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Mellon Funds NISO Work in Controlled Digital Lending (CDL)

Mellon Funds NISO Work in Controlled Digital Lending (CDL)

October 2021

NISO Receives Grant of $125,000

The National Information Standards Organization (NISO) today announced that it has received a grant of $125,000 from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support the development of a consensus framework for implementing controlled digital lending (CDL) of book content by libraries, which has been approved by NISO members as a new initiative. 

Libraries exist to serve their communities, to distribute information and knowledge of all kinds to users of many types, abilities, and resources; circulation of content in all formats is a core feature of what libraries exist to do, and they have been doing so legally for centuries. CDL is an emerging “lend like print” approach, which enables libraries to loan digital versions of their print books while using technical controls to ensure a consistent “owned-to-loaned” ratio. This allows a library to lend the exact number of copies of a specific title it owns—regardless of format—with controls to prevent users from redistributing or copying the digitized version. The need for standards and best practices related to CDL was one of the three top ideas identified during the NISO Plus Conference that took place in February of this year.

For institutional sharing, CDL is also an extension of traditional inter-library loan (ILL) services. It uses the application of new technologies to more efficiently serve these requests, with lower costs, faster response time, lower environmental impact (no shipping), and more effective collections development and management. Through CDL, libraries can make out-of-print books available and also provide access to readers with disabilities. Fragile collections—which would not otherwise be able to circulate—can be made available via CDL, enabling access to rare or unique materials by a wider range of researchers. 

"We are very grateful for the support from The Mellon Foundation in support of this work to help uptake of CDL in all kinds of libraries, whether or not they are well-resourced," said Todd Carpenter, Executive Director of NISO. "With the support of contributors in our working group, this effort will consolidate the range of approaches currently being deployed, thereby supporting faster and cheaper deployment of CDL in institutions. It will also serve as a catalyst that identifies and spurs the advancement of beneficial changes to existing specifications, the development of new tools, or potential infrastructure that may be needed. This proposed consensus framework aims to serve both academic and public libraries, as well as special libraries and archives."

Mellon’s funding for the development of a consensus framework for CDL will enable NISO to work with the information community to detail and compare existing practices already implemented across broad types of libraries, and to define best practices for multiple aspects of this new service model, lowering barriers for adoption. Among other things, the grant will support several in-person meetings of a new NISO Working Group charged with developing a Recommended Practice—Interoperable System of Controlled Digital Lending—which was formally approved by NISO Voting Members on September 15, 2021. 

The Working Group’s scope will include refining existing models that describe the similarities and differences between CDL and traditional circulation and ILL; developing use cases for CDL that take into account all libraries who may adopt it; identifying gaps in the understanding of CDL applications; developing model processes for library staff; describing systems interoperability requirements; and identifying changes needed to existing library protocols and standards. Importantly, lessons learned from patron and staff experiences from the range of current implementations will be incorporated into the working group process to ensure that usability and accessibility is addressed in the output.

For more information about the Working Group, or to volunteer to participate, please contact the NISO Office at