HathiTrust Digital Library seems to be everywhere these days. I first heard about it last year in a workshop, and since then I’ve seen it mentioned in several other contexts. It’s apparently useful for many different types of research, so I thought it was time to sit down and take a look at what it has. 

In a nutshell, HathiTrust (pronounced Hah-Tee Trust) is a collection of collections. It pulls together both copyright and public domain content from a partnership of libraries located mostly in North America. First launched in 2008, it has grown to include over 13 million volumes, many of which are available in full-text (materials still under copyright have a limited view). 

Looking through HathiTrust, it doesn’t take long to realize that much of the material it contains was digitized by Google. However, what sets HathiTrust apart from Google or the Internet Archive is that it provides access to smaller collections that were not included in Google’s library digitization activities. This is hugely valuable.

Something else that’s great about HathiTrust is that it allows users to build their own collections from items they find in HathiTrust, and these collections are available for other users to view. This greatly leverages other users’ interests, and is a fun way to discover items that you weren’t even looking for. Here’s someone’s collection on Ann Arbor history, for example.

Below are five examples of the types of information you can find in HathiTrust. The sheer volume of materials and the inclusion of smaller collections means that overall, it’s worth a visit if you’re not having luck finding something elsewhere.

Federal Documents

Though HathiTrust doesn’t have a comprehensive collection of everything, one thing they’re trying to build is a well-developed collection of U.S. federal government documents. This means that you’ll have a good chance of finding things like government studies, geological surveys, annual reports and more. In fact, one of the last places I saw HathiTrust mentioned was in a Law Library of Congress blog post on how to locate a published congressional hearing. It names HathiTrust as one of several good places to look. If you’re interested in learning more about HathiTrust’s federal government documents initiative, there is some good information here. Here is one example of a government document you can find:

Off-label drugs : reimbursement policies constrain physicians in their choice of cancer therapies : report to the Chairman, Committee on Labor and Human Resources, House of Representatives / U.S. General Accounting Office. 1991.

Conference Proceedings

Every once in awhile, I’m asked to locate the proceedings of a conference, so I was happy to see that HathiTrust has these in its collections. As an added bonus, many of them are available in full-text. Here’s an interesting one that I thought was particularly relevant to today’s current events in Texas:

Conference on the Environmental Aspects of Chemical Use in Well-Drilling Operations. May, 1975, Houston, Texas.

Foreign Language Materials

Most of the materials in HathiTrust are written in English, but you can also find materials in many other languages besides English. Here’s one in Old Norse, for example, and you can also find materials in German, French, Arabic, Portuguese and Hindi, among others:

Vǫlsunga saga ok Ragnars saga Loðbrókar, udgivet for Samfund til udgivelse af gammel nordisk litteratur, ved Magnus Olsen, 1906-1908.

Musical Scores

There’s a wide variety of musical scores in HathiTrust, which I think is pretty cool. Here’s something for the piano. 

Sonatine pour le piano : original edition  / par Maurice Ravel. Paris, 1905.

Genealogical Materials

If you’re a genealogist, add HathiTrust to your list of places to find helpful research materials. In addition to publications that reproduce genealogical information like the one below, you can also find primary source materials like this 1868 city directory of Ann Arbor

Pennsylvania German pioneers: A Publication of the Original Lists of Arrivals in the Port of Philadelphia from 1727 to 1808, by Ralph Beaver Strassburger. 1934.


What I’ve outlined here represents a fraction of what you can find in HathiTrust. There are many other types of materials, including maps, manuscripts, photographs, and pictorial works. As a whole, the materials are focused on the humanities. And you won’t find much that was published in 2015; most of the materials were published between 1960-2009 (you can see the actual breakdown here).

Though the collections can be hit or miss, I suspect that things are only going to get more comprehensive as more libraries join the partnership. I’ve already observed that you can find entire runs of certain periodicals made possible through combining different library collections.

Since there was so much more that I ran into that I didn’t include in this post, I leave you with some additional uses for HathiTrust:

Feature image saved from this announcement by Northeastern University.