Research 101: HathiTrust

When researching, you may need to find something obscure or little-known. It might not be a scientific article but instead an old edition of a picture book or sheet music. That’s where HathiTrust comes in.

Not unlike the Internet Archive, HathiTrust Digital Library offers a variety of books and book-like items such as magazines, newspapers, sheet music, journals, and government documents (but unlike the Internet Archive, it doesn’t offer audio/visual files). When formed in 2008, multiple university and college campus libraries began digitizing books to a shared, accessible collection as allowed per copyright law.

On the front page are featured titles and blog posts highlighting research tips and favorite collections. You can even recommend a title for them to feature!

While 51% of the collection is English resources, there are resources in more than 400 other languages, including German, Spanish, Afrikaans, Coptic, Akkadian, and even Esperanto. But be warned: HathiTrust has yet to implement a browser markup that tells assistive technologies the book’s language for languages other than English.

When performing your research, take care to note that you can read and/or download some items because they are in the public domain, but other items are text-search only because their access is restricted by law. And because this is a mass-digitization effort, some errors can occur—like seeing the original scanners’ fingers in scanned images!

When it comes to accessibility, HathiTrust does its best to be transparent. They offer a list entitled “Known Accessibility Issues” that highlights any ongoing or recently resolved issues with keyboard, screen reader, visual design, and error identification accessibility. They also acknowledge that while they have worked to make the platform accessible, the formats may not meet the needs of all users. But, if you’re a user affiliated with a member university or library, users who are blind or print-disabled can request copies of copyrighted books and see if they are eligible for their Accessible Text Request Service.

If you’re ready to use HathiTrust but don‘t know how to get started, just follow our suggestions below—or poke around and see what they have to offer.

First, you’ll want to enter your search term. In the example below, we’ll search for Boston Public Library. Remember to use quotation marks so that you get results specific to your search term!

These results show that there are over 80,000 results with full view access. Even more impressive is that they have almost 150,000 results in general—wow! Let’s peek at who has written about the BPL by using the filter menu on the left-hand side.

It looks like the American Library Association authored something about the BPL. Let’s see what the publications are! Note that the results narrowed down drastically—going from 80,000 full view access results to 744! You can also narrow it down further by combining different filters.

Whoa! That second result is over 100 years old! Let’s take a look by clicking the orange full view button.

We are immediately able to start scrolling through this handbook. On the left-hand side, we can look into the catalog record or opt for a text-only view. We can also see that it’s in the public domain! We can also download this, do a keyword search, jump to a different section, see which libraries have a copy of this item, add it to a temporary collection, or share it. At the bottom right, you can toggle the controls, which include a view changer, page turning buttons, and a full screen button. Let’s see where the BPL is mentioned — using those quotation marks for an exact match!

Hey, that looks familiar! We can see on the left-hand side that the BPL appears in 15 places, all of which are highlighted. You can even click on the orange underlined page numbers to jump to where it's mentioned and see it more in context.

There are plenty more tools and advanced features for you to use while researching on HathiTrust, but we hope that this blog gives you a good idea of how to start. If you run into a block with your research, you are more than welcome to contact your favorite local librarian or email for more assistance!

In the meantime, happy researching!