Librarian: If the publishers’ lawsuit is successful, “libraries of all varieties and the communities they serve will suffer.”

On July 8, 2022, Benjamin Saracco, medical school librarian, spoke at a press conference about the copyright lawsuit brought against the Internet Archive by four commercial publishers. These are his remarks:

Hi everyone. My name is Benjamin Saracco, and I’m a research and digital services faculty librarian at an academic medical and hospital library in New Jersey. My library serves the doctors, nurses, residents, and other healthcare workers in the hospital, and also the students, faculty, and staff of the medical school. 

The start of the COVID-19 pandemic was an extremely stressful time for me and my colleagues at the hospital library. In March 2020, the Governor of New Jersey signed an executive order that closed all libraries in the state. Even the physical books in my hospital’s library were unavailable to circulate for a period of time during the pandemic. I remember being flooded with requests from medical students, nurses, and doctors during that time, particularly front line healthcare workers that were seeking information about COVID-19 and COVID-19 clinical care information to address the high rates of hospitalization in our state. 

Some of the most commonly checked out physical materials in our library are training materials for patient care. While our hospital library’s physical collections were closed due to the pandemic, I received multiple requests for at least two such materials: a Manual for Basic Life Support, known as the BLS Manual for Healthcare Providers and the Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support Provider Manual. These books are used to train front line healthcare workers to handle life-threatening emergencies, for example by giving CPR or using an automated external defibrillator in cases of cardiac arrest, as well as more advanced skills to treat patients in life-threatening circumstances, many of which arose during COVID-19 in our hospital. Since our physical collection was unavailable, I searched for ebook versions of these materials in our database and did not find any.

However, I was able to locate older editions of both books that were available for borrowing at the Internet Archive, and was able to direct the healthcare workers requesting these materials to the digitized books at the Internet Archive. I also provided a demonstration over Zoom to medical school faculty on how to use the Internet Archive’s lending library to search for materials that might be useful for the curriculum.  As you can imagine, converting in person instruction for medical students training to be doctors such as working with human cadavers in a gross anatomy lab was a challenging endeavor to convert to a digital format.

From my educational and professional experiences as a librarian, especially during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, I know the Internet Archive is an extremely valuable resource for the public. I have immense respect for the important work they are doing to ensure access to information through a digital medium.

As a professional librarian of over 12 years and an author and journal editor myself, I have been trained to always respect the rights of authors and publishers. In my view, the Internet Archive’s lending library is consistent with those rights. The library’s practice of controlled digital lending was a lifeline at the start of the pandemic and has become an essential service and a public good since. If the publishers are successful in their pursuit to shut down the Internet Archive’s lending library and stop all libraries from practicing controlled digital lending, libraries of all varieties and the communities they serve will suffer.