The Library Leaders Forum is an annual opportunity for the libraries community to come together and discuss the 21st-century library. This year’s virtual Forum ended last week with an inspiring session showcasing the impact of controlled digital lending. Let’s look back over some of the key moments from the session and the conference as a whole.
During the final session, we were honored to present Michelle Wu with our Hero Award for her foundational work on controlled digital lending. COVID-19 demonstrated more than ever the power of this key practice in helping libraries reach vulnerable communities. As the election approaches, the emphasis was also on the role of digital access in supporting democracy. “Reliable access to information is the great equalizer,” Wu said in her acceptance speech.
The conference was packed with insight into the impact of controlled digital lending on libraries and the communities they serve. In our policy session, experts discussed how to build a healthy information ecosystem for the 21st Century. Our community session gave a platform to librarians, educators, and technologists who are developing next-generation library tools.
The discussions showed a library community deeply committed to digital innovation and its potential for creating a more equal society. A key theme was how COVID-19 lockdowns have made librarians more aware of the necessity of digital lending. The practice, always useful in reaching communities who cannot access physical books, has been shown a powerful tool in emergency response. Practitioners also placed emphasis on the key role of digitization in archiving knowledge for future generations.
However, it was clear that this is no time for complacency. Librarians face threats that would damage their ability to make knowledge accessible and preserve it for cultural posterity. A new lawsuit challenges their right to digitize collections and make them available to the public. Combined with an increasing lack of shelf space and spates of library closures, this could mean that many valuable collections end up in landfill.
The community is determined to make sure that libraries stay “open” to all. To this end, we have launched the #EmpoweringLibraries campaign, which defends the right of libraries to own and lend digital books. Although the Forum has ended, the community will stay united through campaign activities.
We’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone who took part and helped make the Library Leaders Forum a great success. Find out how you can stay connected and protect the key role of libraries in a democratic society here.
The third and final session of the 2020 Library Leaders Forum wrapped up Tuesday with a focus on the impact of Controlled Digital Lending on communities to provide broader access to knowledge. A full recording of the session is now available online.
Michelle Wu was honored with the Internet Archive Hero Award for her vision in developing the legal concept behind CDL. In her remarks, the attorney and law librarian shared her thoughts on the development and future of the lending practice. Wu does not see the theory that she designed 20 years ago as revolutionary, but rather a logical application of copyright law that allows libraries to fulfill their mission.
Despite current legal challenges, Wu predicts CDL can continue if libraries make themselves and their users heard.
“We must make sure that the public interests served are fully described, visible and clear to lawmakers and courts at the time they make their decisions,” Wu said. “If we do that, I believe the public interest will prevail and CDL will survive.”
The pandemic has underscored the need for digital access to materials and changed attitudes about CDL among libraries that had previously been risk averse to the practice, Wu said.
“The closing of our libraries due to COVID has changed that mindset permanently,” Wu said. “It showed how the desire to avoid risk resulted in the actual and widespread harm to populations, depriving them of content at a time when access was more important than ever.”
Because of the pandemic, libraries are now empowered to try innovative practices to serve their patrons.
“With this new heightened awareness, I think the future of access is brighter,” Wu said. “Not only do I think CDL will flourish, but there seems to be very real chance that libraries will more aggressively fight to regain some of the public interest benefits of copyright that they’ve lost over the years.”
In the future, Wu maintained that CDL can ensure a balance for full and equal access to knowledge for every person.
“Reliable access to information is the great equalizer,” Wu said. “Information shapes each of us, and lack of it is part of what increases our divide.”
(A complete profile of Wu’s work can be found here.)
The event also included the virtual ribbon cutting ceremony announcing the reopening of the Marygrove College Library. The Internet Archive now houses its 70,000-volume library online, and has preserved the physical copies, after the institution closed the campus in 2019 and donated its entire collection for digitization. The move preserves books that reflect the college’s rich history of social justice and education programs that largely served women, African Americans and low-income students in Detroit.
“The knowledge that [the books] would still be available and still be utilized just keeps us going as we wrap up the college,” said Marygrove President Elizabeth Burns at the Forum. “It’s a sad, sad time, but it is also a time where we know the impact of the college will continue…It’s a very tangible measure of Marygrove for the future.”
