April 20, 2024

All 50 State Librarians Vote to Form Alliance With Internet Archive’s Open Library


All 50 state librarians have decided to throw their weight behind the Internet Archive’s Open Library lending program.

The Chief Officers of State Library Agencies (COSLA) voted unanimously during a meeting held October 24-26 in Santa Fe, NM, to enter into a memorandum of understanding with the Internet Archive (IA) that will essentially make the state librarian in each state a point person for the Open Library’s lending program.

Brewster Kahle, the founder of the Internet Archive, made a soft announcement of the agreement during a presentation at the Books in Browsers Conference held in San Francisco from October 26-28.

The final agreement, the product of talks that began about six months ago, has not yet been signed, but both sides say they expect that to happen within the next few weeks.

“I’m thrilled,” said Robert Miller, IA’s global director of books. “If three out of five dentists recommend Trident gum, well 50 out of 50 state librarians recommend this lending model,” he said.

“The endorsement from COSLA has an especially high value because there is a statement being made about a common need across all 50 states, a common recognition of an opportunity, and a common recognition of a need to work together,” he said.

Jim Scheppke, the Oregon state librarian and the chairman of COSLA’s ebook task force, was equally excited.

“COSLA and Internet Archive share the vision that every public library in the U.S. should provide ebooks, at no charge, to their communities as soon as we can make that happen,” he said.

Scheppke said COSLA is just completing a survey of its membership which shows that 40 percent of public libraries, mainly small, rural libraries, have not yet begun to offer downloadable ebooks.

“That’s a matter of great concern,” he said. “We think public libraries need to get in the game as soon as possible.”

In addition to helping public libraries around the country accomplish this goal, Scheppke said the collaboration will strengthen IA with a network it could not tap on its own and also with a phalanx of influential allies it can point to when doing fund raising.

The "borrow ebooks" portal on Open Library

The Open Library lending program is essentially an electronic consortium in which participating libraries send their books to the Internet Archive to be digitized and then the works become part of a lending pool which patrons from participating libraries can dip into.

The program only began in March with about 150 participating libraries, and it already has grown to include 1000 libraries in eight countries and a collection of about 100,000 titles.

Only one patron can check out a given work at a time (for two weeks and a limit of five titles), and a user must be authenticated as a patron of a participating library. They can read the books via a browser or transfer it to a variety of devices.

Under the new partnership, the state librarians will promote the Open Library to the libraries in their states, helping them to send books and, when possible, defray the costs. They will also work with IA to improve its technology.

“This may be one of the last opportunities for public libraries to consider what they want out of a digital lending program, and whether or not they can work together to achieve it for themselves,” wrote Peter Brantley, IA’s director, in a Publishers Weekly blog post.

Once the title has been digitized, it will be returned to the library or held by IA in their offsite storage facility. Because these titles will still be in copyright, IA suggests that libraries remove the physical book from their lending shelves once the digitized version is available, saying it could help buttress a fair use argument.

The state libraries in Kansas, California, and North Carolina already are actively participating. North Carolina provides a good example of how the new agreement might work in practice.

Mary Boone, the state librarian, acted as a catalyst for IA in North Carolina. She reached out to NC Live, an online service that comprises198 public and academic libraries and provides electronic content to all the state’s libraries.

“As a member of our governing boards, Mary was familiar with this focus and saw that the Open Library program was something that could easily be rolled into our cadre of services,” said Tim Rogers, NC Live’s executive director, to whom Boone referred questions. “The state library should get the lion’s share of the credit for this project in North Carolina,” he said.

“The work that IA has done has been really great, but it has been largely forgotten by a lot of public libraries. I think with state librarians behind it, and making people aware of it, it has a great potential to help democratize content,” Rogers said.

NC Live has organized a meeting in Raleigh on November 18 where it will bring in representatives from IA and explain to libraries interested in participating how the program will work, although some details remain to be worked out. But 75 libraries have already signed up.

“What this does is it brings interlibrary loan into the 21st century,” Rogers said.

IA will digitize the first 10 books that any library sends at no charge, and NC Live will pick up all the shipping costs as well as provide the authentication services. For a library interested in having more works digitized, the financing would have to be negotiated.

“We want every library to contribute at least 10 books,” Rogers said. The Public Library of Johnston County and Smithfield has already sent in some books to IA.

“This was our proof of concept library, and once successful, we plan to roll it out statewide, and I plan to have the service available across the state by January 1,” Rogers said. Even if a library has not contributed a work, its patrons can access the collection by virtue of the library being a member of NC LIVE.

Both Rogers and Scheppke, the Oregon state librarian, said the collaboration with IA was particularly attractive because it offers the opportunity to maximize content.

