April 19, 2022
Since 2018, Preservation Services Supervisor Anne Conway has spent six hours a week researching the copyright status of books online. She has now completed an outstanding 50,000 reviews as a volunteer for HathiTrust’s copyright review program.
HathiTrust is a nonprofit collaboration of academic and research libraries, including UNC-Chapel Hill University Libraries, which maintains digital copies of more than 17 million books and other materials. When these texts are in the public domain, meaning they are free from copyright restrictions, then HathiTrust makes them available online for anyone to read.
Jessica Rohr, member engagement and communications specialist for HathiTrust, says the involvement of library professionals in member libraries is what makes the program successful.
“We couldn’t do it without them! The work we do to make new material available in the public domain is possible thanks to the dedication of expert reviewers such as Anne,” says Rohr.
Conway says participating in the program is a way for her to maintain a key pillar of the Academic Libraries Strategic Framework: ensuring that the information and resources that scholars and the wider community need are available now and in the future.
“The library’s mission is to be a resource for the campus, but I think the library, especially through HathiTrust, also sees its mission as information in our country and in the world. You feel like you’re doing your very little part for it.
It’s meaningful work, but it can be complex. While all books first published in the United States before 1928 are in the public domain, reviewers like Conway must go through a rigorous review process to determine if other texts can be made freely available.
This multi-step process consists of assessing whether the book fits the legal scope of the project; determine whether its copyright has been renewed; and determining whether the book contains any credits, permissions, or acknowledgments indicating that the digital file may contain other copyrighted content.
It requires nuance and attention to detail. All copyright reviewers go through an extensive training program before they start reviewing texts, according to the HathiTrust website. Even then, each file must be assessed by two independent reviewers who must agree on its status before it is made public.
Conway’s commitment helps HathiTrust make more resources available to everyone. More than 500,000 texts are accessible via HathiTrust thanks to the Copyright Review Program. Conway was personally involved in reviewing over 30,000 of these articles.
“People who find themselves in the library field care about the larger mission of collecting, organizing, and making available human knowledge. Anne’s work exemplifies this philosophy in practice,” says Tim Shearer, Associate University Librarian for Digital Strategies and Information Technology.
While she downplays reaching 50,000 reviews, Conway acknowledges that dedication from reviewers has an impact. “Think of all the documents that have been opened thanks to reviewers who have given their time.”
History of Jacob Thompson. Photograph by Robin Gao.