Chris Freeland, director of Open Libraries at the Internet Archive, moderated a panel with Marygrove librarian Mary Kickham-Samy, Mike Hawthorne, a librarian at nearby Wayne State University, and Brenda Bryant, dean and director of Marygrove’s social justice program, to talk about the transformation of the library into a digital format.
“It’s exciting! I’m thrilled that it won’t be in just one small corner,” said Bryant of the library’s move online and value to scholars. Bryant built the nation’s first Master of Arts program in social justice at Marygrove and considered the library one of the best kept secrets on campus. “Like my activist friend Elena Herrada [said], the collection was important because in Detroit, reading is an act of resistance.”
Michelle Wu is leading libraries to think and act in new ways to fulfill their missions.
For nearly two decades, she has advocated for preserving and expanding access to materials by responsibly digitizing collections. Using her expertise as an attorney, law librarian and professor, Wu crafted the legal theory behind Controlled Digital Lending (CDL) and has dedicated much of her career to showing libraries how to put the concept into practice.
To honor her innovative and tireless work, Wu has been named the recipient of the 2020 Internet Archive Hero Award. The annual award recognizes those who have exhibited leadership in making information available for digital learners all over the world. Past recipients have included Phillips Academy, the Biodiversity Heritage Library, and the Grateful Dead. Michelle received the award during the Library Leaders Forum final session on October 20.
“Michelle Wu was ahead of her time in understanding the transition to the digital era and brought library lending into our new landscape,” said Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive.
“Not only did Michelle see a problem coming, she did something about it,” Kahle says. “It’s a combination of being both a visionary on how the world could work and then making concrete steps to get us there.”
With library buildings closed now for safety, the demand for digital materials has grown. The pandemic magnifies the importance of using CDL as a strategy to expand services to the public, says Pamela Samuelson, a distinguished professor of law and information management at the University of California, Berkeley, who admires Wu’s insights as a scholar and librarian.
“She set the example and made people feel comfortable with a concept that was initially a little bit questionable,” says Samuelson. In her copyright classes, Samuelson now draws on Wu’s work to inform her students.
“Michelle’s articles explaining the concept have been very useful for students to have not just the reader’s perspective, or law student’s perspective, but how librarians are really taking the challenge of the digital age,” Samuelson says. “They are making good things happen to carry on the grand tradition of libraries to facilitate as much access as lawfully possible to the public they serve.”
Looking back on her career, Wu says she sort of fell into law. She abandoned plans for medical school after helping her roommate at the University of California San Diego study for the Law School Admission Test. Fascinated with the logic puzzles, she took the LSAT on a whim and did well enough to get a scholarship.
“I found I loved the theory of the law, looking at issues from all sorts of angles and finding a path through,” says Wu, who enrolled at the California Western School of Law and worked part-time at the San Diego County Law Library. She soon realized that the adversarial nature of the legal process didn’t suit how she viewed the law. Law librarianship was a better match, one grounded in collaboration and a commitment to using legal knowledge to educate and assist users in finding meaningful solutions to their legal problems . A year after earning her J.D., Wu got her master’s degree in librarianship with a certificate in law librarianship at the University of Washington.
She landed her first job at George Washington University Law School Library. In 2001, she was hired by the University of Houston School of Law. It was there, following the massive destruction of the school’s library due to Tropical Storm Allison, that Wu focused on the need to protect materials through digitization.
Wu says she began to wonder: “Is there a better way for libraries to prepare society for a world in which there are a growing number of natural disasters?” she recalls. “There are so many risks to our collections, and society depends on long-term access for this information,” Wu says.
Wu developed the theory for a digitization program designed with copyright in mind. What came to be known as CDL, she says, strikes a balance between the interest of the users and copyright owners. A library can lend out only the number of copies that it has legitimately acquired, though the copy can be any format. The flexibility in format facilitates more effective access for a wide variety of users, including those who live remotely or have trouble physically coming to a library building, while also ensuring the preservation of content in situations like natural disasters.
After Houston, Wu worked at the Hofstra School of Law and Georgetown University Law Center. As both a library director and law professor, Wu says she has been well-positioned to advocate for CDL and reason with the skeptics.
