In a print-based dissemination system, licensing scholarly works to libraries or readers was essentially impractical. As digital access and dissemination systems have arisen, traditional publishers have increasingly offered only licensed access to scholarly works to libraries and individual purchasers. With the traditional print practice of ownership through purchase being replaced by access through license, libraries need to be aware that licensing arrangements may restrict how their users can use licensed works. While licensing does not require a signed, negotiated agreement, especially when a resource is very expensive, librarians have become practiced in negotiating contracts with publishers.
Librarians also are increasingly entering into licensing contracts to provide firms with access to the content in their collections. This form of license negotiation poses different challenges from those where the library is paying for content access; new norms must be developed for these situations.