In the USA the period 8 – 12 April is designated as National Library Week.  The 2018 theme of this annual event, which first started in 1958, is "Libraries Lead” with the aim of raising awareness of the role and importance of libraries in society.

Those of us working on commons issues are lucky to have access to the Digital Library of the Commons (DLC), which is based within the Ostrom Workshop at Indiana University in the USA.  The DLC was started in May 2000, with support from the Ostrom Workshop and the Digital Library Program, also at Indiana University.  It currently has 10,316 full text items covering a range of materials including: conference papers, working papers, journal articles, books, book chapters, surveys, theses, and dissertations.

The DLC is the only place where you can find papers from all 16 of IASC’s Global Conferences (going back to 1990) and currently receives an average of around 12,000 unique visitors each year.  Papers from the most recent IASC Biennial Global Conference held in Utrecht (The Netherlands) in July 2017 are now available from the library.

The DLC was created to preserve and make available the world’s only dedicated collection of materials on the study of the commons.  It does not have a large budget but over the past 40 years the Ostrom Workshop has been able to build up its sizable commons though a worldwide network of scholars and practitioners who participate in reciprocal knowledge sharing.  The DLC is managed on a day-to-day basis by Emily Castle, Library Director of the Ostrom Workshop, who highlights a key source of success in developing the DLC:

 “In the past the Workshop has always freely sent out research products to colleagues around the world and, in turn colleagues in the commons have sent their works for our collection”.

In addition, Emily points out that many of the studies in the DLC are conference papers or internal reports so have never been internationally distributed.  As a result the DLC has come to serve as an international gateway, and self-publication portal for those working on commons issues.  Although it is called a ‘digital library’ Emily notes that the DLC is actually more of a repository of papers on the study of the commons and common pool resources.

The DLC itself is a form of public good, or shared resource.  It is a library created through a willingness of commons scholars and practitioners from around the world to share their findings, understanding, and experience with a wider audience, at no charge.  As such it is an important resource for those seeking to learn and understand more about commons resources, particularly those with limited access to more traditional libraries and journals.

The current ‘Top Five’ Papers in terms of number of downloads from the DLC:

[*Note: This item is not the ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ paper written by Hardin in 1968, but is a summary of the argument written by Elinor Ostrom for the New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics, Second Edition, 2008.]

Submit a paper and help maintain the DLC as a ‘library that leads’

The DLC is living up to the 2018 theme of ‘leading the way’ in the world of commons resources.  It is without doubt the pre-eminent repository of materials focusing on commons issues that can be accessed and downloaded free of charge by anyone, almost anywhere in the world.

Libraries like the DLC require constant support if they are to continue functioning effectively as a valued shared resource.  Support in this case means maintaining a flow of materials to the library.  We need to ensure it contains relevant information on current issues of interest that will be of use to those trying to improve their understanding and awareness of commons, and to those who are conducting research into particular aspects of commons governance or management.  Too often today, with the availability of so much information on the internet, and the existence of search engines like Google, we can forget the valuable role played by libraries, and the librarians who curate, organise, catalogue, and manage information to make it more easily accessible and useful to a wide range of users.

You too can help improve the value and utility of the DLC – donate a paper today – and share your knowledge and experience with the wider commons community of scholars and practitioners.

It’s very easy – just go to the DLC at and find the ‘Submit an Item’ button in the middle of the page.

National Library Week – Celebrating the Digital Library of the Commons (DLC)