said. “Having the Wayback means that other people can still have access” to materials she no longer has on her website.

Borrow the book through the Internet Archive, or purchase a copy for your own library.

Brasseur has led software development departments and teams, providing technical management and strategic consulting for businesses, and helping companies understand and implement FOSS. She wrote her book not just for programmers, but rather says it’s intended to be inclusive and for anyone interested in FOSS including technical writers, designers, project managers, those involved in security issues, and all other roles in the software development process.

In the book, she helps walk readers through why they might want to contribute to FOSS and how to best embrace the practices involved. The book was been positively received and was #1 on the BookAuthority list of 18 Best New Software Development Books To Read In 2018. Recently, it has been picked up by people transitioning to telecommuting and looking for resources for doing collaborative work.

“Obviously, I do want people to buy the book, but I’m also strongly pro library, as most intelligent publishers are. My publisher is a big fan of making sure that their books are available in libraries,” Brasseur said. “So the Internet Archive is a library that anyone can access all over the world. And it just makes it a lot easier to make sure that the book gets in the hands of people.”

Brasseur is committed to helping people contribute to open source; for people who can’t afford to buy the book, checking it out from the library is an alternative. “If they can get a copy from Internet Archive, then they can learn how to contribute and they can make a difference from wherever they are in the world. Nigeria, Thailand, Netherlands, or Montana. You don’t have to worry if your local library has it,” she said. “In these times, in particular, it’s very difficult to get to your library. This is a great service that the Internet Archive is providing.”


Forge Your Future with Open Source by VM Brasseur is available for purchase through a variety of retailers and local book stores.

Milton Public Library Reaches Patrons Through Controlled Digital Lending

Leaders at the Milton Public Library (MPL) in Canada say they are continually questioning their operations and looking for ways to better serve their patrons. That’s why the Ontario institution joined the Internet Archive’s Open Libraries program.

“We are always keen to innovate, in meaningful ways” said Mark Williams, MPL chief executive officer and chief librarian. “Why would we not want to be in this partnership that expands our collection, but also extends assets to other people’s collections in a digital realm? It was a no brainer.”

In making its decision to become part of Open Libraries in September 2019, Williams said rather than being concerned about publishers, the focus was on the interests of the public. 

Mark Williams, Milton Public Library

“If it challenges the status quo for the benefit of readers, wherever those readers are, then I think we should engage,” Williams said.

As it happens, the timing of its membership was fortuitous. With COVID-19 disrupting access to the print collection at its branches, being part of the Open Libraries meant broader access to digital materials for patrons quarantined at home.

MPL has been a central part of the Milton, Ontario, community since 1855, serving a population of more than 120,000 through three physical libraries and its website (and with a bookmobile and four new branches in the pipelines over the course of the next 10 years), Library services were forced to be flexible in the past year as health circumstances changed in the province.

The three MPL locations closed on March 17, 2020, under a state of emergency in Ontario. By May, a phased reopening allowed libraries to begin limited operations. During the state of emergency, librarians pivoted to providing access to services only through virtual interactions and the website was changed to focus on promoting electronic resources. As restrictions eased, MPL provided curbside, contactless pickup. Eventually, 50 to 100 patrons were allowed inside the buildings with safety protocols. The libraries had to close again when COVID-19 cases spiked in the winter, and then reopened in February.

We’ve seen overwhelming demand…Patrons think it’s a fantastic option…

Mark Williams, Milton Public Library

“The staff have been remarkably agile and good at adapting their approach,” Williams said. “We’ve done the best we possibly could to ensure the public library services continued, but the way we deliver it is different than anyone would have expected.”

In addition to joining Open Libraries, MPL donated 30,000 books to the Internet Archive. Williams said the expanded access to content in the larger online library has been a boon to the public. Regardless of the pandemic, MPL would have spread the word about access to Open Libraries, he said, but it was likely accelerated because there was no choice but to focus on digital offerings in the pandemic.

Milton Public Library

“The lockdown highlighted the ability for us to raise awareness about the partnership and introduce it to more patrons,” Williams said. MPL is creating a new portal on its website that will be dedicated to Open Libraries but has been promoting its availability in the meantime and the response has been positive.

