Scholars will soon have online access to 250,000 research volumes from a premier theological school, thanks to a donation from the Claremont School of Theology to the Internet Archive.
Strengths of the collection include Comparative Theology and Philosophy, Feminist Theology, and Afro-Carribean spirituality. In addition to the 250,000 volumes, the library is donating its Ancient Biblical Manuscripts Collection, the world’s largest collection of images of ancient religious (Jewish and Christian, biblical and extra-biblical) manuscripts, currently housed on microfilm. Half to three quarters of the collection contains images of manuscripts which are not currently available on the web from any provider.
The donation stems from a 2019 decision by Claremont, an independent theological school in Southern California, to affiliate with Willamette University in Salem, Oregon.
Claremont students began making the transition to studying in Oregon in the fall of 2019.
The cross-state move also required relocating the institution’s Religious Studies research collection. Unfortunately, a large percentage of religious studies materials only exist in print and many tomes are out of print.
The institution’s board worried about cutting scholars off during the move. Physical materials can be lent between research institutions via interlibrary loan, but that leaves unaffiliated researchers without access. And public health concerns during the COVID-19 crisis have given these arrangements an uncertain future.
So the Board of Trustees authorized a donation to the Internet Archive so the 250,000 piece collection could be placed in the Internet Archive’s Open Library for controlled digital lending, and the Ancient Biblical Manuscripts Collection can be mobilized and made available online. The Internet Archive will find funding for the digitization and long-term preservation of the collections.
Controlled digital lending allows a library to digitize a book it owns and lend out a secured digital version to one user at a time, in place of the physical item.
“Claremont School of Theology is delighted to partner with the Internet Archive in making accessible these prized collections of a research library for the general public,” said Dr. Jeffrey Kuan, President of Claremont School of Theology and Professor of Hebrew Bible. “Our alumni/ae are excited that they will soon have access again to the library that they had come to treasure as students.”
”The CST board approved this donation in large measure to increase global access to religious studies scholarship,” said Thomas E. Phillips, Dean of the Library at Claremont School of Theology when announcing the donation. “These volumes include many very important and very recent resources in the field.”
“The Internet Archive is delighted to add this important religious studies research collection to its Open Library program and make it widely available to scholars. This donation shows how a growing number of libraries are focusing on providing controlled digital lending access to their collections, to ensure legally purchased, library-owned and library-borrowed materials are available to researchers, readers and scholars regardless of where they live,” said Brewster Kahle, Digital Librarian and Founder of the Internet Archive.
Juneteenth celebrates when enslaved people actually became free in 1865. The date, June 19th, commemorates General Gordon Granger of the Union Army announcing the executive order in Galveston, Texas, freeing all enslaved people in Texas.
Community access TV stations around the country have shown local celebrations of Juneteenth for years, and we thought this 2013 talk by Dr. Shennette Garrett-Scott at the Allen Public Library in Texas (via Allen City TV) was particularly helpful in understanding the history of this important day.
This morning, we were disappointed to read that four commercial publishers are suing the Internet Archive.
As a library, the Internet Archive acquires books and lends them, as libraries have always done. This supports publishing, authors and readers. Publishers suing libraries for lending books, in this case protected digitized versions, and while schools and libraries are closed, is not in anyone’s interest.
by Theron Cosgrave, an educational specialist in school redesign and teacher training
Almost three months of pandemic-inspired school closures have made one thing painfully clear for educators: distance learning is a completely different ballgame than in-person teaching. Worries about classroom management and test prep have taken a temporary backseat to challenges with student WiFi access and cyber hygiene concerns like “zoomboming,” the colloquial term for when an uninvited guest appears in a video call.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the need for high-quality learning resources to engage students. Despite all its challenges, this time has fostered a renaissance of online tool sharing. In my school consulting practice I’ve been connecting educators with a variety of links to help ease the transition online, and out of all the digital resources I’ve seen, the National Emergency Library recently rose to the top of my list of the best tools for remote learning.
