At the April 2016 meeting of CRL’s Council of Voting Members the question was posed, “Should more CRL digital resources be Open Access?” Restrictions now in place make many materials digitized by CRL accessible only to researchers at member institutions. Attendees said yes: they strongly endorsed removal of all restrictions on public domain materials digitized by CRL. CRL’s Board of Directors agreed.
Therefore, as of January 1, 2017, all digital materials hosted on the web by CRL, that derive from source materials in the public domain or for which CRL has secured the requisite rights and permissions, will be available without restriction. This decision has important implications for CRL, and the move will be a big step in CRL’s evolution. Here are five reasons why:
- CRL has digitized and posted on the web more than twelve million pages of materials from its collections to date. Many of those materials were specifically requested by faculty and students at CRL member institutions. Most of the materials may be accessed only by researchers at IP address-authenticated member institutions.
- Because of potential copyright restrictions, only about 35% of the twelve million are now available in open access. CRL open access collections include Chinese propaganda from the early years of the People’s Republic; early presidential messages from Brazil; and legal publications from modern repressive regimes in Africa and the Middle East, to name a few.
- The amount of public domain content on CRL servers will grow within the next few years, as on-demand digitization continues and as CRL receives digital files produced through partnerships. CRL in-house production now digitizes nearly one million pages per year, and generates approximately 2.9 million digital pages of primary legal publications annually through its Global Resources Partnership in Law and Government. As embargo periods end, CRL servers will also begin to ingest substantial amounts of digitized primary source material: 3.4 million digital pages from its World Newspaper Archive partnership with Readex; 3 million pages of digitized historical and popular journals from ProQuest’s APCRL database; and 700,000 pages of human rights documentation from CRL collections digitized by the Brazilian government.
- The move will produce a significant public good. CRL holds unique, critical patrimony materials from all world regions, like documentation of human rights violations in Cambodia and Brazil; colonial government records from Senegal; and political ephemera from apartheid-era South Africa. These kinds of materials, preserved by groups working under the CRL umbrella, will become available in their “regions of origin” for the first time.
- The move involves a calculated risk of free-riding. Open Access will benefit research libraries not contributing to building and maintaining the shared collections. Currently 25-40% of use of CRL’s open access collections is by non-members, including those in regions like Latin America. But we believe the positives will outweigh the negatives: unique documentation and evidence will be more discoverable and available to researchers everywhere.
CRL has a long history of support for Open Access. For example, CRL:
- Is home to the Technical Report Archive and Image Library (TRAIL), and provides funding for open access digitization of collections by the Area Materials (AMPs) and Global Resources projects;
- Provides funding to support digitization of historical agricultural literature under Project Ceres, an initiative of the U.S. Agriculture Information Network (USAIN) and Agriculture Network Information Collaborative (AgNIC);
- Is home of the recently launched SAMP Open Archives Initiative (OAi), a digitization program of the South Asia Materials Project.
We think this opens an appropriate and exciting new chapter in CRL's history. Time will tell.
Bernard F. Reilly
Center for Research Libraries