“I haven’t heard a lot of substantive objections. I have heard fear, which is common and understandable anytime you are changing the status quo, but it is something that must be overcome for advancement.” says Wu. “In talking with others about CDL, I focus on what CDL is and what it is intended to accomplish, which pushes people to engage deeply instead of rejecting the idea out of fear. From my perspective, CDL is the purest form of balance in copyright that you are going to find in a world of technology, and that balance is difficult to deny when you examine CDL in detail.”
Kyle K. Courtney, the copyright advisor and program manager at the Harvard Library Office for Scholarly Communication, says from the first time he met Wu, he was inspired by her ideas and willingness to challenge norms. Her research was a major influence on Courtney’s work and career. Together, they co-authored a position statement on CDL.
“It is great to meet your heroes sometimes — and even better to be able to work with them side by side,” says Courtney. “She is not a theoretical scholar. This is what’s awesome: She puts the cutting-edge CDL copyright system to work. That’s why she’s a trailblazer in both words and action, putting libraries at the forefront in our field.”
Wu’s leadership has helped advance the collaborative work of libraries and enabled there to be more transparency in sharing information, says Courtney. He and Wu have presented on CDL at several conferences and discussed the concept with Congressional staff on Capitol Hill last year.
“She is one of the hardest working members of the library field I know,” Courtney says. “She’s oriented toward practical results and addresses 21st century challenges in multiple environments – public, private and academic. She is a person of remarkable integrity.”
Courtney says Wu’s recognition showcases what leaders in librarianship should aspire to: a successful record of progressive scholarship, influence on the next generation of librarians and a legacy of hard work that reflects an enthusiasm for libraries.
Sharing the story of CDL on Capitol Hill, Lila Bailey, policy counsel for the Internet Archive, says she was struck by Wu’s ability to connect with staffers. “Michelle explains things in such a clear, intuitive, practical way,” says Bailey, who also has collaborated with Wu on research. “She’s so competent and conscientious.”
Wu has been committed to spreading her knowledge of both academic and practical aspects of the CDL to librarians and policymakers across the country. “She is somebody who came up with a legal theory and spent her career creating a proof of concept for why this is important,” Bailey says. “The Internet Archive sets this very ambitious vision of universal access to all knowledge then it tries to live up to the vision. Michelle embodies this ethos of the Internet Archive to be the change you want to see in the world.”
In June, Wu retired from academia, but she continues to research and mentor emerging librarians. Too often, (outside of the sciences) academia gives more weight to the risk in innovation instead of imagining the opportunities that creative problem-solving can provide, but Wu says that attitude doesn’t serve the public in the best way.
“We can’t sit back and expect everyone automatically to understand the importance of libraries long term. We have to stand up for what we believe, advocate for it, and find solutions that better serve society in an ever-changing world.” Wu says.
When Marygrove College in Detroit decided to close its doors in 2019 due to financial pressures, the first question on the minds of many community members was: what about the library? Today, the entire Marygrove College community is celebrating the reopening of the Marygrove College Library in partnership with the Internet Archive.
Marygrove College’s roots go back to 1905 when it was started by the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, a progressive Catholic order known for its commitment to social justice. Founded as a women’s institution, it became co-ed and predominantly African American over time, changing with the demographics of its neighborhood in northwest Detroit.
The liberal arts college, which typically had an enrollment of less than 1,000, attracted students interested in teacher education and social work programs, as well as English, history, philosophy and religious studies. The college offered graduate programs and some alumni went on to become physicians, lawyers and scientists.
True to its mission, Marygrove often served students from marginalized communities with limited means. Changes in access to federal Pell grants hurt the institution’s finances, and enrollment dwindled in recent years.
“The college was deeply in debt. Like many small colleges, institutional scholarships don’t pay the bills. The school was borrowing to make payroll. It was not a good picture,” says Marygrove President Elizabeth Burns. “With great sorrow, the board voted in summer 2017 to close undergraduate programs.”
The institution tried to survive by offering only graduate programs – many online. But that model proved to be unsustainable. In December of 2019, Marygrove closed its doors for good.
