Controlled digital lending discussed at IFLA’s World Library and Information Congress

The debate over controlled digital lending continues, with presentations from the World Library & Information Congress, statements from IFLA and new products from Ex Libris and EBSCO.

Controlled Digital Lending (CDL) was the topic of a session at the virtual World Library & Information Congress (WLIC) on 17 August 2021. Presenter Kyle K. Courtney, copyright advisor at Harvard University, began by explaining, from a largely U.S. perspective, the concept, its legal basis, and practical applications. He concluded that CDL is a low-risk, reasonable solution. Further, he believes it preserves the legal and fiscal value of library collections. (For more background on CDL, read the article in the January/February 2021 issue of Online Searcher

Following him was Christina de Castell, director of the Vancouver Public Library, Canada, but she spoke as a representative of IFLA’s Copyright & Other Legal Matters Committee. She took a more international approach, while noting that copyright law differs among countries. Her overall advice was to concentrate on older books with educational and research value. CDL is not appropriate for the latest best-selling fiction.

IFLA issued a statement about CDL on 16 June 2021, which formed the backbone of de Castell’s talk. IFLA supports CDL, believing it to be “an important tool for libraries”. The statement goes on to state that all “countries should recognise the possibility for libraries to lend works, that laws should be adapted to the digital environment so that libraries can continue their mission to provide access to information and knowledge in the modern age, and that the combination of exceptions—for example to digitise and lend—should not be restricted unnecessarily.”

EBSCO’s CDL Integration in FOLIO

The day before IFLA issued its support statement, EBSCO Information Services put out a press release   about its commitment to CDL as part of the FOLIO Library Services Platform. “Collaborating with Knowledge Integration (K-Int), EBSCO will advance the development of these solutions for libraries worldwide. EBSCO pledges to focus on the development of an “open- source offering for the lending and circulation of digitised materials, including license and digital rights management.” The FOLIO platform implementation also involves aligning with the Project ReShare Roadmaps. Its Minimum Value Product (MVP) follows a timeline for developing specific elements of CDL, in several stages. The latest news from Project ReShare is that, on 12 August 2021, the ReShare Returnables software went into full production, actively supporting the resource sharing needs of the PALCI consortium, including more than 50 diverse academic libraries located in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and West Virginia. 

Ex Libris’ New CDL Tool in Alma

 More recently, on 19 August 2021, Ex Libris, a ProQuest company, announced its latest forays into CDL. It released a new tool as part of Ex Libris Alma Digital that lets librarians easily make CDL resources available for short-term use. Ex Libris spells out the key principles of CDL, as articulated by the Controlled Digital Lending by Libraries, one of which is maintaining the own-to-loan ratio between the number of copies—both digital and physical—that the library holds and the number of concurrent copies in circulation. In Alma, it’s up to the librarian “to set the parameters for number of concurrent users and amount of time the resource can be used by a library patron.” It even created a You Tube video to further explain the CDL aspects of Alma 

Going forward, Ex Libris plans to implement CDL for general circulation loans and via the Ex Libris Rapido resource sharing platform. The company has established a community-led advisory group to create a roadmap for implementing more CDL capabilities in Ex Libris products.

Why Not CDL?

Not everyone is pleased with, or supports, CDL. A 30 August 2021 article by Devlin Hartline for The Hudson Institute maintains that “Controlled Digital Lending Thwarts Democratic Process and Rights of Authors”. He mostly takes aim at the Internet Archive and its approach to CDL, which is to digitise books and make them available for borrowing. For Hartline, this is a violation of copyright law and the doctrine of first sale, as well as detrimental to authors who have not given permission for their work to be given away for free.

IFLA and other proponents of the principles of CDL will disagree with Hartline’s argument. However, the CDL products being created by companies such as EBSCO and Ex Libris are very different from what Hartline objects to. They are clearly in line with legal CDL. As more libraries implement CDL practices and programs, the more entrenched and accepted they become. At some point, it may become irrelevant for organisations such as IFLA to feel they must issue statements in support of CDL since will become a normal library activity.