Confronting Barriers to Sharing Streaming Video Between Libraries

Cartoon two-tone grey mobile tablet with a widescreen, that is streaming a video using a video sharing application, that is showing a green background with a grey camera and a red play sign logo.
Cartoon Mobile Tablet Streaming a Video Online by Vector Toons • CC BY-SA 4.0

Over fifty people attended the session “Streaming Video: Confronting Barriers to Sharing Between Libraries program” at the 2019 ALA Annual Conference. The program was co-sponsored by the Reference and User Services Association (RUSA) Sharing and Transforming Access to Resources Section and the Film and Media Round Table (FMRT). The panel of presenters, all from the Auraria Library at the University of Colorado Denver, talked about their new SILLVR initiative (Streaming Interlibrary Loan for Video Resources). The group can be contacted at or followed on Twitter @ProjectSILLVR.

The program began with an online survey. Participants were asked whether their libraries currently offer online streaming video. The majority of respondents do. The second question asked how much libraries currently spend annually on streaming video. Finally, participants were asked a hypothetical question: If users could borrow streaming video via interlibrary loan (ILL), how often would they do it?  Most respondents felt that patrons would take advantage of the opportunity to “borrow” access to streaming video titles with some frequency.

The Auraria Library, like most academic libraries, has a growing collection of streaming video titles available to their patrons and has significantly increased spending on this format. However, none of these resources can be shared through ILL. The presenters argued that ILL service is a social justice issue. Libraries in the rural part of their state rely heavily on loans from better funded academic libraries to provide materials to their patrons. Unlike videos on disc or videocassette, streaming videos cannot be shared and are thus only available to patrons who can attend a four-year college, live in wealthier parts of the state with well-funded public libraries, or can afford to pay for individual subscriptions to streaming services. The presenters make the case that advocating for access to streaming video for all patrons is an equity issue. Libraries may not be able to influence video providers like Netflix and Hulu, but we do have influence in the educational video marketplace. Libraries should request licenses that allow interlibrary loan of content. The speakers argue that allowing interlibrary loan would not deprive vendors of revenue; rather, sales would increase because libraries would be able to analyze ILL data to make informed purchase decisions, much as they currently do with e-book packages.

Libraries must be ready to advocate for the sharing of materials, whatever new formats those materials are in, in order to enact our values of equity and access.

A major issue in any discussion of resource sharing is that of legal restrictions. The United States Code has several exceptions for library use of materials. Libraries can lend materials under certain conditions. It could be argued that controlled digital lending of streaming video would fall under the “fair use” provision in the copyright law. Another feature of copyright law that is relevant is the “first sale doctrine,” which allows for the purchaser of a copyrighted work to sell, display, or dispose of that copy. However, a court recently ruled in Capitol Records, LLC v. ReDigi Inc. that digital music files can not be transferred because the copy was an unauthorized reproduction. But vendor license agreements supersede the copyright code. The presenters gave sample language that could be included in streaming media licenses to permit interlibrary loans.

The presentation next considered technology implications of streaming video loans. Technology exists to share e-books, but no service yet allows the sharing of streaming video. Any technology must be web-based, have dedicated links, be secure and time-controlled, and prevent copying. Streaming video is complex because there are many different platforms. Because video files are so easy to duplicate, any sharing technology would need DRM (digital rights management) which would allow providers to retain control over the content. Another issue to consider is the quality of streaming video metadata. Currently most metadata is provided by the vendors and it is not high quality. Interlibrary loan depends on good metadata for discoverability. Another factor is how to maintain accurate holdings information, especially when holdings are often uploaded to multiples sites (e.g., a library’s catalog, a consortial catalog, or a utility like OCLC).

The presenters then described the SILLVR project. The pilot has not yet begun, but the group is in talks with several vendors. They hope to find between one and three vendors to partner with. Should the pilot go forward, the potential workflow would begin with libraries uploading records for their streaming video titles to the shared consortial catalog. A patron would request to borrow a title through their local library. The library would then request a link and a token from the vendor. This link and token would be shared with the borrowing library, which would then pass it to the patron. (The token is the software which ensures that the video access expires at the end of the loan period.) The program would collect statistics about the borrowing and lending libraries. They would also collect statistics from the vendor, about how many titles were requested, the names of the titles, and how long the patron watched. The loan period would follow current ILL guidelines, with a 21-day loan period and no renewals. The service would be free to patrons, because the lending libraries would already be paying the video providers for access.

The audience had many questions for the presenters. One question was whether this pilot would work with platforms that provide libraries with short-term leases, such as Kanopy. The answer was unclear, but several vendors have expressed interest in working with SILLVR, including Films on Demand and Swank. Another attendee asked whether there had been any success in adding language to vendor contracts that would permit interlibrary loan. The answer was not yet, because the project is still at a very early stage. The next steps will be to finalize the pilot participants and sign contracts. Information about the pilot has been shared at multiple conferences. After it has run, the group will analyze the data, and they hope to expand SILLVR nationally. In summary, the presenters stated that libraries must be ready to advocate for the sharing of materials, whatever new formats those materials are in, in order to enact our values of equity and access.

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