“It was very difficult,” says Frank Rashid, who taught English at the college for 37 years and lives within a mile of the campus. “It was a great place to teach. Despite our size and obscurity, we had a strong faculty and great students.”
As the college emptied its buildings, the fate of Marygrove’s beloved library was up in the air. No other library was able to house the entire collection, which included more than 70,000 books and 3,000 journals, in addition to microfilm, maps, visual media, and more. The college explored selling the books, but buyers were only interested in portions of the collection. Even disposing of the library content would cost thousands of dollars that the college couldn’t afford.
Marygrove’s solution: Donate the entire library to the Internet Archive for digitization and preservation.
“We were able to preserve the entire collection that we had built over the decades and make it available to everyone,” Burns says.
“There was a sense that all was not lost,” Burns says. “The legacy of the collection will be available for ongoing education. That really helped ease the pain of the transition.”
The library had a rich collection of books in history (particularly primary sources on local Detroit studies and Michigan), English, philosophy, religious studies, social work, political science, economics, psychology, business and social justice.
“The library was the best kept secret at Marygrove,” says Brenda Bryant, who started the nation’s first master’s degree program in social justice at the college 20 years ago. While the closure of the building was heartbreaking, she says having the collection digitized provides access to its great array of nonfiction and fiction books (such as The God of Small Things by Arhundati Roy) , as well as films about social justice movements.
Byrant says the college was ahead of its time in recognizing the importance of studying these issues. With racial equity, immigration and other social justice issues so relevant today, she hopes people will take the opportunity to read about the history of prior movements.
The value of the collection extends well beyond the Marygrove community. Librarians from Wayne State University, also located in Detroit, share an admiration for Marygrove’s collection and decision to digitize.
“Marygrove has been fundamental for Detroit in educating first-generation, low-income college students and providing high quality education to the community,” says Alexandra Sarkcozy, a liaison librarian for history at Wayne State. “The librarians built a robust academic collection and took beautiful care of it. I think it’s wonderful that it was able to be preserved.”
And, as Wayne State thinks about how to lend out its own digital materials, it may consider Controlled Digital Lending as a model, adds Sarkcozy, which is how the Marygrove collections are being made available to users.
Using Controlled Digital Lending practices with the Marygrove collections—lending out a digital copy one at a time—felt like a responsible way to continue to provide access, says Burns. And rare materials that aren’t traditionally prioritized are not lost to history.
Rashid says he was initially reluctant to let go of the print materials, but realized that digital lending opened up the possibility of access around the globe. “We are trying to share resources with scholars and students elsewhere,” says Rashid, noting it also has the additional convenience of researchers being able to look up information from home.
The Archive hired local help to pack up the Marygrove books, load them onto trucks, and transport them to centers for storage and scanning. The empty library was repurposed as a lecture hall, sports facility and cafeteria for a new high school that now operates on the campus.
Mary Kickham-Samy served as the director of the library at Marygrove from 2017 until its closure in December 2019. She was glad to see the collection donated intact and thinks alumni, in particular, will enjoy browsing through the library. “It’s beautiful the way Internet Archive has captured the materials…It’s just a win-win situation,” said Kickham-Samy, who is grateful that community members and researchers everywhere will now have access to the collection.
“When I heard Marygrove was going to be closing, it broke my heart,” said Valerie Deering, a poet and 1972 graduate of Marygrove. Deering didn’t fully realize what it would mean to digitize the library until she started browsing the collection online. “Actually seeing it now—this was a stroke of genius. This Internet library stuff is a pretty good idea.”
This year’s virtual Library Leaders Forum closes on Tuesday, following three weeks of inspiring discussion about the future of libraries in the digital age. The final session will focus on the impact of controlled digital lending on communities, particularly those affected by COVID-19.
In last week’s session, we heard from librarians on the frontline of the COVID-19 response. Panelists shared how controlled digital lending has empowered libraries to get vital resources to those in need, despite lockdowns. “We were aware of [controlled digital lending] beforehand, but this pandemic has made us acutely aware of the need and opportunity,” said Stanford University’s chief technology strategist Tom Cramer. If you missed it, you can read a detailed recap of the session or watch the full recording.
