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Controlled Digital Lending

Open Access   ·   Open Education

Providing access to information by lending books and other materials to the public is a fundamental role of any library. To lend materials more effectively, many libraries are using the practice of Controlled Digital Lending (CDL) to share their collections with the communities they serve. Rooted in the fair use right of US Copyright Act, CDL is the digital equivalent of traditional physical library lending—a library can digitize a book it owns and lend out a secured digital version to one user at a time, in place of the physical item. 

Controlled Digital Lending has three important core principles:

  • A library must own a legal copy of the physical book, by purchase or via donation or gift;
  • A library must maintain an “owned to loaned” ratio, simultaneously lending no more copies than it legally owns; and,
  • A library must use technical measures to ensure that the digital file cannot be copied or redistributed.

Libraries ranging from public libraries to academic and research libraries to digital libraries are using CDL for a wide range of purposes. Some are focused on providing more convenient and efficient delivery of library resources to a broader community, while others use it to make print materials more easily discoverable. Some use CDL to provide materials in digital formats that are more accessible to those with print and physical disabilities, while still others point to the important role CDL plays in preserving and protecting library collections.  

During the current COVID-19 pandemic, many libraries are using CDL to provide access to materials that their community simply can not be accessed in any other way—creating a lifeline for students, teachers, researchers, and the public at large. 

SPARC supports Controlled Digital Lending. We are an active participant in an education and advocacy coalition for CDL, and have supported  a variety of events to help educate the community on this practice.  

We are also a signatory to this community Position Statement, along with many other libraries and library organizations. If your library is interested in signing the statement, you can do so here

Resources from SPARC & Others on CDL

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