Open Access Week is a particularly appropriate time to reflect on the many different ways to expand access. Appropriately, new publishing and distribution models for the scholarly and scientific literature will be the subject of much discussion. Existing library collections of journals, books, newspapers, and government documents also contain substantial amounts of public domain material, and as Melissa Levine reminds us in her issue brief we are releasing today, “The public domain is the ultimate open access.”

Levine has spearheaded the largest and most comprehensive review ever undertaken of the copyright status of diverse-source publications. The Copyright Review Management System (CRMS), funded by IMLS, administered by the University of Michigan, and targeting the content of HathiTrust, is a remarkable project. Over a period of eight years, CRMS developed review protocols for the US and other Anglophone countries, built a distributed process for implementing the protocols, and coordinated an effort that examined half a million volumes. From this effort, some 330,000 volumes were determined to be in the public domain, allowing HathiTrust to unlock public access to them. CRMS has been a truly landmark effort to populate our digital public domain.

To its great credit, the CRMS team has been determined to share its experience. It has already issued a detailed toolkit designed to assist others in adopting the project’s protocols and processes.  In today’s new issue brief Levine reflects on key lessons the project has learned about distributed collaboration, a topic of broad interest well beyond the specific copyright determination system itself.

On this Open Access Week, CRMS reminds us of the obligations that memory institutions have to preserve historic collections not least so that access to them can be steadily unlocked. It is to the great benefit of readers worldwide that the CRMS and HathiTrust partners have made the investments necessary to meet these obligations.