The session demonstrated the power of digital tools for reaching marginalized communities in lockdown and beyond. We were therefore pleased to announce that Internet Archive is joining Project ReShare, a group of organizations developing an open-source resource sharing platform for libraries. Resource sharing, like controlled digital lending, has the power to break down the access barriers associated with commercial platforms.
The next session will focus on the impact that controlled digital lending is having on libraries and the communities they serve. Internet Archive founder and digital librarian Brewster Kahle will present the Internet Archive Hero Award to Michelle Wu, the visionary behind the practice. We’ll learn what inspired Michelle and how her work has empowered libraries during the current pandemic. There’s still time to register for free.
We also have a very special event taking place during the session to which everyone is invited. Join us for the grand reopening of Marygrove College Library and find out how digitization saved a valuable archive from being split up and lost. The event will help place the Forum’s discussions in a real-world context by showing the impact of controlled digital lending on one African American community. It will also explore the power of digitization for preserving key elements of our cultural heritage. Registration is free for this special event.
The Library Leaders Forum may be drawing to a close, but the library community can stay connected through the #EmpoweringLibraries campaign. The campaign builds on the work of the Forum by raising awareness of the positive impact of controlled digital lending. We hope the community will unite to protect this key library practice and make knowledge accessible for all.
Join us this Tuesday, October 20, at the final session of the Library Leaders Forum for a celebration of the reopening of the Marygrove College Library. Find out how digitization saved a valuable archive and preserved a community’s cultural heritage. RSVP here.
For many librarians, the global pandemic has pushed Controlled Digital Lending from sounding like a promising idea to becoming an important way of serving their patrons. Unable to physically check out books, a growing number of institutions have embraced CDL as a safe way to connect their readers with needed materials.
Librarians, educators, and technologists discussed the value and challenge of CDL for their communities at the second session of the 2020 Library Leaders Forum held online October 13. Video of the full session is now available.
“The Internet Archive has been operating a Controlled Digital Lending environment for more than nine years and we now have more than 80 libraries along with us,” said Chris Freeland, director of Open Libraries, who moderated the panel. “We are really thrilled. There is strength in community.”
With limited access to their collections during COVID-19, librarians on the frontlines shared their frustration getting digital materials to remote learners. Many publishers were willing to give free access to their content in the spring, but that didn’t last, said Tucker Taylor, head of circulation at University of South Carolina.
“We have a large textbook collection that we spent a lot of student tuition money and our tax dollars on. We wanted to continue to provide access to that,” said Taylor, noting that vendors refused to sell the library ebooks.
The library began to build its own ebook platform and ended up partnering with HathiTrust, a membership-based digital library. It provided emergency access to books the library owned in print — one book in, one book out, said Taylor.
“We are team players. We wanted to do the right thing,” said Taylor of the controlled lending practice — a less than perfect solution, but a way to get the content the library owns in the hands of students in need. “I’m a librarian. I want to check things in and out. So, it feels reasonable to me that I should be able to do online checkout.”
At Stanford University, Tom Cramer, chief technology strategist, assistant university librarian and director of digital library system and services, said the campus closure in March left students and researchers without access to millions of books in the library stacks.
“That’s why we are in Controlled Digital Lending. We were aware of it beforehand, but this pandemic has made us acutely aware of the need and opportunity,” said Cramer, who suggested libraries have been too conservative about copyright law and the exceptions it provides libraries to better serve their patrons.
The panelists also mentioned how CDL can allow libraries to offer books that are out of print to the public, access to readers with disabilities and fragile collections that cannot circulate. It’s also an environmentally friendly practice that keeps items from having to be physically shipped for interlibrary loans.
With the current system, the needs of patrons are not being met and libraries should share resources to develop scalable solutions, said Jill Morris, executive director of Pennsylvania Academic Library Consortium, Inc. She heads the steering committee for Project ReShare (which the Internet Archive recently joined) that is working on innovative open source tools for libraries.
Another member of the project, Sebastian Hammer, co-founder and president of Index Data, spoke on the panel about the promise of technology in helping libraries improve services to patrons. Cramer of Stanford suggested interoperability was a high priority in creating a robust system for the future and the group agreed that authors and publishers should also be part of the conversation.