Using any internet-connected device, teachers and students can borrow free online digital books from the National Emergency Library’s massive collection. Here are some specific ways that educators can benefit from this tool:
Teachers can use the Library to connect students with many of the books that are currently locked away in shuttered classrooms and school libraries, including hundreds of titles found on Common Core reading lists. Need a copy of The Paper Crane to read aloud to your first graders during a video call? Done. Want your fourth graders to read the Christopher Paul Curtis story Bud, Not Buddy?Send them the link. Looking for a copy of Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee for your high school history class? The Library has that too.
At the university level, the National Emergency Library enables college instructors to conduct and assign research despite limited access to their own university collections. And while you may not teach at MIT or University of Oklahoma, you can borrow titles that these institutions have in their collections.
LIBRARIANS & LIBRARY TECHNICIANS
School libraries—particularly at the K-12 level—have struggled to transition their services online in such a short timeframe. Fortunately, the National Emergency Library can fill the gap. Librarians at the K-12 and college level can link the Library to their school websites and notify their teachers and students that books are still available through digital lending.
District and school-level leaders currently developing plans for reopening schools in the fall with social distancing practices in place can lean on the services of the National Emergency Library’s parent organization, the Internet Archive, to ensure students have full digital access to core texts. Schools that join the Archive’s Open Libraries initiative can be assured they have reliable library access in case of any possible school closures in the future.
Educators have plenty to worry about during these unprecedented times. Fortunately, with the help of the National Emergency Library, accessing engaging books is no longer one of them.
While people all over the world have been at home due to COVID-19, recent reports about library usage indicate they have turned to books for comfort and enjoyment. Our own site has seen an increase in traffic and bandwidth consumption, and usage of our digital library has increased as well. Given our current situation with COVID-19, it may be no surprise that certain titles have captured the reading public’s attention, such as Sylvia Browne’s “End of Days,” in which the author predicts “around 2020 a severe pneumonia-like illness will spread throughout the globe…”
The book has been available through the Internet Archive’s controlled digital lending library since 2014, but had virtually no checkouts or usage until it became “buzzy”—it was featured in a popular social media post in early March and since then, the preview of the page has been included in a number of popular web sites and publications. Because of this interest, the book continues to be among the top viewed at the Internet Archive right now. But interestingly enough, people aren’t checking the book out. They preview the one page with the timely prediction, and then they browse away from the book. This isn’t an isolated event—other books in our library have also seen dramatic increases in interest simply due to popular news.
In the case of “Wasted,” the book originally had a limited print run, so there were very few copies in libraries. It was a “buzzy” title—everyone wanted a copy, including both political parties, the media, and Justice Kavanaugh’s supporters and detractors. Because of the limited supply and high demand, book sellers were offering used copies for thousands of dollars online. It was essentially impossible to locate a copy.
Among those few libraries with a copy was Boston Public Library, which had one copy housed in their non-circulating research collection. Using their existing on-site Internet Archive scanning center, they scanned the book, returned the physical copy to the closed stacks, and made the digital copy available through controlled digital lending to one user at a time.
Where controlled digital lending didn’t work was meeting the immediate demand of a crushing media news cycle that wanted to read the book. Because there was only one physical copy of the book, only one person could checkout the digital copy and read it at a time, and with our standard 14 day circulation period, the digital book would circulate an estimated 30 times per year. Those who wanted to queue up to read the book could join a waitlist, just like at your public library. And they did. Within 24 hours of making the book available at archive.org, its waitlist had jumped to more than 400 people. In the nearly 18 months since, the waitlist topped out at more than 800 people, meaning that someone joining the list at its peak would be waiting more than 20 years for their turn to read.
But all of that changed when we launched the National Emergency Library which gave us an unexpected opportunity for an experiment. By suspending waitlists for our books, all of the users on the waitlist could check out the book without delay. We notified users by email, as is our norm, that they could now check out the book.
