In the context of the unprecedented challenges associated with the spread of COVID-19, many of you will have read about an effort from the Internet Archive (IA) to launch a “National Emergency Library” (NEL). Essentially, the NEL was an effort to create unlimited access to digital editions of books in their collection. At a time when physical libraries were closing, this ambitious effort to open up content that had been previously limited or subject to paywalls was both praised and criticized.
At our presses we had already agreed to allow open digital access to our scholarly collections. At UNC Press, we opened our book collections in platforms like Project MUSE, Books at JSTOR, Ebsco, and ProQuest. Duke University Press offered free platform access to digital collections of books and journals to requesting libraries through June 30, 2020. Over 200 libraries have taken Duke up on this offer. Duke University Press opened up content to the public in several timely syllabi, including Navigating the Threat of Pandemic and Care in Uncertain Times. These arrangements had been made through dialog and discussion with those vendors who sought our perspective and permission.
The NEL was different in that the IA acted unilaterally and blurred legal arguments with extra-legal (read: emergency) justifications. This ignored the agency that authors and publishers legally and conventionally exercise. And as our colleague Karin Wulf from the Omohundro Institute wrote, it ignored the systems that invest in the production of these books.
After IA acted unilaterally in creating the National Emergency Library, we criticized the effort and presses began the process of withdrawing titles. However, after a conference call with the leadership of the IA and many university press directors, we realized our two presses shared many of the same goals of the NEL, but we simply disagreed with the process by which the main goal was being achieved.
After this conference call, we subsequently opened a separate line of communication with the IA and we’re pleased to announce that within a few days, we created a one-page Statement of Cooperation to allow our university press titles to participate in the NEL. The key features of this statement were:
- Flipping the NEL from an opt-out to an opt-in arrangement where the Press provided affirmation and permission for titles to be included;
- It gave the Press agency to determine when the “emergency” would be over (June 30);
- It committed the IA to perform prompt take-downs (upon our individual author requests);
- It ensured the sharing of usage data while protecting the privacy of patrons.
UNC Press and Duke University Press authors who do not want to have their books included in the NEL can write directly to email@example.com with the subject line “National Emergency Library Removal Request.” Or they can reach out to us, and we’ll pass that communication to the IA.
We have shared the boilerplate language of the Statement of Cooperation with other university presses, but there remains significant (and justifiable) mistrust within our community for the Internet Archive. That mistrust exists among many publishers beyond university presses and precedes the NEL. There couldn’t be a worse time to be arguing about something like this. Possibly the most important part of the joint statement is the last line: “The Parties commit to a sustained, good-faith dialog about a long-term model for including the Press’s titles in the Internet Archive.” We have every confidence that we will make that happen.
Spangler Family Director, UNC Press
Director, Duke University Press
Statement of Cooperation
The spread of COVID-19 has had an unprecedented impact on scholarly communications. The entire creation and distribution chain for books (including authors, publishers, wholesalers, libraries, bookstores, students, teachers, and readers) has been upended. We agree that in this extraordinary moment, an unprecedented level of cooperation is required to address this crisis in order to meet the dire needs of readers—especially students and other readers who are at risk for losing access to their traditional sources of books.
The Press and the Internet Archive share a collective mission to distribute books and published materials as broadly and fairly as possible, while not adversely jeopardizing the ability of the Press and its authors to continue to produce such materials. During the spread of COVID-19, the Press and the Internet Archive have been contacted by countless teachers and students requesting access to materials, indicating a heightened and urgent demand.
Therefore, the Press agrees to allow the Internet Archive to temporarily remove the waitlist restrictions on its titles in the National Emergency Library through June 30. Within two weeks prior to that date, the Parties agree to consider an extension of this temporary lending policy. The Internet Archive agrees to promptly remove titles published by the Press where the author or the Press has requested an exemption from the temporary policy.
The Internet Archive commits to sharing usage data to the Press and helping the Press determine whether books not already in the Internet Archive could potentially be added to the policy.
The Parties stipulate that nothing in this Statement of Cooperation shall be deemed a precedent or construed as support, acknowledgment or agreement to any legal position about the long-term presence of the Press’s books in the Internet Archive, including in Controlled Digital Lending.
The Parties commit to a sustained, good-faith dialog about a long-term model for including the Press’s titles in the Internet Archive.