June 20, 2024

Stepping Down as Co-Chair of the National Information Standards Controlled Digital Lending Working Group

For two and a half years, I served as the Co-Chair of the National Information Standards Organization (NISO)’s Interoperable Standards for Controlled Digital Lending (CDL) Working Group. The goal was to develop a technical standard for digital lending, affirming the library’s right to lend and promoting equitable digitization practices in libraries using open standards and protocols.

I am stepping down because I believe that publishers and their affiliated trade associations are more interested in undermining that mission and the NISO process than they are in finding a solution for CDL that respects the rights of libraries, authors, publishers, and readers.

The Working Group’s proposed standard, which offers best practice recommendations for libraries implementing digital lending programs, was drafted by eighteen library, technology, and publishing professionals following the standard NISO consensus process beginning in September 2021. This included approval of a work plan for publication by NISO’s topic committee made up of publishers and libraries in May 2023. The Working Group spent the past two and a half years presenting the draft proposals in public at conferences, in webinars, and in blog posts, providing updates on our work in a variety of fora. Publishers and their trade associations elected not to engage with the process during the public development of the technical standard.

Instead, on the final day of open public comment on the standard's draft, about a dozen trade associations and large publishers submitted a slew of negative, out-of-scope comments revealing their objections to the NISO work for the first time, which led to a crisis within NISO’s consensus process. After an open meeting in which publishing trade associations and lawyers refused to engage in productive dialogue with the Working Group, publication of the final standard is in a stalemate. It is stuck between a consensus-driven organization that wishes to engage with its members and a small group of vocal trade associations that are intent on blocking any productive movement. These groups waited until the end of the process to declare that the entire concept of digital lending is unacceptable to them. This is not the behavior of parties with a good faith interest in finding a collaborative solution.

For too long, publishers have undermined the work of library professionals and our commitment to access. Large corporate actors continue to challenge library acquisition and lending, even as libraries pay them exorbitant sums to license content without being offered a way to acquire it outright. Even while paying, most library collections professionals have encountered threats to their work through NDAs and occasionally public testimony or litigation.

As information professionals, our Code of Ethics states that we must “respect intellectual property rights and advocate balance between the interests of information users and rights holders.” The Working Group’s recommendations do just that. Throughout the document, we outline specific technical guidelines for various modes of modern digital lending, including how to lend digital books when an e-book license was not available at the time of digitization, how to work with publishers to allow for CDL of their undigitized backfile, and how to address digitization concerns about special and irreplaceable physical objects.

As many of my colleagues have asserted throughout the process, the Working Group has simply written technical standards for modern digital lending that protect the rights of libraries to provide equitable access to a wide range of digital materials for discoverability, education, and the print disabled. Digital lending that balances copyright and the library’s rights under fair use is the future of libraries. 

Library Futures remains committed to supporting an equitable, hopeful future for digital lending by libraries, including working with publishers, authors, and readers through our projects, programs, and positive approach to access. Unfortunately, the discussions within this Working Group were hijacked by bad actors that insisted it focus on topics that were not relevant, productive, or confined to the technical standards at hand.

I want to thank my fellow Working Group members for their diligent commitment to digital lending and to extend gratitude to NISO for convening this work. Whether or not big publishers approve, the standards are drafted and ready for use. I look forward to seeing how libraries use these standards to innovate and provide access to the public, as we always have.

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