It turned out most users did not want to check out the book when they were eventually offered the opportunity. Some did check out the book, but few. In the week after the launch of the NEL, 50 copies were on loan. Following our previously reported circulation patterns, 90% of those borrows go stagnant within the first hour (most much faster), meaning that users stop interacting with the book, so there were may be closer to five actual readers of the book. Today, the book is not checked out by any users. This blog post will again raise interest in the book, and so it will likely have more borrows over the next week (the number likely depends on the reach of this post) before it again returns to a lower, post-buzz circulation level.
“End of Days” and “Wasted” aren’t unique. Current events will often trigger a fleetingly higher interest in older books on various topics. And so what does this mean? Here are some preliminary thoughts, with more to come in a subsequent blog post:
“Buzzy” titles have a short shelf life. Once the news cycle moves on, so does public interest. Though it numbered in the 800s, the waitlist for “Wasted” showed pent up, and ultimately expired, demand for the title, especially since the news story is now nearly 18 months old. Once waitlists were relaxed and all of those users could finally read the book, the vast majority didn’t. We expect a similar pattern to emerge around “End of Days” once our waitlists are restored.
People rarely read the book even after checking it out. When it comes to these buzzy titles most users just want to flip through to see the interesting bits and then move on because they’re not really interested in the subject of the book, just the news story. It’s a similar pattern to the users who come to our books through a citation in Wikipedia—they’re brought into our books through a link to a page, they read the page or two they need for context or verification, and then they’re out of the book. The difference with Wikipedia links, however, is that those links help users identify books that they can check out and dive into deeper if they’re working on a research project or term paper, so the motivation to engage with the book is stronger than for the average social media post.
As previously highlighted, two weeks after the NEL launch we posted early usage and circulation trends that we had observed. We plan to release an update on those trends and to report any additional findings about how people are using the NEL. We highlight these data so that our community can have a better understanding of what’s being used in the NEL and how it’s being accessed, so that we can build these considerations into future digital library infrastructures.
Library directors and staff are facing incredible challenges in meeting their community’s needs during this unprecedented time of library closure. As a recent article by NISO Director of Content, Jill O’Neill, points out “[o]ne take-away from this global pandemic might be the humble recognition that there are existing needs in the marketplace that are not satisfactorily served by current access models.” In the meantime, with the majority of the nation’s libraries closed, librarians are turning to a variety of currently available digital content resources to meet patron needs while their physical collections are unavailable for use.
One of the librarians leading the charge is Michael Blackwell, Director of St. Mary’s County Library, in coastal Maryland. Michael is active in a variety of eBook working groups at the state and national level, and champions the role of digital content in meeting the needs of the residents of his rural Maryland county. Another voice in this conversation is Lisa Radha Weaver, Director of Collections and Program Development at Hamilton Public Library, in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. With a circulation of more than 7 million items each year, Hamilton Public Library serves its community of more than 750,000 residents through a variety of programs that are all currently suspended due to COVID-19. Similarly, Kelvin Watson, Director of Broward County Libraries, in southern Florida, is leading his staff and community through this remarkable moment in library history. Serving a population of nearly 2 million people, the Broward County Library system circulates more than 10 million items each year through its 38 branches, all of which are currently closed.
All three librarians took time from their hectic schedules to talk with the Internet Archive about their operations during closure, the role of digital content in meeting the needs of their patrons, and the value of digital libraries in the COVID-19 era.
Chris Freeland, Internet Archive: As of this writing your libraries are currently closed because of COVID-19. How are you reaching patrons while your libraries are shuttered?
Kelvin Watson, Director, Broward County Libraries (FL): All of the 38 physical locations of Broward County Library (BCL) closed at the end of the day on March 19, 2020, but library staff remain working to keep up with the public’s demand for its free online resources and remote reference services. With its customers confined at home, BCL is experiencing a surge in usage and new users of its digital resources.
As the threat of COVID-19’s spread increased in mid-March, BCL marketing staff launched a public-awareness campaign via social media posts and targeted ads, a virtual newsletter and customer emails to inform the community about its extensive collection of free digital content that can be accessed with a BCL Instant eCard.
