How Controlled Digital Lending Makes an Entire College Library Available to Everyone Everywhere
Books have been circulating for thousands of years and have changed with new technologies and resources. The trends and demands of the digital world — where consumers access materials in electronic forms — means that many books that were published before the digital age are not available online or for e-readers. Librarians across the country are working on fixing this problem.
It’s a curious problem because most recently published books have easily made the transition to digital because they were written and edited and printed electronically. Likewise, many books before the early 20th Century are likewise already digitized by non-profits and libraries because they are out of copyright.
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But there are numerous books that were printed and released only in print. Audiobook and e-books are simply not available for these titles. When so many printed books are only just that — available in print and sometimes only in a few libraries across the country or around the world — that new solutions are needed.
When readers need access to a book that is essentially “locked up” in print, help is starting to be on the way through the concept of Controlled Digital Lending. This is an approach to library curation that allows print books to be digitally loaned in an environment that restricted people’s abilities to redistribute or copy the book while providing digital access on e-readers, computers, or even phones. Controlled Digital Lending (CDL) was started so that readers could access books that are out of print or difficult to find but are still in copyright. CDL functions similarly to how a library lends out physical materials. This means that libraries have complete control over the number of copies of each book that is circulating.
CDL works when a library scans a digital copy of a book they already own or accesses a scanned copy through a repository like the Internet Archive. It is then loaned out to patrons or other libraries. When the electronic version is “checked out”, the physical copy of the book becomes unavailable and vice versa (even at the Internet Archive’s vast storage site). This ensures that only one copy, the one purchased copy, is being loaned at one time. These digital copies of books have locks placed on them that allow the reader to access the book for a certain period of time. Once the library loan period expires, the book file automatically expires and is “returned” to the library, making it no longer accessible to the person that requested it.
CDL operates on three core principles of librarianship: the library must own copy of physical books, the library must maintain the owned-to-loaned ratio, the library must use technical measures to prevent copied or redistributed files. The Controlled Digital Lending’s “consistent owned-to-loaned ratio allows libraries to help bridge the gap between digital and traditional resources without violating copyright and distribution restrictions or overstepping the boundaries of e-book wary authors.
First Sale and Fair Use
The ideas of First Sale and Fair Use are key legal concepts that play into the core role of libraries and of Controlled Digital Lending. These concepts allow buyers of any item to use it as they see fit whether that means reselling it, lending it, or disposing of it. Libraries utilize the concept of First Sale to loan out books to patrons; First Sale points to the copy of the book originally purchased by the library which can then be borrowed by anyone.
The Fair Use Act was created under the U.S. Copyright Law. This allows the public to use portions of copyrighted books for a variety of purposes including teaching, research, commentary, news reporting, etc. The use of copyrighted books is evaluated under the “Four Factors”- the purpose of use, nature of work being copied, amount of work copied, and potential market impact. This act is what makes Controlled Digital Lending possible. Libraries are able to operate within the lines of the Fair Use Act to provide digital access to print materials in controlled settings while also respecting authors and publishers.
Marygrove College Library Contributions
One amazing story about Controlled Digital Lending is from Marygrove College, a Detroit-based school that closed in 2019. The college’s library, Gerschke Library, had amassed a collection of more than 70,000 books and journals, many of which offered unique African American perspectives that reflected the cultural and historical components of the Detroit community. The Board of Trustees decided to digitize the entire collection by donating it to the Internet Archive which is a non-profit library that has millions of books, movies, software, and music available for free to use.
Marygrove College believed that donating their collection gave the books that their curators put so much work and careful consideration into a life beyond the school. They chose this path for the collection of books because they wanted a method that could preserve as many books as possible while remaining conscious of their ideals of sustainability and care for the planet, The collection of books originally housed by Gerschke are now available through the Internet Archive and preserved through physical archives. Students, scholars, and readers all around the world are able to gain access to the collection and develop an awareness of the college and the history and culture of Detroit.
Roles and Benefits of Controlled Digital Lending
Controlled Digital Lending is playing an important role as a tool for sharing knowledge. In cases like Marygrove College, CDL will allow generations of learners to continue to access the library’s book collection long after the library’s existence. Especially when it comes to insightful materials specific to that area of Detroit, it is important that everyone, whether now or in the future, is able to use this to build upon their own knowledge and perspective.
An additional benefit that ensuring access to knowledge provides is that it discourages the spread of misinformation. Controlled Digital Lending opens up access to a wide range of print materials and peer-reviewed texts. This helps to combat unreliable sources and “fake news” because the public is able to directly access resources that are based on truth and professionally edited.
Preserving Knowledge and Democratization of Access
Controlled Digital Lending can significantly lower the barriers of access to scholarship and learning. We can easily see this in cases like Marygrove College, where a precious library collection was able to be preserved and protected. CDL has served many purposes in our society. It is not only a convenient way of delivering library services and resources, it has made print materials more discoverable and given new life to print materials that have been out of circulation for decades. Not to mention, CDL also opens up access to those with physical disabilities, meaning more people have a chance at equal access to materials. New CDL practices are being built in libraries and archives and it is obvious that this work is a successful way of expanding access to knowledge.
Libraries are strong supporters of making knowledge openly available to anyone. Controlled Digital Lending helps further these goals. The ability to allow books to be requested from anywhere is crucial in helping libraries create equity in access. Now, anyone with access to a computer and the internet is capable of utilizing and learning from information that they did not have access to before.