“We’ve seen overwhelming demand,” Williams said. “Patrons think it’s a fantastic option for them to have increased materials than we currently have available.”

The transition to becoming part of the Open Libraries program was seamless, said Williams, and he’s encouraging other libraries to consider joining.

“I hope if other libraries sign up, they will be equally inspired by the partnership. The content is amazing,” Williams said. “Our patrons think it’s phenomenal. Our board thinks it’s a great idea, philosophically. Everyone believes this is an important service addition.”

To browse the books now available for lending through Milton Public Library’s participation in the Open Libraries program, please visit: https://archive.org/details/miltonpubliclibrary-ol. Learn how your library can participate in the Open Libraries program.

Leveling the Playing Field for Students with Print Disabilities

The Internet Archive is bringing more periodicals and scholarly resources to students directly and by working with disability offices in the United States, Canada and elsewhere.

As more students with disabilities pursue higher education, demand is growing for books, journal articles and other learning materials to be available in accessible formats. This includes digitizing print materials for people who are blind or have low vision, those with dyslexia or attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and people with limited mobility who might have difficulty holding print documents.

The Internet Archive is part of an expanding effort to make it easier for people with print disabilities to access information by digitizing books, periodicals, and microfilm needed to succeed in school and beyond. Once print materials are converted to machine-readable formats, users can listen with a screenreader, text-to-speech software or other forms of audio delivery—starting, stopping, and slowing down the information flow, as well as change the colors of text and background of pages.

With 10 percent or more of students at colleges in the United States requesting accessibility accommodations (Government Accountability Office, 2009, p.37), providing digitized learning materials is critical. Each semester Disability Service Offices (DSOs) on campuses respond to student requests to convert materials into accessible formats—often doing so in silos with limited budgets.

Libraries are being called into action to coordinate the delivery of accessible instructional materials. Doing its part to improve access to knowledge for all, Internet Archive is collaborating with others to share its collection and streamline the search process.

A level playing field

“There is a need for a fast turnaround with materials. Students [with print disabilities] need a level playing field,” said John Unsworth, dean of libraries at the University of Virginia. “The library is not just here for the able-bodied.”

John Unsworth, University of Virginia

UVA is working with the Internet Archive, BookShare, and the HathiTrust to reduce duplication of efforts across the country to convert text materials to accessible formats. Together, they are participating in the Federating Repositories of Accessible Materials for Higher Education (FRAME) project funded with a $1 million grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Since 2019, the partners have established Educational Materials Made Accessible (EMMA), a hub and repository for digitized materials. The pilot includes six other universities: George Mason University, University of Virginia, Texas A&M University, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Northern Arizona, University of Wisconsin-Madison and Vanderbilt University.


“When looking at the intersection between copyright and civil rights…civil rights win every time”

John Unsworth, university librarian, University of Virginia

EMMA provides DSO staff (on behalf of students) with a central place to retrieve—and library staff re-deposit—machine-readable texts from the Internet Archive, HathiTrust, and Bookshare. It provides a searchable database to locate materials requested by students more efficiently. Users can filter by repository, format and accessibility features—which will become more valuable as texts are remediated. The project relies on the Internet Archive as a large digital repository to provide a federated network of storage and delivery, as well as technical expertise.

Unsworth said the goal of EMMA is to speed up access to materials and help DSOs avoid duplication. If faculty tinker with a syllabus and add a book at the last minute, students with print disabilities need to be able to have a copy they can use at the same time their peers do. “It’s the nature of education that what you need to read changes during the semester,” Unsworth said. “[Students with print disabilities] can’t get materials at the last minute when everyone else has had it for two weeks.”

Often, libraries are not involved in collecting, cataloguing, or preserving educational materials for people with disabilities on their own campus, or making them discoverable to others. EMMA is designed to connect DSOs and libraries on the same campus — and with other institutions. Once materials are remediated, DSOs put them in a drop box that the library validates with the new metadata and uploads it.  “Libraries shoulder the burden of sharing—and by doing that, they help fulfill their mission,” Unsworth said.

