One of my absolute favorite resources is the HathiTrust Digital Library at hathitrust.org. The library grew out of the Google Book Project — for every library book or journal compilation Google digitized, the loaner library received a digital copy. It also includes digitized books from the now defunct Microsoft Live Search, the Internet Archive, and individual library digitization projects. Nearly a third of the volumes in HathiTrust are either in the public domain, or are volumes that HathiTrust has permission to make available. Although most of the digitized items are in copyright (that is, published after 1925 as of December and after 1926 as of Jan. 1) they can’t be accessed until they enter the public domain. With one exception, the HathiTrust Emergency Temporary Access Service, or ETAS.

Washington State University Libraries is a subscription member of HathiTrust, and during the time the library buildings were closed (roughly March 2020 to August 2021) under the ETAS, each copy of any book that belonged to the WSU Libraries and also to the HathiTrust Digital Library was available as a digital book through HathiTrust for members of the WSU community. The physical books were no longer available for checkout because an electronic copy was available for use (but not for download). This is a type of controlled digital lending and retains all copyright protections. That said, we were pretty happy when libraries opened and the ETAS program ended because at that time, the HathiTrust interface was pretty clunky.

The interface was upgraded with an updated book viewer in late summer of this year, which is good, because the HathiTrust Digital Library is full of great resources for everyone, not just members of the WSU community. Its millions of sources include government publications (U.S. and other), books published hundreds of years ago, scholarly journals, and popular magazines.

Anyone doing historical or genealogical research might find riches using its search or browsing relevant publications. A few caveats, however — records do not always have the good metadata (bibliographic data) that you would get in library catalogs so you sometimes have to open up a bunch of items in a record before you find the year or issue you are looking for; additionally, while there are so many publications that you will most likely find the filtering options to be very helpful, there is no guarantee that you’ll find a complete run of a periodical or a particular title.

I’m a big fan of the available government documents professionally, and the magazines and fiction professionally and personally. Some years ago I did a library display on the Civil War and I used HathiTrust to get copies of contemporary articles from Harpers Magazine and the Atlantic Monthly. The problem I had was that it was way too easy to get sucked into reading articles that had nothing to do with my topic! It is also fun to look at newsweeklies and literary magazines from other countries. It was rather cool to read the Sherlock Holmes story, “The Adventure of the Creeping Man” in the March 1923 issue of the British publication, The Strand, and think about all the people who were reading it, magazine in hand, almost 100 years ago.

While members of the WSU community who sign into the HathiTrust Digital Library with their network IDs get extra functionality (mainly related to downloading options), anyone can create a HathiTrust user account. The account lets you save HathiTrust items into a collection that can be public or private. It’s worth looking at the public collections — you can find a featured subset on the main page, or just browse. I noted a few public lists of interest, including the “Edison Collection of American Sheet Music” and “College Girl Fiction, 1870-1930” (the latter a type of novel I have always loved!).

O’English is the social sciences and government documents librarian for Washington State University Libraries.

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