The marketing efforts paid off. There has been an increase in Overdrive eBooks and eAudiobooks checkouts of 22% from March 2019 to March 2020 and a 68% rise in check-outs of eBooks from Axis 360, which offers titles for children and teens, a clear indication of how many youth in our community are accessing BCL materials for homework and entertainment during local safer-at-home mandates.
In addition to providing digital content, another way that BCL is engaging customers while its buildings are closed is through virtual outreach that replaces popular in-person library programs. These include video story times, like this reading by librarian Autumn Dec of the book Dragons Love Tacos, which has garnered 1.1k views on social media as well as librarian-led “Book Bites” book reviews. BCL is even planning a virtual version of their popular “Summer at Your Library” program, which will offer prizes and incentives as well as an online game board and activities for readers and learners of all ages.
Just like the Internet Archive, during this crisis, BCL is also expanding its scope by reaching out to customers in unexpected ways. Staff at BCL’s Creation Station makerspaces are using the library’s public 3D printers, sewing machines and other gear, to produce protective face coverings and using BCL’s 3D printers to make S-hooks (which helps face coverings fit comfortably) to distribute locally to healthcare professionals and first responders.
Michael Blackwell, Director, St. Mary’s County Library (MD): The COVID-19 pandemic has foregrounded the need to provide all types of library content virtually. We are doing weekly digital storytimes so that children can and their parents can have fun while practicing literacy-building activities. We are grateful to publishers such as Penguin Random House that have lifted restrictions on storytime reading of content online. We are doing online trivia contests. We are subscribing to additional online services, such as CreativeBug, which has videos about crafting. We are doing a weekly “Quaranzine” with writing and art submissions by our patrons.
One of the most important ways we are responding, however, is by providing additional digital content. We have added to the number of Hoopla checkouts per month and added content to OverDrive, RBDigital, and the DPLA Exchange. We are a small three branch system serving a county of some 113,000, however, and we do not have the funds to keep up with an increased demand, with downloads exceeding 33% in March and April what they did in January and February.
Lisa Radha Weaver, Director of Collections and Program Development, Hamilton Public Library: During this unprecedented time, Hamilton Public Library (HPL) staff is available by phone, email and online chat. Our website (hpl.ca) also offers 24/7 access to online programs and resources. While our branches are closed, HPL continues to connect customers with our Digital Collections including the National Emergency Library (NEL). Staff is also calling all customers aged 75+, 3D printing masks and sewing protective face coverings, offering online programs and discussion forums for all ages, launching our Hamilton Reads and Summer Reading programs early and donating our book sale collections to clients at our partner food banks.
Chris Freeland: Are your staff or patrons using the National Emergency Library while your libraries are closed? If so, what response are you getting?
Michael Blackwell: The Internet Archive provides another arrow in our quiver. Without additional cost, we can provide another source of eBooks that helps us match the depth and breadth of print books sitting idle on our shelves. Patron response has been sparse, but at least one person has commented with joy upon finding books from his childhood that he had not seen in years, that are otherwise completely unavailable in digital form, and that could be read only by ordering tattered copies from online bookstores. We are not using it to supplant our licensed content but to add richness that we otherwise could not. In a time when we cannot circulate our physical collection, when many are staying in place for their own health, when many are now unemployed, and when an economic recession might restrict people’s buying power and create ever greater reliance upon libraries, a source of information and reading delight is welcome to us and our patrons.
Lisa Radha Weaver: At HPL, we share the National Emergency Library with customers via our website, catalogue and during reference inquiries. Our reference desk is open seven days a week and staff Book an Appointment for those customers needing additional assistance. Customers are directed to the NEL for content that we cannot physically share at this time.
Chris Freeland: The value and role of digital libraries have never been more apparent, and yet, in an attempt to discredit the work of the Internet Archive and the National Emergency Library, critics are using a line of attack that the Internet Archive is “not a library.” As a professional librarian, how is this criticism harmful?
Michael Blackwell: Criticism that the Internet Archive is not a library is so absurd a claim as to be almost unworthy of a response and yet it should be of concern to all librarians. Attacks on libraries are of course commonplace these days. An online search will quickly reveal organized groups that would, for instance, like local government to seize control of libraries to make all collections and programs suit the outlook of a particular religion. My library has been attacked by such groups.
