The Library Technology Market’s Failure to Support Controlled Digital Lending
Libraries must step up to fulfill their technology needs more broadly
Editor’s Note: Today’s post is by Nathan Mealey, Michael Rodriguez and Charlie Barlow. Measley is associate university librarian for discovery & access at Wesleyan University. Rodriguez is collections strategist at the University of Connecticut Library. Barlow is the executive director of the Boston Library Consortium. Mealey and Rodriguez co-chaired the Boston Library Consortium’s Controlled Digital Lending Working Group in 2020–21.
Controlled Digital Lending (CDL) enables libraries to lend the digitized version of a print copy of a work under controlled conditions, such that simultaneous circulation is limited to the number of legally acquired copies of the work. CDL as a mechanism for interlibrary loan (ILL) is a logical extension of libraries’ resource sharing practices, aligning with the sharing of print books that libraries have engaged in for decades. CDL offers transformative opportunities to patrons and libraries, offering greater choice in how to share and use materials (in digital or physical format), and the ability to facilitate access to collections that libraries would otherwise be unable to lend physically.
Versions of CDL have been implemented by the Internet Archive and arguably by HathiTrust, but it has been slow to manifest more widely. Nearly two years after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and more than three years since the release of the “White Paper on Controlled Digital Lending of Library Books”, CDL remains an idea whose potential is largely unrealized. Libraries have invested significant time and energy in exploring CDL and developing ad hoc local solutions, but find themselves only slightly further along than they were three years ago, constrained above all by the limitations of vended technology solutions.
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