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VIVA: Controlled Digital Lending

Virginia's Academic Library Consortium

This guide has variable layouts and houses the majority of the "sub" pages for VIVA's website.


Please note that this page is being updated in light of the recent Hachette v. Internet Archive ruling. Information currently included is out of date.

Controlled Digital Lending 

  Controlled Digital Lending (CDL) is a method for libraries to loan digitized items from the print collection to patrons in a “lend like print” fashion. It is the digital equivalent of traditional library lending. Libraries digitize a physical item from their collection, then lend out a secured digital version to one user at a time while the original, printed copy is simultaneously marked as unavailable. The number of digital copies of an item allowed to be loaned at any given time is strictly controlled to match the number of physical print copies taken off the shelves, to ensure an exact “owned-to-loaned” ratio.

This page includes information, faq, documentation, and resources for VIVA Libraries digitally lending print materials in this described controlled manner. This page is being updated regularly as the landscape evolves. 


What is CDL?

Controlled digital lending (CDL) is the library practice of circulating temporary digital versions of owned print resources, on an owned-to-loaned ratio, by removing the owned print copy from circulation while the digital copy is in use. Here is a short video that illustrates the process. 

What does CDL do?

CDL is a modern method of lending that uses technology to replicate a library's right to loan legally acquired materials in digital format under controlled conditions. It extends access to physical library resources to users who have limitations on accessing the print collections at VIVA institutions for instruction, study, and research.

Why do we need it?

CDL breaks down barriers to accessing libraries’ physical collections to meet the needs of users, whether they physically live in distant places, have a disability or access barrier, or have any number of other challenges preventing them from being able to go to the library (parents who juggle kids, work and school; students who cannot afford to go to the library; pandemic related reasons, etc.).

Does CDL allow for scanning the whole book (100%), or just a portion?

The entirety of a book (100%) can be scanned and loaned under CDL.

How long can users borrow CDL items? 

It depends on the library or institution. There are temporal limits placed on CDL items that only allow for a user to have the CDL copy for a predetermined period of time. Each library will be different in how long it allows users to borrow these copies, sometimes for only hours at a time, sometimes for a day or two at a time, depending on institutional policy and the nature of the use. 

How can users borrow CDL materials? 

Where items that have been scanned and made available through controlled digital lending will vary by institution. For example, at some institutions, items will be made available through a Virtual Reserves Desk. A library staff member will email a link to the user which will be available to the user for a limited period of time. After the loan expires, the user will no longer be able to open the item on their browser.

Please note that when a book is available via CDL, it means that the print book is not available for borrowing. Some libraries may not make the print books available at all, while others may practice an owned-to-loaned ratio, meaning that while the digital copy is loaned, the print copy will not be available, and vice versa.

Can users print or download a CDL item?

No. Items loaned through CDL cannot be printed or downloaded, due to the legal requirement for libraries to apply controls that prevent the copying and redistribution of the material. In addition, users will have to borrow the CDL item one person at a time, per copy, just as they would with traditional print materials.

Can a print book be scanned for CDL from the library? How does it work?

Creating a digital copy of a print work to be lent in a controlled manner can create equitable paths to library materials for those that cannot access the print collections for a variety of reasons. Examples include distance learners, international students, and users with accessibility or access limitation needs, among others. Many academic libraries permit requests from faculty and students for scanning of print materials through an online request form, and then determine whether the user needs the full work, or just selected chapters or pages. 

Can faculty submit personal items for controlled digital lending? 

No. The library must own the item in order to legally make it available via CDL. Faculty can ask if the item is already owned, and if it isn't, request a copy be purchased.

Can other types of materials be made available under CDL, such as video and audio files?

For the purposes of this FAQ, VIVA is specifically referencing the PRINT holdings of libraries.

How is the practice of CDL justified? 

CDL enables libraries to fulfill their vital role in society to lend legally acquired copies of their collections and is permissible by virtue of the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. Fair use requires a holistic analysis under its four factors: 

  1. the purpose of the use;
  2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. the amount or substantiality used, and; 
  4. the potential effect on the market of the work. 

Libraries that provide access to digital copies of their print collections via CDL rely on fair use to fulfill their mission and purpose to provide access to the materials it owns. All four factors should be taken into consideration, but the first and fourth factor are particularly relevant to CDL. The first, because it is directly tied to the purpose of libraries (to provide access to the materials in their collections) and the fourth because the restrictions (time) and digital controls (drm) placed on lending, including the inability to lend the print copy while the digital copy is being lent, mimic the traditional circulation of print materials. For more information regarding the legal justification for CDL, and a further exploration of applying a fair use analysis, please see the Virginia Extended Access Project: Controlled Digital Lending Framework.  

The practice of CDL directly supports the ALA core values of librarianship by providing the "highest level of service to all library users" and equitable access to library materials "regardless of technology, format, or methods of delivery" using sustainable and efficient "practices that are environmentally sound, economically feasible and socially equitable."  

CDL Mechanisms

CDL mechanisms detail the software solutions and institutional options for managing the preparation and delivery of digitally controlled files to patrons. CDL is a relatively new and evolving concept, and although there are software solutions that can support this effort there is not yet an industry standard. The CDL Mechanisms Document includes an introduction and overview to the most viable current options for managing the preparation and delivery of files to patrons, as well as brief software comparison chart. Each software solution has unique features that should be considered with regard to both legal implications and local workflows of implementing institutions. As software solutions are evolving please also be careful to note the update date on the document to reflect the currency of the review and available options of potential platforms.

CDL Workflows

Once a library has decided to loan materials via CDL, there are a number of logistical issues to consider. The CDL workflows document details various workflow scenarios and examples for how those may work under specific lending scenarios. A decision tree is also available to highlight what decisions must be made to effectively implement CDL, including lending technology, scanners, loan policies, etc.