Collaboration is key, said Lisa Petrides, founder and chief executive officer of the Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education.
“We are trying to change how a system works,” she says, which involves working across all stakeholder groups and changing policy. “It’s about access and equity at its core.”
The Internet Archive is the newest library to join Project ReShare, a group of organizations coming together to develop an open source resource sharing platform for libraries.
“Internet Archive is pleased to partner with Project ReShare and its member libraries and consortia to build the next generation of library resource sharing tools,” says Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive. “We believe in community-developed software and support library efforts to build systems that address the ever-present challenges of connecting readers and learners with books.”
The project was formed in 2018 in response to concern about market consolidation and the pace of innovation among vendors serving libraries. Rather than rely solely on commercial providers, members wanted to be able to set their own priorities.
“We felt we needed to introduce some additional alternatives,” says Jill Morris, chair of the Project ReShare steering committee and executive director of the Pennsylvania Academic Library Consortium Inc. (PALCI). “Libraries need to be able to share ideas and resources with each other to best support their patron bases.”
As a Project ReShare member, the Internet Archive will have a voice in the project’s direction as it works directly with libraries, consortia, and other organizations to improve the value and impact of resource sharing networks and the tools used to support them.
“We are thrilled to have the Internet Archive share their expertise and contribute to the vision of ReShare,” says Morris.
The project is resulting in productive competition and a new suite of options unavailable in the past. Creating space to devise technology and system agnostic approaches, Project ReShare enables libraries to make decisions in the best interest of good patron service rather than forced into an ecosystem with limited choice, adds Morris.
“From my own experience working in an academic library, managing a print collection is a major undertaking,” says Chris Freeland, director of Open Libraries at the Internet Archive. “We’re excited to join Project ReShare and the community that is developing new ways of connecting library patrons to the resources they need.”
Other ReShare members include library consortia (ConnectNY, GWLA, MCLS, PALCI, TAL, and TRLN), commercial entities (Knowledge Integration and Index Data) and university libraries (Grand Valley State University, Louisiana State University, Michigan State, Millersville University, Texas A&M, University of Alabama, and University of Chicago).
This year’s virtual Library Leaders Forum focuses on empowering libraries and the communities they serve through digital lending. The first session sparked important discussions around the role of libraries in providing free and equal access to knowledge in a democratic society.
Moderator and Internet Archive policy counsel Lila Bailey summed up the urgency and relevance of the issue: “Our country is struggling to find a common set of facts. The truth often lives behind paywalls while misinformation and disinformation go viral. Equal access to information is foundational to our democratic society and it’s part of why libraries exist.” Panelists discussed how digital lending can act as a key tool in providing equal access to information, the threats it is currently facing from certain publishing practices, and potential solutions such as copyright law reform and increased arts funding. You can read a recap of the discussion or watch the full recording.
In addition to the panel discussion, the session involved two exciting announcements. First, the power of digitization for democratizing access to important texts was demonstrated with the digital release to the public of a rare oration by Frederik Douglass, an influential text in the history of anti-slavery movements. Second, we were pleased to announce that Michelle Wu will receive the Internet Archive Hero Award on October 20 for her pioneering work on controlled digital lending. The practice has been key in the response of libraries to Covid-19 lockdowns, enabling them to continue providing digital access to learning throughout the pandemic for those who need it most.
Our next session on October 13 will build on these announcements and the first session’s discussion points by exploring the community of practice that has emerged around controlled digital lending. We’ll hear from librarians, educators, and technologists who are developing next-generation library tools that incorporate and build upon the practice. We’ll also learn more about how Internet Archive’s controlled digital lending environment works in practice, with demonstrations from our engineering team.
The session will provide useful knowledge-sharing for library practitioners who wish to expand their digital practices, and look to the future of controlled digital lending as a crucial and evolving tool in a democratic society. The focus will be on maintaining and expanding our community of practice, a key resource in developing digital tools that allow us to better serve the public. A strong community is more important now than ever as digital lending practices are increasingly under threat and the age-old role of libraries in society is challenged in a new law suit. There’s still time to register for the session for free; you can also follow us on Twitter for live updates.
