Digital Rights Management: The Librarian’s Guide. Edited by Catherine A. Lemmer and Carla P. Wale. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2016. 212 p. $45.00 softcover (ISBN: 978-1-4422-6375-8); $110.00 hardback (ISBN: 978-1-4422-6374-1).

Passion for digital rights management (DRM) does not typically lure anyone into the library profession; however, DRM is an essential topic for librarians driven to serve their users well. DRM is a daily challenge for libraries and their users, and librarians have a role to play in ensuring public access to information and privacy are considered, counterbalancing the rights of copyright holders. Only by being knowledgeable on the topic can librarians educate and advocate for library users. To this end, Lemmer and Wale have compiled a valuable guide on the basics of DRM for both public and academic librarians. It forms a strong foundation for those unfamiliar with a librarian’s perspective of DRM, and the latter half of the book will be engaging even for experienced librarians. Instructors will be pleased with the sequencing of chapters. They scaffold from basic to more complex concepts, and many of the questions prompted along the way are answered in a subsequent chapter. Though some chapters fall short, most readers will discover something valuable in this collection.

The first three chapters define DRM and explore the technologies that enable it. Chapter 4 addresses staffing and workflows, pointing out the need for greater interaction between public services and technical services staff. A familiar scenario is described wherein users “rarely blink an eye at a DRM contract that pops up on a DVD or e-book without necessarily understanding to what they are agreeing.” The authors assert that librarians lacking a solid understanding of DRM are “equally guilty of this level of resigned, well-intentioned compliance, and where there is poor communication about DRM in the workplace, the intersection of public and technical services in DRM causes additional issues” (67). Any library has more staffing issues to consider than is presented here, including scheduling, cross-training, personalities, and perhaps available legal counsel. Chapter 5 adds a layer to the foundation by examining collections policies and offers considerations. While more in-depth exploration, and perhaps even sample workflows, requirements for gathering documents, or case studies would have improved chapters 4 and 5, they still provide a grounding for considering a library’s circumstances. These chapters would be a strong starting point for a practical online course in the future. Together, the first five chapters could provide a “crash course” on DRM for librarians.

Chapters 6–9 are engaging and timely, covering open access (OA), information privacy, and copyright. Keele and Odell examine in chapter 6 specific DRM techniques that further OA. Instead of focusing on how librarians can accommodate DRM, they explore how DRM can work for librarians. In a world of reuse, where the creators of some works intend for them to be passed hand-to-hand or shared online, DRM ensures that the license remains attached and accessible to any end user. The authors state that OA is the fastest growing section of the scholarly publishing market. As electronic collections are becoming more difficult for libraries to sustain, particularly academic collections in STEM fields, OA resources are appealing. It is argued that we need to know how to make these resources easily available and useful to patrons through metadata, usability, and preservation. This overview of technologies to provide access and protect authors’ rights is valuable, whether libraries are collectors or publishers, and shows a slightly different side of DRM.

Studwell and Jefferson offer a complex and detailed discussion of privacy and DRM in chapter 7. Since the publication of this chapter, the landscape regarding information privacy has changed.1 However, this chapter still provides an essential and engaging discussion. To be better able to critically analyze ongoing changes in government regulation, and possible future changes, the broad understanding chapter 7 provides is essential. It starts with personal privacy issues, addresses historical regulation and case law, and ends with information-privacy responsibilities of libraries. For individuals, privacy often conflicts with convenience, efficiency, and even safety, and the library is just one setting where this conflict occurs. This chapter clearly explains how information that can be used to identify a person creates privacy problems when combined with other data, or when it is stored, aggregated, and analyzed.

Unfortunately, consumer interest and education, privacy policies of businesses, judicial interpretation of US law, regulatory agency policy, and US data law have not necessarily advanced to protect consumers as commercial practices in collecting consumer data have. Users face the often uncomfortable choice of relinquishing personal privacy to access information or not accessing that information at all. “If we don’t have the conversation about why reading and reader privacy matter, the choice will still be made, but it will be made only by companies interacting with the market” (134). Further, the authors argue that a clear opportunity exists for libraries to step up by articulating library privacy policies and those of third parties operating in and through libraries’ physical and digital spaces, and by educating communities. The author also express hope for efforts, such as NISO, to pull libraries together with software and content providers to draft principles that acknowledge all interests and roles in user privacy.2

In the final chapter, Neacsu argues that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) has positioned “knowledge as a luxury good” and that DRM generally contradicts copyright’s spirit of “overall progress and knowledge production” (174). The author argues that DRM makes fair use “inoperable” through its assumption that any use not expressly approved is illegal. Further, DRM interferes with libraries’ role in balancing information inequality, and it stifles innovation. Moving from the philosophical to the practical, the author illustrates myriad ways library departments and functions are hampered by DRM, proposing next steps for advocacy and alternative models for libraries. This final chapter concludes with considerations for agitating more broadly through consortia, library associations, and even the Librarian of Congress.

For librarians new to the profession or new to DRM, or those seeking to better serve their patrons regarding information access or privacy, this book is essential. It guides readers while not being restrictively prescriptive. It prompts questions and curiosity. Readers may find that when they finish it they are eager to get to work.—Laura Schmidli (laura.schmidli@gmail.com), Madison, Wisconsin


  1. Deborah Caldwell-Stone and Michael Robinson, “How Libraries Can Respond to the Repeal of Privacy Rules,” Choose Privacy Week, March 31, 2017, https://chooseprivacyweek.org/how-libraries-can-respond-to-the-repeal-of-the-fcc-privacy-rules.
  2. “NISO Consensus Principles on User’s Digital Privacy in Library, Publisher, and Software-Provider Systems,” National Information Standards Organization, December 10, 2015, http://niso.org/topics/tl/patron_privacy.


  • There are currently no refbacks.

ALA Privacy Policy

© 2021 ALCTS