Temporary National Emergency Library to close 2 weeks early, returning to traditional controlled digital lending

Within a few days of the announcement that libraries, schools and colleges across the nation would be closing due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, we launched the temporary National Emergency Library to provide books to support emergency remote teaching, research activities, independent scholarship, and intellectual stimulation during the closures. 

We have heard hundreds of stories from librarians, authors, parents, teachers, and students about how the NEL has filled an important gap during this crisis. 

Ben S., a librarian from New Jersey, for example, told us that he used the NEL “to find basic life support manuals needed by frontline medical workers in the academic medical center I work at. Our physical collection was closed due to COVID-19 and the NEL allowed me to still make available needed health informational materials to our hospital patrons.” We are proud to aid frontline workers.

Today we are announcing the National Emergency Library will close on June 16th, rather than June 30th, returning to traditional controlled digital lending. We have learned that the vast majority of people use digitized books on the Internet Archive for a very short time. Even with the closure of the NEL, we will be able to serve most patrons through controlled digital lending, in part because of the good work of the non-profit HathiTrust Digital Library. HathiTrust’s new Emergency Temporary Access Service features a short-term access model that we plan to follow. 

We moved up our schedule because, last Monday, four commercial publishers chose to sue Internet Archive during a global pandemic.  However, this lawsuit is not just about the temporary National Emergency Library. The complaint attacks the concept of any library owning and lending digital books, challenging the very idea of what a library is in the digital world. This lawsuit stands in contrast to some academic publishers who initially expressed concerns about the NEL, but ultimately decided to work with us to provide access to people cut off from their physical schools and libraries. We hope that similar cooperation is possible here, and the publishers call off their costly assault.

Controlled digital lending is how many libraries have been providing access to digitized books for nine years.  Controlled digital lending is a legal framework, developed by copyright experts, where one reader at a time can read a digitized copy of a legally owned library book. The digitized book is protected by the same digital protections that publishers use for the digital offerings on their own sites. Many libraries, including the Internet Archive, have adopted this system since 2011 to leverage their investments in older print books in an increasingly digital world.

We are now all Internet-bound and flooded with misinformation and disinformation—to fight these we all need access to books more than ever. To get there we need collaboration between libraries, authors, booksellers, and publishers.  

Let’s build a digital system that works.

42 thoughts on “Temporary National Emergency Library to close 2 weeks early, returning to traditional controlled digital lending

  1. Pingback: Temporary National Emergency Library to Close 2 Weeks Early, Returning To Traditional Controlled Digital Lending | LJ infoDOCKET

  2. Whitney B

    HathiTrust’s model is based on library’s owning a copy of the resource. Since IA doesn’t have record of what library’s own, could you please clarify exactly how your short-term model will work after June 16th? Thank you!

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  7. Frances Grimble

    And, um, don’t traditional libraries actually *pay” to lend copyrighted books as e-books? Instead of scanning without paying or getting permission?

  8. Don

    The best thing about IA is that it does not discriminate non-US citizens.

    Hathitrust restricted books are only available via US-library or educational access. https://www.hathitrust.org/etas-approved-libraries

    Project Gutenberg has blocked Germany from viewing the Gutenberg web site.

    IA is in fact the largest library that can be accessed from all over the world, exactly what the world needs.

    1. Nemo

      And exactly what publishers don’t want, because they believe that copyright is a right to infinite market segmentation to maximise profits and reduce the general welfare as much as possible, as made clear in the text of their complaint. Too bad such a right is nowhere to be seen in any country’s constitution.

  9. Rafael

    A new york times article led me to Archive.org, and when I signed up I thought this is too good to be true. The majority of the books I’ve checked out are hard to find and not available at my local library. When I read a couple about the dissatisfied publishers and authors complaining about copyright infringement about a month ago, I knew it was only a matter of time before the corporate world would interfere with archive.org’s benevolence.

    The daily journal printed an article recently about the filed lawsuit and I was waiting to what the next step is. I sadden to hear that the digital libraries existence is being challenged.

    I’ll keep a vigilant eye and band with my fellow archive.org members in solidarity.

  10. Roland

    I’ve benefitted from the digital lending.

    When I decided to try programming in Visual Basic for MS DOS, there were no online resources. The program was relevant for a short period of time and became quickly obsolete before the rise of the internet.

    But lo and behold the internet archive had a how-to book that I could borrow. It was such a valuable resource. One I think my local library would not have had.

    The one-at-a-time borrowing is fair, and I hope they drop the lawsuit. Or that if they don’t, you fight it and help set a precedent.

    What it’s the point of preserving these texts if you can’t share them with those who want to read them?

  11. Goldwater Cheng

    The Internet Archive has done the world an enormous favor by digitizing books, especially old, out-of-print books and making them accessible worldwide. As an avid reader living in Thailand (and traveling around Asia prior to COVID-19), I’m ever so grateful for its service.

    The publishers’ actions are denying readers around the globe access to printed books – books not digitized nor sold outside the USA. There would be no means of buying and having them shipped during a pandemic lockdown, when countries had sealed up borders and suspended international flights. I was beyond ecstatic when I found books I needed – digitized and available for loan – at the Open Library!
    Those publishers who value profit more than universal and timeless access should also know that a vast number of their books simply aren’t purchasable on Kindle or Google or Apple stores because they are not digitized. Driving Internet Archive into bankruptcy – for the sake of a few more dollars – helps ensure their respective name goes down poorly in posterity. Their actions against a visionary, historic effort deserve boycotts for generations to come. The writers who join them, however lofty their works yet distastefully penny wise – are no exception. I’ve decided not to buy or read their books from now.

    And I would wholeheartedly join any petition to sustain and support the Internet Archive and Open Library. The COVID-infiltrated world now needs it more than ever before.

  12. Melissa Finn

    The NEL saved me and my research project at a critical time when my city’s multiple university libraries shutdown and materials weren’t available as e-books on any other archive that I could access. I am indebted to the NEL in providing the public with access to these materials during the Covid-19 shutdown. Thank you.

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  14. icreate

    We are now all Internet-bound and flooded with misinformation and disinformation—to fight these we all need access to books more than ever. To get there we need collaboration between libraries, authors, booksellers, and publishers.

    That’s true!!

  15. Mitchell Golden

    Can you tell me if the publishers sent a cease and desist letter before suing? Did it just come out of the blue?

  16. ایران نوا

    HathiTrust’s model is based on library’s owning a copy of the resource. Since IA doesn’t have record of what library’s own, could you please clarify exactly how your short-term model will work after June 16th? Thank you!

  17. Stacy

    The NEL was a lifeline during school and library closures this spring. Thank you for your hard work.

  18. Sam

    Instead of demanding payment per book would a subscription model work where the Internet Archive pays the publishers an annual free and can then lend their books?

    I suppose the costs would be prohibitive.

    The internet archive falling would be tragic.

  19. JP

    I love the fact that IA is non-discriminatory, that it is open to all and doesn’t differentiate between citizens of the US and the world. What the NEL was doing was something great and am sorry to hear that it is closing 2 weeks earlier than planned. When people are suffering and dying through out the world, it seems mean that the publishers are worried about their profits. And these are not small, indie publishers but publishing giants whose business wasn’t going to fold up in a matter of months. Sad.

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