Michelle Wu began working at the University of Houston Law Library in the wake of flooding from Tropical Storm Allison in 2001. Some parts of the city had 14 feet of water and the library took in at least 8 feet. Law books on the lower level were underwater and the lingering humidity produced mold that destroyed much of the remaining collection.
“I wanted to create a model that would allow libraries to be able to preserve collections while respecting copyright in a world where natural disasters are a growing threat,” said Wu, now associate dean for library services and professor of law at the Georgetown Law Library in Washington, D.C. “Digitizing a collection and storing it under existing standards ensures that there is always a backed-up copy somewhere. During and after any disaster, the user would never lose access and the government would not have to reinvest to rebuild collections.” Controlled Digital Lending–the digital equivalent of traditional library lending–is a model that achieves these purposes.
For libraries with fewer resources, CDL can also be a tool to maximize public dollars and improve access. Once a library determines that its community no longer has a need for a certain CDL book (or as many copies as owned), the extra copies can be shared with libraries that never had access and would never have access without collaborative efforts.
“It’s a way of wealth sharing without much cost to communities,” Wu said. “Storage,
digitization, and system costs would have already been budgeted by the lending library, CDL requires no shipping costs to be paid by either party, and the lending library’s community won’t feel the loss of copies as local need has decreased.”
“It’s a way to build a more robust collection for all of us to use. It helps the community and
society at large in the long term,” said Wu. “That’s not something any of us can do alone. The only way we will do it is if we do it together.”