This attempt to subvert a library by saying it isn’t actually a library is unprecedented, as far as I know, but equally worthy of rejection as narrow-minded censorship, however fallacious it is. First, members of a group unaffiliated with libraries have no more business defining what a library is than librarians have any business saying who is or who is not an author. Second, what exactly is a library? In defining the term, the American Library Association, which surely has more right to define what a library is than Internet Archive’s critics, says the following: “The word ‘library’ seems to be used in so many different aspects now, from the brick-and-mortar public library to the digital library (https://libguides.ala.org/library-definition).
The Internet Archive is not a public library, of course, but in an increasingly digital world, collections of eBooks and other resources online have every claim to be called a library. Project Gutenberg describes itself as “a library of over 60,000 free eBooks” (https://www.gutenberg.org/). The word library is in the very name of the Digital Public Library of America, another registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Do these critics maintain that DPLA too is not a library? What about the increasingly important collections of local content digitized by public libraries, including books of local interest—are only the physical books sitting on shelves the actual “library”? Nonsense! Libraries must be free to collect in ways that give access to knowledge, and we must defend our mandate and the people’s right to literacy against any agency that would restrict our legitimate efforts to provide and preserve books.
Lisa Radha Weaver: As a public library, our mandate is to provide equal access to information and encourage lifelong learning. HPL staff members appreciate the opportunity to expand our support to customers during this pandemic. Digital libraries ensure customers continue to enjoy access to content. The Internet Archive offers increased access to research and information, regardless of format or choice of genre. Hamilton Public Library supports Controlled Digital Lending (CDL) and while physical collections are temporarily closed, customers need access in new ways. The National Emergency Library ensures vital, equitable access for everyone — just as public libraries will again provide when physical distancing and stay-at-home orders are lifted.
Kelvin Watson: Libraries are more than physical spaces and buildings – like the Internet Archive, our resources and services are virtual as well, serving our customers 24/7, everywhere and anywhere. Our strong virtual presence has been just as important as our brick-and-mortar storefronts – even more so in times of crisis, when people cannot visit a library in person for whatever reason.
During the COVID-19 crisis, with social distancing and stay-at-home mandates, we are again seeing just how essential our virtual services are. Just because customers can’t walk into a library it doesn’t mean they’re not using library services. They are, more than ever according to our statistics. For many customers, accessing library materials virtually is easier, faster and more efficient. Online or in person, Broward County Library is still a library, providing educational, informational and recreational resources constantly and consistently, to everyone in our community, all the time, at any place.
The Supreme Court held today that copyright protection does not extend to the law – in this case, to the annotations in Georgia State’s annotated code. Justice Roberts explained that the animating principle behind this rule is that no one can own the law. “Every citizen is presumed to know the law,” and “it needs no argument to show . . . that all should have free access to its contents.”
This is a victory for our friends at Public.Resource.Org, the public domain, and the public at large. Free access to the law is core to the ability of our citizenry to fully participate in our democratic society. The Internet Archive has worked with Public Resource for 6 years to make the law fully searchable and downloadable to the public for free. We applaud this outcome and hope that more legal works will come to be available to the public in the coming days and weeks. We are glad this fight is over.
A call for help was sounded when it became clear that libraries were going to close indefinitely worldwide. The International Coalition of Library Consortia warned that the current system most libraries operate under was grossly insufficient to meet the crisis. We were in a unique position to respond and offer emergency relief to teachers and students around the world, so that’s what we did. We opened the National Emergency Library (NEL) on March 24, at a time UNESCO was reporting over 390 million students were being impacted. Today UNESCO reports that over 90% of the world’s student population is affected by school closures.
We were operating on pandemic time, but knew it wasn’t going to be the end of the conversation. Three days after we opened NEL, the Association of Research Libraries again urged publishers to maximize digital access. At this time we were busy providing this access to the best of our ability while beginning to respond to legitimate concerns from non-library stakeholders. We had designed an opt-out system for authors from the beginning, and our next big hurdle turned out to be working with university presses — many of whom we partner with — to address their concerns.