Despite publisher warnings about what DSOs can do with their remediated content, Unsworth said concerns are not supported by law. “When looking at the intersection between copyright and civil rights…civil rights win every time,” Unsworth said. “Libraries are used to pushing back on publisher claims. Libraries bring a willingness to stand up to appropriate use rights.”

A coordinating hub for materials was desperately needed and, Unsworth said, something DSOs have been waiting to have for years.


“Everyone should have the same shot at succeeding”

– Angella Anderson, disability specialist, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Angella Anderson, UIUC

Based on a student’s syllabus, Angella Anderson, a disability specialist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, arranges for needed accessible materials for students at all levels—from undergraduates to law students to doctoral students. “We have several students who—without this service—would have had significant challenges being successful in their programs.”

Now, with EMMA, if a book or journal article a student needs is already shared on the hub, the DSO can download it and save time. Anderson estimates it has cut her time searching for learning materials by half. “The problem we’ve all had over the years is that we are converting the same book at the same time. That’s a huge resource drain,” Anderson said, noting the potential benefit of EMMA. “Everyone should have the same shot at succeeding at whatever it is they want to do, so I feel this will be extremely useful to a lot of schools and a lot of students.”

Canadian efforts advance

In Canada, the Internet Archive supports work of the Accessible Content E-Portal (ACE), a service of the Ontario Council of University Libraries. At the Internet Archive digitization center at the University of Toronto, staff digitize on demand and prioritize requests received by ACE from students who need materials for accessibility. The turnaround used to take weeks, but Andrea Mills, digitization program manager, said the system has been improved and students with print disabilities now can get materials digitized often in less than two days. 

Andrea Mills, Internet Archive

Mills said requested materials most often include non-fiction research books and novels, often printed between 1990 and 2010—before e-books were widely available. Elsewhere in Canada at the University of Alberta, another Internet Archive scanning center provides the same service, through their Accessibility Resources office, to students who have qualifying perceptual challenges.. 

“Sometimes people not part of the mainstream are forgotten,” Mills said. “It may only be a handful of users who have this need, and not represent a high number of downloads or uses, but these are people who truly need assistance.”

Learn more

Librarians: Join our free program to qualify your patrons to access the Internet Archive’s resources for users with print disabilities. Individuals can gain access by having a qualifying authority like the Vermont Mutual Aid Society enroll you in their program.

Howard University Joins Open Libraries, Embraces Digital Access for Students

Howard University’s Founders Library. Image courtesy Tyrone Turner / WAMU

Like campuses across the country, Howard University in Washington, D.C., shut down last March when COVID-19 hit. Most of its nearly 6,000 undergraduate students have been remote learning ever since.

Without access to the physical library, demand for e-books has increased.  The university recently joined the Open Libraries program to expand the digital materials that students can borrow. Through the program, users can check out a digital version of a book the library owns using controlled digital lending (CDL).

Amy Phillips, head of technical services for Howard University Libraries, learned about the opportunity last fall through the Washington Research Library Consortium. Howard is one of nine D.C.-area libraries in the nonprofit consortium, which recently collaborated with the Internet Archive to do an overlap analysis of its shared collection. When the digital materials became available to use for free through the consortia, Howard decided to join, too.

After Alisha Strother, metadata librarian, ran an analysis of books in the Howard collection by International Standard Book Number (ISBN), it was discovered that more than 14,000 books matched a copy that the Internet Archive had acquired and digitized. Howard decided to join the Open Libraries program in January. This means that students can now check out these Howard books from across the country as they engage in online instruction.

“I see this as being an important resource for students to be able to access materials from anywhere,” Phillips said. “And I think it will have value and be heavily utilized even when we are back on campus.”

Historic view of Howard University’s Founders Library.

Howard is one of nearly 100 historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) in the United States. One of Howard’s most important entities is the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, which is recognized as one of the world’s largest and most comprehensive repositories for the documentation of the history and cultural of people of African descent in Africa, the Americas and other parts of the world. Portions of its materials are also now available for digital borrowing through the Open Libraries program. The collection will now have greater exposure since it had previously only been accessible onsite for researchers who scheduled appointments. 

