Never far from your iPad, Nook or Kindle? Now there are more than 10 million volumes at your fingertips, thanks to the new HathiTrust Digital Library, the enormous repository of materials from thousands of university libraries including Penn State’s. Alumni, students and researchers can access these digitized materials.
Hathi (pronounced hah-tee), the Hindi word for elephant, known for its strength, wisdom, and memory, is an apt namesake for HathiTrust Digital Library. Today, there are 9,536,525 total volumes—more than five million of which are book titles—totaling more than three billion pages and 427 terabytes.
It all began at the University of Michigan. Google founders Larry Page (a Michigan grad) and Sergey Brin entered a partnership to digitize Michigan’s library collection. The project expanded in 2008 when the Big Ten’s academic arm—the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC)—enlarged the partnership by forming the HathiTrust repository. And Penn State came into the partnership.
“When we think about our library collection, we have to think of it more globally. All the material in Hathi is also part of our collection, no matter who digitized it,” said Lisa German, associate dean for Collections, Information, and Access Services at Penn State. “Anyone has full access to those books, including alumni. Alumni can go to HathiTrust and look at any of the digitized materials, not just Penn State’s.”
Now, HathiTrust has more than 50 partners, including one from overseas, a university in Madrid. More than 300 languages are represented in the materials already digitized since the project’s start—about 9.5 million of 10 million that Google Books will allow for capacity’s sake.
German described the feeling of satisfaction at University Park when a California researcher made an inquiry with the CIC asking if Penn State would digitize its unique collection of patents and trademarks. “We were talking about scanning them anyway, so it was exciting to know that someone actually wanted them, that someone else is looking at our digitized collection,” said German.
Having digitized resources at one’s fingertips on a computer screen opens up a whole new world for academics. Now a researcher can enter a subject on HathiTrust and find relevant materials delivered right to the desktop that would not have been accessible otherwise, or whose very existence was unknown when housed obscurely in physical form on library shelves.
“It’s a tremendous collection,” German said of HathiTrust. “It really does speak to the globalization of knowledge. It’s a boon for genealogists—there are so many wonderful esoteric materials in here. So many languages are represented, like Venda [an official language of South Africa].”
Penn State is the seventh largest academic library in North America, according to German. A small but significant fraction of Penn State’s collection is destined for HathiTrust. Penn State holds many valuable and unique materials on subjects ranging from coal mining to agriculture to chocolate. Depositing these materials into HathiTrust ensures their longevity for generations to come.
Penn State’s involvement with HathiTrust has yielded all kinds of benefits. In addition to saving millions of dollars by having Google manage the digitizing, the venture has helped Penn State focus on prioritizing its collections. Said German, “It helps us to figure out what’s really important and what we need to retain. Unfortunately, we can’t keep everything [for space issues]. The [HathiTrust] project allows us to make those decisions in a thoughtful, responsible way. It also helps us to focus on what our unique collections are, to make sure we are retaining those and building in those areas.”
Another perk gleaned from the HathiTrust involvement is that Penn State librarians have been hard at work organizing Penn State’s database into WorldCat, the humungous digital “card” catalogue of materials the globe over. Try it—go to the website, type in a book title, and find out what library in any given zip code or location carries it.
Books published in the United States prior to 1923 are considered to be in the public domain—copyright issues no longer apply. For HathiTrust, this means that the full text of these materials can be viewed, and if a user is a member of a participating university, the book can be downloaded for free and printed. For non-members (including alumni of such institutions), full text is still available, but can only be viewed one page at a time. Some public domain books (for example, classics by Charles Dickens) can be downloaded via Google Books and printed. HathiTrust investigates the copyright status of many works published up to 1964; they may be determined to be available for the public domain as well.
For those involved with HathiTrust at Penn State, cooperating with Google Books in the digitizing process has been a pleasure. The “Google guys,” as employees here at University Park affectionately refer to the two Google representatives they’ve always dealt with since the project’s inception, come to fetch materials here in a special truck and take them to a Google location. There, the valuable materials are digitized using a Google-patented new technology. “Things come back in exactly the same order as we ship them out in,” said German. “They are gone for exactly the same amount of time as if we checked them out to a patron. They’ve taken such good care of our materials.
“One of the best things is that [HathiTrust] is shared—it’s a partnership—among the member libraries,” continued German. “We share in the governing, and we have input in the kinds of materials we send to Hathi. We’ve been building this repository together.”
Finding a book has never been so easy. To access the HathiTrust Digital Library, anyone—alumni included—can simply visit http://www.hathitrust.org/ and search away. Penn State faculty or staff members or students can log in using their Penn State ID, with the additional benefit of building a running log called “My Collections.”