University presses react to NEL
In the hectic times of universities closing, we emailed our university press partners of the upcoming launch of NEL. The weekend after launching the NEL, we got a message from colleagues within the university press community saying some were not pleased with the NEL and the use of their published works within it. Responding quickly, we held an open community call the following Tuesday to hear from directors and other members of the university press community.
There’s no way around it – it was a tough call. While challenging, it also provided an opportunity for the Internet Archive to clarify why we had released the NEL—namely, to support students and educators with temporary access to a digital library while their schools and libraries are closed and their print collections are unavailable. We believed that NEL was necessary to provide educational access to teachers and students who were not in a position to double buy the books their communities had invested in but could not safely distribute. We have since had numerous teachers reach out to us and confirm that this is the case.
However, that doesn’t mean that other stakeholders do not matter to us. We listened to the concerns, and frankly displeasure, of important members of the university press community. John Sherer, Director of UNC Press, was one of these critics and was unhappy with what he and many within the university press community saw as a unilateral move by the Internet Archive.
But something changed during the community call. In hearing our openness to listen to the community and their concerns, Sherer saw a common path forward. “The goals you had articulated aligned so closely with many of our goals and the sense of mission that drives us at UNC Press. Namely, making high quality scholarship as widely available as possible.” Never one to rest idly, Sherer seized the moment, calculating that “if you all would consider a methodology I believe to be more equitable…I would pitch you on it and see if we could get to the common goal.”
And pitch he did. Along with Dean Smith, Director of Duke University Press, John drafted a Statement of Cooperation to help put structure around a publisher’s participation in the National Emergency Library. Both presses released blog posts (UNC Press here, Duke University Press here) to help contextualize why they disagreed with the process that the Internet Archive took in launching the NEL, and to describe why they ultimately decided to create the Statement of Cooperation so that they could support the National Emergency Library in a way they felt comfortable.
We appreciate the hard work of these university presses to find solutions to work together to provide students and researchers the resources they need during this difficult time. The statement they drafted is intended to be flexible and reusable. We hope that other publishers and presses will follow suit and sign on.
Why are university press books so important?
We consider our partnerships with university presses as a major milestone in making the NEL work for everyone to meet the immediate educational needs of those suffering from the pandemic. The Internet Archive has a long history of collaboration with the university press community, working with MIT Press, Cornell University Press, and others to digitize titles from their backlists.
We believe that university press books are a cornerstone of the NEL. University press books are evergreen, well-cited in Wikipedia, and are the foundations of much scholarship.The materials published by university presses represent the preeminent scholarly output of America’s research universities. They present peer-reviewed research and analysis of use to policymakers and scholars, and provide materials that help shape and inform a literate and informed culture. In short, university press books are exactly the kind of content that people need access to right now.
The road ahead
It is our wish that the NEL only last as long as it is needed, and that’s why we gave ourselves an end date. We will continue to work with stakeholders during this time to find solutions to make the NEL work the best it can under these emergency conditions. We are proud of our work on the NEL, but not so proud as to not accept thoughtful criticism. We encourage university presses, as well as other stakeholders, to work with us to continue to improve the NEL.
We also know that there are many difficulties facing all stakeholders due to the pandemic. Financial hardships are already being reported across the nation’s universities. University presses face challenges ahead in fulfilling their mission, but do so with an eye towards change. In considering the future, Sherer reflects, “UNC Press has survived world wars, depressions, recessions…and our building even burned to the ground once. We will endure. What we’re working on now is trying to understand what that new landscape might look like and to see if we can help define a values-driven publishing model that can thrive in that new reality.”