“This opens up a premier collection to public usage. From a scholarly and cultural point of view, this material is very much in demand,” Phillips said. “Looking forward, we think it will get a lot of traffic.”

COVID-19 has disproportionately affected people of color, prompting Howard to be cautious and extending online learning into the spring semester for most all students, Phillips said.  The university is doing all it can to connect students with resources and its libraries have been investing more in digital items. But budgets are limited and licensing agreements curb the library’s ability to broadly lend e-books.

“The Internet Archive has been an important way to open up more library materials to students,” said Phillips, adding that it’s new and just beginning to be promoted to students and faculty. “We’re excited and we know this will have a positive impact on student success and scholarship.”

Mythbusting Controlled Digital Lending: Community Rallies to Fight Misinformation About the Library Practice

Academics, legal experts, and authors explained the thoughtful reasoning and compelling need for libraries to engage in Controlled Digital Lending (CDL) at a webinar hosted by the Internet Archive and Library Futures on February 11. A recording of the session is now available.

The panel dispelled myths about CDL, the digital lending model in which a library lends a digital version of a print book it owns. Emphasizing the limited and controlled aspect of the practice, the speakers said CDL allows libraries to fulfill their mission of serving the public in the digital age. The global pandemic only underscores the importance of providing flexibility in how people can access information.

Isn’t CDL digital piracy? No, CDL is not like Napster, said Kyle K. Courtney, copyright advisor at Harvard University, referring to the music file-sharing service. Twenty years ago, the actions of Napster were ruled illegal because it made unlimited reproductions of MP3 music to anyone, anywhere.

“CDL uses technology to replicate a library’s right to loan works in a digital format—one user at a time,” Courntey said. Libraries are using rights they already have, leveraging the same technology as publishers to make sure that the books are controlled when they’re loaned—not duplicated, copied or redistributed.

“Libraries are not pirates. There is a vast difference between the Napster mission and the library mission,” Courtney said. “We can loan books to patrons. Only now we’re harnessing that right in the digital space.”

In laying out the rationale behind CDL, Courtney described the “superpower” granted to libraries by Congress through copyright law to serve the public. The “fair use” section of the law allows libraries to responsibly lend materials, and experts say logically includes both print and digital works.

The webinar featured the premiere of “Controlled Digital Lending Explained,” a short video that describes how CDL works.

The idea of “fair use” has been around as long as there has been copyright, and it applies to new technologies, said Michelle Wu, attorney and law librarian at the webinar. The Internet Archive did not invent CDL. Wu is the visionary behind CDL, developing the concept in 2002 as a way to protect a library’s print collection from natural disaster—an imperative she faced in rebuilding a library destroyed by flooding.

Just as libraries lend out entire books, fair use allows the scanning of whole books, said panelist Sandra Aya Enimil, copyright librarian and contract specialist at Yale University. The law makes no mention of the amount of material that can be made available under “fair use,” so for libraries to fulfill their purpose they can make complete books—whether in print or digital—available to patrons, she said.

It’s a myth that librarians need author and publisher permission for CDL, explained Jill Hurst-Wahl, copyright scholar and professor emerita in Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies. “Authors and publisher control ends at the time a book is published, then fair use begins,” she said. “Once a work is legally acquired by you, by a library, the copyright owners’ rights are exhausted.”

Library lending is viewed as fair use, in part, because it is focused on socially beneficial, non-commercial outcomes, like literacy, said Hurst-Wahl. Also, libraries loan physical books without concern about the market effect—so the same rules apply if a digital version of the book is substituted.

CDL does not harm authors or publisher sales, the panelists emphasized. Indeed, it can provide welcome exposure.

“The reality is that CDL can help authors by enhancing discoverability, availability and accessibility of their works,” said Brianna Schofield, executive director of Authors Alliance, speaking at the event. “It helps authors to spread their ideas, and it helps authors to build their audiences.”

Many of the books that are circulated by CDL are rare, out-of-print books that would otherwise be unavailable. This source material can be useful for writers as they develop their creative works.