We’re looking forward to hearing more from the community of practitioners who are dedicated to developing a digital library landscape that supports and furthers democracy, equality and representation. Given the urgency of the issues discussed and the current threat to controlled digital lending, it’s important that the discussion leads to action. To this end, the Forum marks the beginning of the #EmpoweringLibraries campaign, an opportunity for us all to come together to keep knowledge accessible for everyone. We hope to see many of you at Tuesday’s session to further discuss the importance of controlled digital lending for a functioning democracy where knowledge does not live behind paywalls.
For the Policy session panel, librarians, authors, publishers, and advocates came together to discuss the role libraries should play in improving the digital landscape for the communities they serve. Potential policy solutions, such as copyright and labor law reforms, as well as collective action and boycotts to pressure publishers were discussed.
“Our country is struggling to find a common set of facts. The truth often lives behind paywalls while misinformation and disinformation go viral,” said Lila Bailey, policy counsel with the Internet Archive, moderating the discussion. “Equal access to information is foundational to our democratic society and it’s part of why libraries exist.”
Digital materials hold the promise for expanded access, but the outcome is not guaranteed. As publishers refuse to sell e-books, but rather license them, libraries are responding with a variety of strategies including Controlled Digital Lending – the digital equivalent of traditional lending.
As libraries evolve with the changing landscape, leaders need tools to change for the better. Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive, said the balance of power is up for grabs and publishers are pushing for control.
“We need librarians to be trained to push back,” Brewster said. “We are fighters for our patrons. We should stand by libraries and help empower them.”
Carmi Parker, librarian for the Whatcom County Library System in Washington state, said the average price of e-book licensing more than tripled over the past decade and libraries are forced to repurchase more frequently. When McMillan recently limited libraries to buying one e-book in the first eight weeks after publication (instead of dozens of copies of best sellers), Parker’s library consortium launched a boycott. After 1,200 other public libraries joined the protest, the publisher bowed to the pressure and dropped the practice.
“The concern here is this pattern of increasing prices and increasingly limited licenses that impede our ability to offer books to our patrons,” Parker says. “We think that we sent the message that embargoes are not OK, but we still have the crippling prices and limitations. We need to use print lending as a model for how these e-books should work. That’s why I’m interested in Controlled Digital Lending because that’s exactly what it does.”
Kyle K. Courtney, copyright advisor & program advisor at Harvard University, said CDL is a complementary model that helps libraries preserve their mission of long-term preservation and access.
“CDL has emerged as one of several answers to deal with these access issues now,” Courtney says. “CDL helps fill this digital void by harnessing the library’s special role in copyright to broaden digital access. We are craving this kind of digital access.”
Some panelists underscored it was important to embrace new forms of dissemination, but that CDL was an incomplete solution in need of refinement.
Many authors are coming around to the idea that sharing their works openly can only help them gain readers, said Dean Smith, director of Duke University Press.
“We are focused on smart and sustainable Open Access,” says Smith, who adds that OA usage has made his press more relevant. CDL is especially useful for titles that are out of print to bring scholarship that is buried back into circulation, he said. Smith suggested a possible “buy button” be added to books offered on Internet Archive as a way to entice more participation in CDL.
There should be several ways for writers to market and sell their books beyond the large publishers and online outlets, according to Cory Doctorow, a science fiction author, activist and journalist, and special advisor to the Electronic Frontier Foundation. He is a supporter of the Internet Archive and believes libraries should be able to scan books for CDL.
Among Doctorow’s policy wish list to improve digital access: reform the copyright law, change labor laws for writers to form strong unions, subject mergers to strict scrutiny, force breakups of monopolistic firms in publishing, distribution and retail, increase arts funding, and create a Library of Congress rights database.
Meredith Rose, senior policy counsel for Public Knowledge, said that the pandemic might be moving public opinion on some of these issues and lead lawmakers to consider new measures. CDL could be pitched as a solution to help address distance learning, public health, misinformation, disability rights and other relevant concerns.
Next week’s session of the Library Leaders Forum will focus on the community of practice that has developed around Controlled Digital Lending, and the panel discussion will bring together the librarians, technologists and educators who are working together to develop the next generation of library tools that incorporate & build upon Controlled Digital Lending. Registration is free and available now.