January 19, 2022

Position Statement on Controlled Digital Lending by Libraries Endorsed by Chief Officers of State Library Agencies (COSLA)

From a COSLA Announcement:

The Board of the Chief Officers of State Library Agencies (COSLA) recently endorsed the Position Statement on Controlled Digital Lending by Libraries as a thoughtful analysis that presents a unique model for leveraging print collections in the digital world. Originating conceptually from the copyright community and pioneered by the Internet Archive through their Open Libraries program, Controlled Digital Lending (CDL) allows libraries to digitize older in-copyright print books. In this ‘lend like print’ model, participating libraries choose to circulate either the print or the digital copy of a title. The model supports libraries in making 20th century materials available digitally while respecting copyright laws. The Internet Archive has been circulating a collection of over one million books using this model since 2008.

Under the CDL model, digital rights management (DRM) is placed on each title to prevent users from redistributing or copying the digitized versionCirculation of all formats of a newly digitized book is limited by an “owned-to-loaned” ratio. This means, for example, that a library that owns one copy of a title and digitizes it, can only circulate one copy (either format) at a time. A digitized (PDF) copy circulates to patrons while the physical copy of the book stays out of circulation.  By adopting CDL, a library can deliver a substantial portion of its older collection of print books electronically, eliminating barriers to access. CDL cannot be used for titles made available digitally by publishers, either born digital or digitized.

A broad library-based community of practice is emerging around controlled digital lending. To date, 37 libraries have implemented CDL. COSLA’s endorsement of the CDL practice serves as encouragement to libraries throughout the United States to explore Open Libraries as a service partner. As Stacey Aldrich, the State Librarian for Hawaii and COSLA President noted, “State libraries and the libraries they serve have an obligation to maximize the return on the information assets they have purchased with taxpayer funds. Controlled digital lending could be a way for us to deliver that information to our citizens wherever they are and give our older collections new life in the digital lives of our patrons.” The Internet Archive and COSLA members will explore opportunities for state-wide pilot programs that use controlled digital lending.

Chris Freeland, director of Open Libraries at The Internet Archive, and the lead builder of the Internet Archives’ collection, celebrated COSLA’s endorsement. “Libraries are looking to community leaders for guidance on this emerging practice. Having the support of COSLA as they investigate this new way to unlock the value of their physical collections should embolden and encourage them as they adopt the practice,” he said.

For more on the impact of controlled digital lending see this series of blog posts about its use in in book preservation, providing expanded access to out-of-print books, historic curriculum materials, academic authors and in serving library users in rural areas without proximity to a physical library. The position statement outlines information about copyright issues.


Libraries and Library Organizations Sign-On to “Controlled Digital Lending of Library Books” Position Statement


“A White Paper on Controlled Digital Lending of Library Books” & “Position Statement on Controlled Digital Lending” (September 28, 2018)


Will ‘Controlled Digital Lending’ Spark the Next Big Copyright Lawsuit? (by Andrew Albanese, PW)

The Implications of the ReDigi Decision for Libraries (by Jonathan Band, via ARL Policy Briefs)

About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.