“Digital and physical libraries contribute to a healthy publishing ecosystem and increase sales and engagement for creative works,” said Jennie Rose Halpin, executive director of Library Futures, a newly formed nonprofit coalition advocating for libraries to operate in the digital space. Research shows that leveraged digitization increases sales of physical additions by about 34% and increases the likelihood of any sale by 92%, particularly for less popular and out-of-print works.

Because digitized versions can be made more readily available, CDL can extend access to library collections to people with print disabilities or mobility issues, the panelists noted. CDL also allows libraries to preserve material in safe, digital formats with the best interest of the public—not profits—at the center of its work.

“People love books and will buy if they’re able. But we have to remember that paper books and even some ebooks do not serve the needs of all readers,” said Andrea Mills, digitization program manager at the Internet Archive and lead on the Archive’s accessibility efforts. “Accessibility is a human right that must be vigilantly protected.”

For anyone interested in learning more about how to get involved with CDL, the Internet Archive now has 2 million books available to borrow for free, and an active program for libraries that want to make their collections available through CDL. 

“The CDL community of practice is thriving,” said Chris Freeland, director of Open Libraries at the Internet Archive.  “We are in a pandemic. Libraries are closed. Schools are closed. CDL just makes sense and solves problems of access.”

 To learn more about CDL, and to show your support for the library practice, join the #EmpoweringLibraries movement.

Community gathers for an online celebration of Michelson Cinema Research Library

Lillian Michelson was celebrated as a “force of nature” librarian devoted to helping Hollywood filmmakers get the details right at an event on January 27 to unveil a new online home at the Internet Archive for her extensive collection of books, photos, scrapbooks and clippings.

The Michelson Cinema Research Library was opened with an animated version of the research icon cutting a virtual ribbon to an audience of more than 300 people watching online. The public got a first glimpse of 1,300 books that are now digitally available—part of a million items in the rich collection that Michelson donated to the Internet Archive in December.

“Now, for the first time, anyone, anywhere on the planet can go roam into the halls of Lillian’s research library,” said Thomas Walsh, a production designer and former president of the Art Directors Guild, speaking on a panel at the event. “It’s a really unique, eclectic collection. The books go back to the 1700s. Nothing she had is in print anymore. It’s an extraordinary range of material.”

The Michelson Cinema Research Library included some 1600 boxes of photographs, clipping files and books, used by production designers and art directors to create the visual look for a movie.

Walsh looked for nearly eight years to find a place to house the content, which art directors and others relied on for creating accurate visual backstories to movies. Whether it was finding blueprints of a nuclear submarine or photos of the interior of a 1950s police station, Michelson was respected for being tenacious in pursuit of answers to inform movie productions. In Michelson’s decades of research, she worked on movies such as Rosemary’s Baby, Scarface, Fiddler on the Roof, Full Metal Jacket, The Graduate, and The Birds.

At the Internet Archive Physical Repository, Brewster Kahle greets the arrival of materials from the Michelson Cinema Research Library in December 2020.

Brewster Kahle, Digital Librarian and founder of the Internet Archive, said he was amazed when he opened up the first boxes from the Michelson Library and saw the variety and extent of raw materials. Making an internet equivalent of the library will be a huge challenge, but one that also is a great opportunity.

“It’s not just a hodge-podge of used books. It is a complete collection that served a community. It comes with a focus,” Kahle said of the Michelson Cinema Research Library that filled some 1600 boxes on 45 pallets. “The Internet Archive is starting to receive whole libraries. The idea of bringing those online is not just bringing those books and materials online. It’s bringing a community online.”

Daniel Raim, Academy Award-nominated director and panelist at the event, described Michelson as a storyteller whose work was central to helping create a movie’s narrative.

“I always found it fascinating to spend time in Lillian’s library— — and now online at the Internet Archive—it sparks your imagination,” said Raim, who produced and directed a 2015 documentary Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story, about Michelson, now 92, and her husband, Harold, a storyboard artist and production designer, who died in 2007. The film pays tribute to the beloved couple and their contribution behind the scenes to some of the greatest movies in the past 50 years.

