Internet Archive Expands Partnerships for Open Libraries Project

The Internet Archive is seeking partners for its Open Libraries project. Recent contributors include Trent University, ON, which donated more than 250,000 books last year during the renovation of its Bata Library, and longtime project partner Boston Public Library (BPL), which donated its sound archives for digitization in 2017.

Open Library logoThe Internet Archive is seeking partners for its Open Libraries project. Recent contributors include Trent University, Ont., which donated more than 250,000 books last year during the renovation of its Bata Library, and longtime project partner Boston Public Library (BPL), which donated its sound archives for digitization in 2017.

Funded in part by a grant from the California State Library and the Kahle/Austin Foundation, the non-profit Open Libraries' reformatting program accepts donated books and other materials from libraries, digitizes this content in its scanning centers, makes those materials available to the public via controlled lending at, and provides a set of the digitized files to the donor library, explained Chris Freeland, director of Open Libraries.

“Many people are familiar with the Internet Archive’s [IA] activities in backing up the web, which we’ve been doing since 1996, and many libraries are familiar with the work [IA] has done for more than 15 years now in digitizing collections,” Freeland told LJ. Several libraries have worked with the Internet Archive to donate or digitize public domain materials published in 1924 or earlier, he added. “But what many libraries aren’t as familiar with is our acquisition program.”

The acquisition a program involves collecting donations of in-copyright materials from libraries and booksellers, digitizing this content in IA's scanning center in Cebu, the Philippines, and then storing the physical copies in archive facilities in Richmond, CA. The organization’s goal is to ramp up digitization to 500,000 books per year, and “to have more than four million books online for the public,” Freeland said.

Four million is the current target, he explained, because it would match the collection size of a large metropolitan system. These digital copies are then made available for checkout on a one-physical-copy, one-user basis to anyone with an Open Libraries account, which requires only an email address for signup.

“We are looking for partner libraries to help in this whole program,” IA founder Brewster Kahle told LJ. “We, right now, have funding to digitize all of the materials that we physically own. So if we can get donations of books, CDs, LPs, 78s, we can preserve them…. We’re looking for large-scale reformatting projects, so that we can offer back to libraries a hopefully more accessible version of materials” including collections that may be headed to offsite storage following a remodel, or media that are facing declining use owing to format.


As a separate matter, the digitize-and-lend model, which the Internet Archive has been exploring since 2011 with BPL and the Boston Library Consortium, relies on an unsettled area of U.S. copyright law. First sale doctrine—basically the idea that once a copy of a book is sold, the buyer can do whatever they want with that copy without asking for the publisher’s permission—was codified in the 1909 Copyright Act. It enables U.S. libraries to buy and loan print books, DVDs, and other physical media without systems such as the per-circ Public Lending Right fees paid to authors by libraries in the UK, for example.

But the concept of first sale has become much murkier with digital files. Publishers, along with groups including the Author’s Guild and the Association of American Publishers, note that first sale protections have never granted book owners permission to create copies of a work. Opponents of the concept describe it as a form of piracy, despite IA maintaining a strict one-to-one ratio of physical copies owned to digital copies borrowed. (For example, at press time, there was a holds list of more than 423 people—16 years of two-week loans—for the out-of-print Wasted: Tales of a GenX Drunk, by Mark Judge, a title that gained notoriety during the 2018 Senate confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, a high school friend of the author.)

“This is nothing new,” Freeland said. “These groups have raised opposition before, but we keep doing what we’re doing, because we believe that we have the right to do so…. We believe in this mission of making information as widely available as possible. Our mission is universal access to all knowledge, and to get to that idea, you have to have [access to] 20th century literature.”

Last fall, several major public and academic library systems, library consortia, legal scholars, and organizations including the Internet Archive signed a position statement supporting the concept of digitize-and-lend, now broadly defined as Controlled Digital Lending (CDL). Kyle K. Courtney, copyright advisor for Harvard University and a 2015 LJ Mover & Shaker, and David R. Hansen, Clinical Assistant Professor of Law and Reference and Faculty Research Librarian for the University of North Carolina, published a white paper outlining CDL.

The position statement contends that CDL would be particularly useful for out-of-print titles, orphan works, or in-copyright works that publishers have never digitized, and would help facilitate access  “to residents in rural communities, the elderly or physically disabled, and others for whom a trip to their local library may be a barrier to access.”

The debate over CDL, and digital first sale more broadly, will continue, but in the meantime, Freeland noted that partnering with the Open Libraries project could help public and academic libraries as a practical matter.

“We really want to tell this story of library reformatting and our long-term storage of both the physical object as well as its digital surrogate…because we want to offer libraries a way of dealing with space issues and crowded collections,” he told LJ in an e-mail. “The discussion naturally extends to controlled digital lending because that's how we can make these in-copyright texts that we're scanning available.  We see ourselves fitting into a unique niche for the library community (we are accepting donations to make the scholarship available to the world, not resell it), and we want the community to know more about what we're doing.”

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Matt Enis


Matt Enis ( is Senior Editor, Technology for Library Journal.

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Posted : Oct 25, 2019 07:59



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