What Controlled Digital Lending does to Make Every Book Available Online

When the book is out of print AND unavailable online why can’t your library scan it?

Jun 16, 2019 · 5 min read

Sometimes, one of the more frustrating things about being a reader is that not every title you want is available in an electronic format. This is especially for books from the 20th century which were published before the “digital era”. It’s a funny reason why. When e-books first became commercially available in the 2000s, many authors, fearing that their book sales would be undermined by copies being distributed over the internet, chose not to make their works available in electronic form. If you have ever wanted to read a book that was out of print or difficult to find — even online — then you might be interested in a new concept that libraries are exploring called Controlled Digital Lending.

With Controlled Digital Lending (or CDL) a library makes a digital copy of a library-purchased book by scanning it. Then, the library makes the print copy unavailable. The library then lends the electronic copy to a patron or even another library that requests it. And, while the digital copy is on loan, the library ensures that the original physical copy is completely unavailable. That’s because the library wants to guarantee that only one copy of the book — whether it is a scanned copy of the original print copy — is available. Also, the library “locks” the digital copy, so that when its loan period expires the file “goes back” to the library and is no longer accessible. CDL is not intended to replace or circumvent a library’s existing e-book holdings or subscriptions but it can serve as a powerful tool for bridging the gap between print and electronic resources for readers and researchers alike.

Right now, only a fraction of the estimated 150 million titles in the world have been digitized. CDL can help solve the problem by increasing digital availability through libraries. At EveryLibrary, we are excited by the concept of CDL. It has the potential to make library print materials more easily discovered by the “Born Digital” generation and more accessible to users with disabilities, the elderly, those living in rural areas or low-income communities, and students.

In the United States, there are legal concepts which not only make the idea of libraries possible, they also allow libraries to use CDL to make more books available. These legal concepts are called “First Sale” and “Fair Use.” mFirst Sale is a fundamental American ideal. It allows the buyer of any item to lend, resale or otherwise dispose of that item as they see fit. It’s why you can sell an old car without having to get permission from Ford, GM, or Toyota first. It’s why you can sell your used CD’s on eBay. First Sale is also why you can give gifts over the holidays. In fact, the First Sale is how libraries are legally able to lend books to users in the first place. The library bought a copy (the “first sale”) and can loan it thousands of times to anyone without paying again. It is such a basic part of the American economy we don’t even notice it anymore.

Fair Use is the other basic part of what makes CDL possible. Fair Use is a part U.S. Copyright Law which allows citizens to use portions of copyrighted books or magazines for various reasons, including research, teaching, criticism, commentary, and news reporting. Those reasons depend (according to Copyright Law) on the purpose of the use, the nature of the work being copied, the amount of the work copied, and the potential market impact of copying the item. Together, these considerations are known as the “Four Factors.” For example, U.S. libraries make a fair use when they regularly create digital copies that can be used by the blind and visually impaired through a screen reader. Fair use is why students can quote a section of a book or article for analysis in their term paper without seeking permission or paying for the privilege. It is because of these legal provisions that libraries can provide electronic access to their print collections using CDL while respecting the intellectual property rights of authors and publishers.

CDL is an important tool for helping to share the information, knowledge, and insights that are locked up in many print-only books. Because a library using CDL scans the book it can then make books searchable via the web, Authors whose works are no longer in-print can be discovered anew by readers and researchers. Publishers can help further access to their back catalogs of books that were never digitized. CDL, in turn, allows these materials to be requested by anyone in the world. By offering the ability to request and use print library materials from anywhere, CDL helps libraries realize the goal of equity of access and the democratization of knowledge, bringing the whole of library print collections to anyone with a computer and an internet connection. We see CDL dropping barriers to access and promoting the efficient use of taxpayer money spent on these resources.

In this era of fake news and untrustworthy online sources, CDL can also serve as a strong antidote to misinformation by providing direct access to professionally edited and peer-reviewed print materials. Libraries were founded in the United States on the belief that knowledge should be free and available to all. CDL helps extend this important concept into the digital era by ensuring that the wealth of information to be discovered inside the world of print books is not just a luxury for the rich or a walled garden for specific privileged groups but a perpetual resource for generations to come.

Help libraries secure the funding they need to ensure that all Americans have the access and ability to read what they want. Join us at facebook.com/everylibrary.

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