After the panel discussion, the Internet Archives hosted a viewing party of the documentary.

Heartbeat of Marygrove College Continues with Online Library Collection

Students in the Reading Room at Marygrove College Library, c. 1982. IHM Archives, Monroe, MI.

For nearly 100 years, the Marygrove College library was the hub of activity on campus. The small, liberal arts college in Detroit didn’t have a student union, so the library served as the heartbeat of campus, offering students a place to study, learn and socialize.

“The Marygrove library was very unique. It was a place where students came for help and to see their classmates,” says Laura Manley, a librarian from 2005-2015. “If they didn’t understand something about an assignment, they would find out from others and network in the library.”

As enrollment dropped and financial pressures mounted, the college closed in December 2019. The fate of the library collection was uncertain. Administrators explored avenues to sell or dispose of the books but decided instead to donate the entire collection to the Internet Archive. More than 70,000 volumes were boxed up and then scanned into a digital format. The physical copies were put into storage and the Archive makes one digital version of each item available for free check out through its Controlled Digital Lending (CDL) program.

Rather than shut its doors permanently, the library has a new home online. The Internet Archive celebrated the reopening of the Marygrove College Library last October, offering a way for the heart of the Marygrove campus to keep beating.

Jennifer Meacham, former Marygrove College librarian.

“I was thrilled with the idea that the collection went as a body and could live on,” says Jennifer Meacham, who worked at the library for 15 years. “The library had a long history of expanding to meet the growing needs of the student body as it changed.”

Marygrove began as a Catholic women’s college, eventually becoming co-ed and predominantly African American, reflecting the demographics of the surrounding community. Professors emphasized not just learning in the classroom, but the importance of making the world a better place, says Meacham. That translated into a need for materials on social justice issues. And because librarians worked closely with students, they were able to learn about their specific research projects and purchase materials tailored to their interests.

As Meacham curated the children’s book collection at Marygrove, she intentionally bought books with black and brown characters covering issues that were relatable to students who teachers graduating from the college would have in class. Once the collection was made available online, Meacham says she eagerly browsed through the diverse collection and was pleased to know it is now freely available to anyone.

Jeffrey Zachwieja, former Marygrove College librarian.

Jeffrey Zachwieja was hired in 1996 as a reference and instruction librarian as Marygrove was beginning to move from card catalogues to an automated system with electronic databases. “We wanted to preserve the past, but move to the future,” says Zachwieja, who built the library’s first website. Care was taken to keep the collection current while keeping books that reflected the deep history of various fields of study at the college, including education and religion.

The library became a go-to spot for technology, providing many students with their only access to the internet or a computer. Librarians provided individual support to students as they navigated new platforms and software programs.

Students needing help at the library reflected the span of the student body from undergraduates who had come through the Detroit Public Schools to graduate students in their 30s and 40s. Manley says it was fulfilling to work with the students one-on-one, especially those who had limited technology experience and relied heavily on the library.

Meacham says the library tried to provide a range of services in all things related to information. Librarians recommended materials for research papers, direction on bibliographies, feedback to make sure students weren’t plagiarizing, and an audience to practice a presentation. “The library was seen as a human resource,” she says. “We had a very good reputation and would bend over backwards for students and faculty,” she says.

Manley says the experience at Marygrove changed how she viewed access to education.

Laura Manley, former Marygrove College librarian.

“I went from thinking when I first started my career that people should succeed by merit. But what I witnessed is there were all kinds of bright students who should have knowledge readily available. But they had to struggle because of reasons that were no fault of their own,” says Manley. “Whether they didn’t have a solid enough K-12 or it was socioeconomics, not everyone starts at the same playing field. Sometimes you have to bring someone up to speed to be able to fly. They are just as worthy and have just as much potential.”

Librarians at Marygrove went beyond their traditional role to help support students. “Our goal was to help students succeed. Once they had a foundation, they could do anything,” Manley says.

If you’d like to learn more about the Marygrove College Library, you can watch a video about the collection and read more about the donation in our previous blog posts.