Claremont School of Theology Donates 250,000 Books to the Open Library

Thomas E. Phillips, Dean of the Library at Claremont School of Theology, announced the news today in an email to the American Theological Library Association listserv, which I here quote with his permission:

Claremont School of Theology has donated about 250,000 religious studies volumes to the Internet Archive to be placed in their Open Library for “controlled digital lending.” These volumes include many very important and very recent resources in the field. … Look for these books to begin appearing the Open Library beginning around Jan. 1. The digitization of the entire collection is scheduling to take place within the next two years. CST has made this donation as it relocates to Salem, OR to embed within Willamette University. The CST board approved this donation in large measure to increase global access to religious studies scholarship.

This is big news, not just for scholars and librarians working in Religious and Theological Studies, but also for the larger library and Scholarly Communication world.

As a PhD granting institution, Claremont School of Theology was home to one of the premier research collections in Religious Studies in the western US. It benefited from decades of partnership with and support from the Claremont Colleges and Claremont Graduate University. CST’s relocation to Willamette, Oregon, would have made this extraordinary collection inaccessible to researchers in the population-dense Los Angeles region, inaccessible, that is, except through institutional-affiliation based ILL. The inclusion of these 250,000 research volumes in the Open Library will make an enormous impact on a field for which an estimated 70%-80% of books only exist in print, and most of which are out of print.

This gesture of radical solidarity of one library with its fellow library (the Internet Archive) couldn’t come at a better time, given last week’s lawsuit by four major publishers to end the Open Library and challenge its legal basis in Controlled Digital Lending. If these publishers get their way, it will not merely affect their own book offerings and authors. It will do irreparable damage to the accessibility of legally purchased, library-owned and library-borrowed materials. Scholarship and the advancement of science will be harmed far beyond the scope of the publishers’ commercial interests.

Let’s hope more and more libraries formalize their partnerships with Open Library and make substantial book donations like this one. Every partnership and every library book donation strengthens the case that the Open Library, like the Wayback Machine, Archive-It, and other initiatives of the Internet Archive, is a legal and essential service, a veritable public utility of digital knowledge and history that has to be protected for the public good.

If libraries wish to be even more radical in their stand of solidarity with the Open Library and their commitment to Controlled Digital Lending, cease licensing ebooks altogether going forward. Despite the deceptive marketing of ebooks, libraries never actually buy or purchase them anyway. Licenses give a fraction of the rights available to libraries under First Sale. The more libraries have shifted to ebook licensing, the more voluminous the bleeding of paying more and more money for less and less rights. Going forward, only buy print books [or fund the creation or unlatching of fully open access, CC-BY licensed books], then partner with the Open Library to ensure they are digitized and that the digital analogs of each print book are made available to the global public. Only in this way can libraries continue to obtain and exercise their full bundle of First Sale rights.

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