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Controlled Digital Lending with existing tools in the toolbox: Alma Digital

(updated 11/16/2020 with reference to new feature in Dec 2020 Alma release)


Since the pandemic and pivoting into online learning, digital lending suddenly becomes a hot topic where it was almost never heard of before. Controlled digital lending (CDL) will allow library to legally scan their physical holdings, served the content to its patrons digitally and still comply with copyright restrictions. The idea on controlled digital lending is library creating digital copies of physical books while those physical books are not available for use. Therefore, controlled digital lending need to make sure the number of patrons could access the same book simulations cannot exceed the number of physical copies a library has.

Alma Digital

While scrambling to create a technology solution for controlled digital lending, I realized the tool is already in our toolbox. Alma digital, the repository tool that’s part of Alma also has fairly detailed access control and viewer for CDL. Alma digital allows you to control who has access to what books, how many concurrent users, and cool off period between users. The only feature that is missing from Alma digital at the time of writing is you cannot expires a user session after a set period. This feature is planned for Alma Dec 2020 release.  While you could set an idle timeout, e.g. 30 minutes, where it will release the exclusive use of the copy from a user, if the user keeps working on the book by moving forward and backward on the page, their session will remain active. This is not likely to be an issue for regular CDL books. But you will unlikely to use Alma Digital to provide CDL for reserve books where checkout period is usually a few hours.

Set up Access Rights

First, you will need to setup Access Rights Policy in Alma. This option is located under Alma Configuration menu -> Fulfillment -> Access Rights. In Access Rights, you have the options to set which user group has access, which IP range has access and how many concurrent uses it would support. In setting concurrent use limits, Alma ask you to set how many concurrent uses within how long. The time period is cool off period between use.

Setup User Authentication

You will need to configure how you want Alma to authentication your users. You have all the options that Alma would accept for logins. This is a separate configuration from Primo User Authentication. But you could point them to the same system. You could find settings options under Alma Configuration Menu-> Fulfillment -> Patron User Authentication.

Define Viewer

Viewer is how the electronic book is presented to patrons. In general, if you would like to present a PDF file to patrons, Alma view is appropriated. However, if you have image per page, Internet Archive Book Viewer could serve the content in a more user-friendly way. You could setup viewer in Alma Configuration menu ->Fulfillment-> Discovery Interface Display Logic->Viewer Service. You could simply pick one viewer as default viewer for every resources. Alternatively, you could pick different viewer based on file types.

Uploading eBooks to Alma

Now you are ready to start CDL, let’s walkthrough how you could actually upload an item to Alma Digital. First, you will need to create an overarching collection to house resources. You could create one collection that covers all or many collections based on criteria of your choice. To create a top-level collection, go to Resources in the menu and select Manage Collection under Manage Inventory. Here you could create top level collections. Once you have the top-level collection ready to go, we could now add titles to the collection by using “Add Digital Representation” option under the Resources menu. You could create a brief bib record using the form or attach the representation to an existing bib record. Remember to select an “Access Rights Policy” in the Representation Details. This is the access rights policy you created previously. Finally, upload the files for the electronic resources.

The item you just uploaded would appear in your Primo search results following normal Alma publishing schedules.

Now you have a functioning controlled digital lending system. Usage data are available in Alma Analytics under Digital Usage.  Don’t forget to check if the digital files you are providing to patrons are fully accessible.

2 Replies to “Controlled Digital Lending with existing tools in the toolbox: Alma Digital”

  1. “Alma digital allows you to control … how long they could keep reading it [but] you cannot set the total length a user could keep on a book”

    These two seem mutually contradictory.

  2. Currently, Alma could only control idle time. E.g. the time limits is 5 minutes that mean when the page is show on the screen, patron has 5 minutes to finish it and advance to next page. Once you advance to next page, the timer is reset.

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