As Sherer later told us, “while we’re pleased that the NEL is making our books available at no cost to readers, I hope that the readers can remember that it wasn’t cost-less to produce those books.” We understand this concern. The Internet Archive uses a system called Controlled Digital Lending which leverages the number of loaned copies to the number of committed uncirculating physical copies and protects against redistribution by using the same digital rights management tools that publishers use; the temporary National Emergency Library, while using the same protections was built to address the suddenly and temporarily uncirculating books locked up in closed libraries. The original purchase of these books is the traditional way libraries support publishers and authors while also retaining the freedom to decide how to best serve our patrons. The NEL is a short term measure to meet the emergency needs of those impacted by school and library closures. We also welcome a continued dialog with publishers and authors on this issue.
The NEL will soon close and the world will continue to evolve. We need to look forward to how we can help meet the informational and educational needs of this changing world. The Internet Archive will continue to work with university presses and other stakeholders as we all adjust to a dominantly digital world. The Internet Archive is committed to working with presses and publishers to help describe and implement new values-driven publishing models that will be needed in this new world. The world’s digital learners need us all to succeed so they get to read the best humanity has created.
If you are an academic press or commercial publisher and would like to make your collections available through the National Emergency Library or work together to define a values-driven publishing model, please consider the Statement of Cooperation and reach out with additional questions.
Last Tuesday we launched a National Emergency Library—1.4M digitized books available to users without a waitlist—in response to the rolling wave of school and library closures that remain in place to date. We’ve received dozens of messages of thanks from teachers and school librarians, who can now help their students access books while their schools, school libraries, and public libraries are closed.
We’ve been asked why we suspended waitlists. On March 17, the American Library Association Executive Board took the extraordinary step to recommend that the nation’s libraries close in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. In doing so, for the first time in history, the entirety of the nation’s print collection housed in libraries is now unavailable, locked away indefinitely behind closed doors.
This is a tremendous and historic outage. According to IMLS FY17 Public Libraries survey (the last fiscal year for which data is publicly available), in FY17 there were more than 716 million physical books in US public libraries. Using the same data, which shows a 2-3% decline in collection holdings per year, we can estimate that public libraries have approximately 650 million books on their shelves in 2020. Right now, today, there are 650 million books that tax-paying citizens have paid to access that are sitting on shelves in closed libraries, inaccessible to them. And that’s just in public libraries.
And so, to meet this unprecedented need at a scale never before seen, we suspended waitlists on our lending collection. As we anticipated, critics including the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers have released statements (here and here) condemning the National Emergency Library and the Internet Archive. Both statements contain falsehoods that are being spread widely online. To counter the misinformation, we are addressing the most egregious points here and have also updated our FAQs.
One of the statements suggests you’ve acquired your books illegally. Is that true? No. The books in the National Emergency Library have been acquired through purchase or donation, just like a traditional library. The Internet Archive preserves and digitizes the books it owns and makes those scans available for users to borrow online, normally one at a time. That borrowing threshold has been suspended through June 30, 2020, or the end of the US national emergency.
Is the Internet Archive a library? Yes. The Internet Archive is a 501(c)(3) non-profit public charity and is recognized as a library by the government.
What is the legal basis for Internet Archive’s digital lending during normal times? The concept and practice of controlled digital lending (CDL) has been around for about a decade. It is a lend-like-print system where the library loans out a digital version of a book it owns to one reader at a time, using the same technical protections that publishers use to prevent further redistribution. The legal doctrine underlying this system is fair use, as explained in the Position Statement on Controlled Digital Lending.
“Our principal legal argument for controlled digital lending is that fair use— an “equitable rule of reason”—permits libraries to do online what they have always done with physical collections under the first sale doctrine: lend books. The first sale doctrine, codified in Section 109 of the Copyright Act, provides that anyone who legally acquires a copyrighted work from the copyright holder receives the right to sell, display, or otherwise dispose of that particular copy, notwithstanding the interests of the copyright owner. This is how libraries loan books. Additionally, fair use ultimately asks, “whether the copyright law’s goal of promoting the Progress of Science and useful Arts would be better served by allowing the use than by preventing it.” In this case we believe it would be. Controlled digital lending as we conceive it is premised on the idea that libraries can embrace their traditional lending role to the digital environment. The system we propose maintains the market balance long-recognized by the courts and Congress as between rightsholders and libraries, and makes it possible for libraries to fulfill their “vital function in society” by enabling the lending of books to benefit the general learning, research, and intellectual enrichment of readers by allowing them limited and controlled digital access to materials online.”
