How we can make Occam’s Reader obsolete

26 februari 2014

I have always found borrowing books from the university library to be a pain. There are always too little copies of a grand monograph when 200 students take the same class, and as for the obscure monographs you need for your paper: they are never on the shelves ready to be taken home. You have to order them, and if you are lucky from some basement that your university owns and you would get in a day, but if you are less lucky through an Interlibrary loan system for which you have to pay and have patience. Sometimes two days, sometimes six weeks. If you are unlucky you will just have to cough up the money and get the book from Amazon or something like that. 

If my university library did not have a book, and it cost more than 15 euros to buy, I would simply not use it (sorry, professors). Did the quality of my papers suffer? Probably, but I was lazy and got good grades and therefore I did not care so much. Being a 19-year-old student at the time, I do not think I was alone in this.

Thankfully most libraries are buying more and more of their content digitally. I could download most academic journals right to my laptop using a VPN connection to the library, and if my library did not have a book, I could simply download it from another university library website as a loan immediately. Because those are the advantages of the digital age, right?

But wait, I couldn’t. 

Photo: Jan Lievens Stilleven met Boeken (Public Domain) via The Rijksmuseum

Though I could physically go to another library and borrow the book, or order it through the Interlibrary loan system, however, when I wanted it digitally and instantaneous it was impossible. If I would have thought to ask why, I would have gotten an answer with the words licensing, copyright, Digital Rights Management Issues and publishers. Blissfully ignorant of those things at the time, I simply scanned chapters out of friends’ books and emailed them to other friends (sorry, publishers) or – as said – simply ignored the books for my research purposes.

But, there is hope!

Although too late for my education, the Greater Western Library Alliance (GWLA) has developed a year-long pilot program with Springer publishers to test e-lending with university libraries called Occam’s Reader (pun intended). It allows Springer’s books to be shared without metadata in a interlibrary system that does not allow for downloading, copying, or printing. This way, the publisher is happy (because the libraries will still pay for the books with the metadata) and the libraries are happy (because they can share books). The only ones that are less happy are the students (because they can’t copy, download or print the books). But no complaining, because the students have instantaneous access to more books.

Though an amazing and somewhat risky pilot, described by Joni Blake of the Library Alliance as ‘.. scary and kind of the Wild West’ because of the copyright issues, at Kennisland we hope it will be obsolete before it can even have the time to become successful.

Even though Occam’s Reader is explained by its inventors as ‘What’s the easiest way we can do this?’ by taking the simple software and sharing the books, we propose an even sharper Occam’s Razor/Reader for the issue: it is called Open Access and Open Textbooks.

Why bother with a Digital Rights Management system-software alliance between publishers and universities when we have online journals and publication systems that circumvent all the rights issues by simply being open? Share articles and books openly and freely online in Open Access Journals, which are often peer reviewed and have high quality. When you write a textbook, make it open and share it under a Creative Commons license.

No Occam’s Reader necessary, no limited licenses for lending and copying, and immediate access for lazy students like me. One could even go further and state that the non-lazy students, researchers and the general public could become a little more clever too.


Lisette Kalshoven

Deze tekst heeft een Creative Commons Naamsvermelding-licentie (CC BY) en is gekopieerd van de Kennisland-website. Ga voor de volledige versie met afbeeldingen, streamers en noten naar

This text has a Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY) and has been copied from the Kennisland website. For a full version with images, streamers and notes go to