“What appeals to us is that even for libraries already offering ebooks, most of them are using a service like OverDrive, which is limited to newer, popular reading materials and public domain works,” Scheppke said. “What the Open Library is attempting to do is take that huge number of books from 1923 to 2000 that are out-of-print and in-copyright and turn those into ebooks,” he said.

Scheppke said this allows libraries the chance to envision digitizing everything in their collection, from books about local history to works by local authors.

“If that doesn’t happen who knows when those books will become ebooks, maybe never,” Scheppke said. “That’s what really appeals to the state libarians;  it’s a solution we haven’t had up until now to have a much more complete ebook collection,” he said.

Jo Budler, the Kansas state librarian, who has been involved in an ongoing effort to safeguard access to electronic content across the state as she switches ebook vendors, said that IA will provide a great alternative for libraries.

“We are encouraging every library in the state to send books,” Budler said. “We will be working with IA to increase functionality and talk about what the issues are, but Robert [Miller of IA] has been and great and he wants to know what they can do to make it better,” she said.

Miller said IA recognizes that the collaboration dovetails with librarians’ abiding desire to get knowledge out to their patrons and to be part of the solution that will accomplish this in the digital age.

“This is another tool they can put in their toolkit,” he said.

Michael Kelley About Michael Kelley

Michael Kelley is the former Editor-in-Chief, Library Journal.


  1. Save for this statement — “because these titles will still be in copyright, IA suggests that libraries remove the physical book from their lending shelves once the digitized version is available, saying it could help buttress a fair use argument” — there’s no mention here of potential for violation of copyright. The Google Books agreement fell apart on the orphan works issue and the Hathi Trust is now being sued. Most public library patrons want the more recent stuff anyway. Why risk a lawsuit before the legal issues are resolved?

  2. “What the Open Library is attempting to do is take that huge number of books from 1923 to 2000 that are out-of-print and in-copyright and turn those into ebooks”

    Librarians have the following: salary, health care, paid vacation, paid sick days, a pension. Perhaps these benefits have lulled them into thinking that it’s okay to steal intellectual property.

    Librarians DON’T have the legal right to turn an out-of-print, in-copyright book into an e-book unless the author or her literary estate gives permission.

    You people should be ashamed of yourselves. You should also find a very good lawyer. I’ll be looking carefully at the Internet Archive for copyright violations.

    Mary E. Lyons,
    Former librarian
    Fellow-in-Residence, Fall 2011
    Virginia Center for the Humanities

  3. Reliance on Adobe Digital Editions, latest version, is not ideal.

    “Because these titles will still be in copyright, IA suggests that libraries remove the physical book from their lending shelves once the digitized version is available, saying it could help buttress a fair use argument.” Copyright is an issue for futher discussion.

  4. Jeez, Mary, get over yourself.

  5. I applaud the unanimity among state librarians in acknowledging the importance of eBooks and the need to work together to bring this resource to a content-starved public.

    However, this isn’t going to do it. First of all, few libraries will be willing to remove from their shelves the hard copies they are providing to IA and, if they don’t, they will clearly be in violation of copyright.

    Secondly, if they do remove their hard copies, they will have handed over a resource available to their limited number of patrons in order to make it available to a vastly greater number of patrons, ultimately as many as 330 million. Giving up a popular Danielle Steel title, in order for it to be morphed into an eBook which can only be checked out to one person at a time, out of a pool of millions of patrons, for (usually) two weeks, is not going to endear many librarians to their Boards of Trustees.

    The current Overdrive/consortia model works much the same way, equally inadequately as a delivery method for eager eReaders.

    Into the mix comes Amazon’s Kindle Owner’s Lending Library, with a lending model that DOES make sense (no one waits for a book they want from that collection which, you may be sure, will grow well beyond its initial offering of 5,000 titles).

    If libraries (and traditional publishers) are to remain viable in this new world of eBooks, they are going to have to come up with more dramatic and bolder moves than these, or Amazon (or some other commercial entity) will eat their lunch.

    I offer one possible solution, and discuss this most important issue at greater length, on my blog at:

  6. Jane Vigness says:

    If I understand this right, only one person in the world will be able to check out a given work at a time (for two weeks and a limit of five titles) then I must ask, how does this improve access? The local patron without a digital device would not even have the chance to look at the book because “IA suggests that libraries remove the physical book from their lending shelves once the digitized version is available”.
    A SELCO presentation at MLA (MN Library Ass’n) recommend creating a buzz around e-books aimed at users who are female, 40‐60 years old, highly educated,with higher income. If this truly represents the users of e-books, when did the ‘Public'(access for all) leave the Library?

    Even though all 50 state librarians are running headlong towards the precipice, and only a quiet few are walking in the opposite direction, who is right?