Some have argued that the ReDigi case that held that commercially reselling iTunes music files is not a fair use “precludes” CDL. This is not true, and othershaveargued that this case actually makes the fair use case for CDL stronger.
How is the National Emergency Library different from the Internet Archive’s normal digital lending? Because libraries around the country and globe are closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Internet Archive has suspended our waitlists temporarily. This means that multiple readers can access a digital book simultaneously, yet still by borrowing the book, meaning that it is returned after 2 weeks and cannot be redistributed.
Is the Internet Archive making these books available without restriction? No. Readers who borrow a book from the National Emergency Library get it for only two weeks, and their access is disabled unless they check it out again. Internet Archive also uses the same technical protections that publishers use on their ebook offerings in order to prevent additional copies from being made or redistributed.
What about those who say we’re stealing from authors & publishers? Libraries buy books or get them from donations and lend them out. This has been true and legal for centuries. The idea that this is stealing fundamentally misunderstands the role of libraries in the information ecosystem. As Professor Ariel Katz, in his paper Copyright, Exhaustion, and the Role of Libraries in the Ecosystem of Knowledgeexplains:
“Historically, libraries predate copyright, and the institutional role of libraries and institutions of higher learning in the “promotion of science” and the “encouragement of learning” was acknowledged before legislators decided to grant authors exclusive rights in their writings. The historical precedence of libraries and the legal recognition of their public function cannot determine every contemporary copyright question, but this historical fact is not devoid of legal consequence… As long as the copyright ecosystem has a public purpose, then some of the functions that libraries perform are not only fundamental but also indispensable for attaining this purpose. Therefore, the legal rules … that allow libraries to perform these functions remain, and will continue to be, as integral to the copyright system as the copyright itself.”
Do libraries have to ask authors or publishers to digitize their books? No. Digitizing books to make accessible copies available to the visually impaired is explicitly allowed under 17 USC 121 in the US and around the world under the Marrakesh Treaty. Further, US courts have held that it is fair use for libraries to digitize books for various additional purposes.
Have authors opted out? Yes, we’ve had authors opt out. We anticipated that would happen as well; in fact, we launched with clear instructions on how to opt out because we understand that authors and creators have been impacted by the same global pandemic that has shuttered libraries and left students without access to print books. Our takedowns are completed quickly and the submitter is notified via email.
Doesn’t my local library already provide access to all of these books? No. The Internet Archive has focused our collecting on books published between the 1920s and early 2000s, the vast majority of which don’t have a commercially available ebook. Our collection priorities have focused on the broad range of library books to support education and scholarship and have not focused on the latest best sellers that would be featured in a bookstore.
Further, there are approximately 650 million books in public libraries that are locked away and inaccessible during closures related to COVID-19. Many of these are print books that don’t have an ebook equivalent except for the version we’ve scanned. For those books, the only way for a patron to access them while their library is closed is through our scanned copy.
I’ve looked at the books and they’re just images of the pages. I get better ebooks from my public library. Yes, you do. The Internet Archive takes a picture of each page of its books, and then makes those page images available in an online book reader and encrypted PDFs. We also make encrypted EPUBs available, but they are based on uncorrected OCR, which has errors. The experience is inferior to what you’ve become accustomed to with Kindle devices. We are making an accessible facsimile of the printed book available to users, not a high quality EPUB like you would find with a modern ebook.
What will happen after June 30 or the end of the US national emergency? Waitlists will be suspended through June 30, 2020, or the end of the US national emergency, whichever is later. After that, the waitlists will be reimplemented thus limiting the number of borrowable copies to those physical books owned and not being lent.
You could listen to multiple people recite the first 50 digits of pi in various styles, including to the tune of the Battle Hymn of the Republic (my personal favorite), in the voice of Bullwinkle, as an infomercial, in Latin, while laughing, in Morse Code, and while eating actual pie.