HathiTrust Digital Library - A Researcher's Guide

Historical Books, Government Documents & Other Research Treasures

HathiTrust is a growing partnership of over 70 libraries and research institutions, primarily university libraries, working together to pool their resources to create a digital library of the future. The primary goals are long-term preservation of fragile collections, along with methods for making these records more readily accessible while still respecting in-copyright works, a boon for anyone doing scholarly research.

The mission of HathiTrust is to create a "comprehensive preservation repository of published literature, primarily though not exclusively through digitization."

What is Available in HathiTrust?

As of October 2012, the HathiTrust Digital Library encompassed over 10.5 million total volumes, of which 3.25 million (31%) are in the public domain. This includes over 5.5 million book titles and 274,000+ serial titles. 1
In case you're interested, the word "Hathi" (pronounced hah-tee, with a long "a" and no "h") is the Hindi word for elephant, an animal well regarded for its long memory.
Content available on HathiTrust falls into two main categories:
  1. Full View - All works published in the United States prior to 1923 are available as full view to all users, as are other items determined to be no longer protected by copyright under the laws of the respective countries. Full access may be dependent upon the country the individual is accessing from. For example, U.S. users can also access non-U.S. works published prior to 1923, however access to these same non-U.S. works is limited to items published prior to 1873 for users connecting from other countries. Full view books can be viewed in their entirety online, but only individual pages can be downloaded for personal use. If you wish to download a full PDF copy, you will need to log in through a HathiTrust partner institution.
  1. Limited View - In most cases, items in HathiTrust are listed as Limited (search-only) because they either are or suspected to be in copyright, or there isn't enough information to make a determination that the item is definitely out of copyright. Some of these items may be accessible under special circumstances for certain users, for example users with print disabilities. Legal use libraries may also be able to provide digital access for their library users to certain copyrighted items from their collections that are falling apart or missing. HathiTrust is able to offer this specialized access to in-copyright works as a library under Section 108 of the U.S. Copyright law.
    Due to its association with major academic and research libraries, HathiTrust provides online access to a wide range of historical sources. Examples of what you may find in HathiTrust Digital Library include historical statutes and laws, government documents (HathiTrust is currently working to expand its preservation of and access to U.S. government documents), historical periodicals, patent indexes, records of the American colonies, Confederate imprints, and Quaker meeting documents. HathiTrust is also citation friendly; HathiTrust aims to preserve all books and URLs within the library indefinitely.

    Tips for Finding Content on HathiTrust

    HathiTrust is built to serve the particular needs of scholarly research. To that end it offers several powerful tools and services for reading, searching, mining and citing resources for advanced research. Search features include:

    Catalog Search - Basic and advanced bibliographic search (title, author, subject, ISBN, publisher, and year of publication) of materials that have been cataloged and curated by librarians. This provides improved search results over some of the other providers of online digitized books, for searching out particular editions, multi-volume sets, and specific subjects.

    This is the best search to use if you are looking for a particular item.

    • Phrase search - enter exact phrases in quotes, such as "confederate imprints"
    • Boolean search - Use AND or OR between words for Boolean logic searches. You can also use a minus (-) in front of a word to remove that word from the results (e.g. roosevelt -president -teddy -franklin -fdr).

    Full-text Search - Use keywords to search the full-text of all items in HathiTrust. This includes the full text of all items within the HathiTrust library, including those works only available for limited view. Results return a list of every place your search term appears within a book. The same search features available for Catalog Search (phrase search and boolean search) are also available for Full-text Search. In addition you can use:

    • Wildcard search - Use * or ? to search for alternate word forms or spellings. The * replaces multiple characters (e.g. y*r*g* for yerges, yergers, yeagers, etc.), or ? to replace a single character (e.g. wom?m for woman or women)
    • Search within individual volumes/works - When using the PageTurner book viewing app, you can search for keywords within that individual volume via the "Search in this text" box.

    Browse Collections - Library partners and individual users of HathiTrust have organized collections of items based on themes, or related to a particular physical collection. Over 1,200 collections can be browse by topic or searched individually, with topics ranging from Ancestry & Genealogy to the United States Congressional Serial Set. You can even create your own collection as you find content that regularly pertains to your research through the HathiTrust Collection Builder. Non-partners can set up a Library of Michigan "friend" account to login and create a collection.

    If you plan to use the content from HathiTrust in your own research or writing, you'll find that their Access & Use Policies are much less restrictive than many resources, while still protecting the author rights of all copyrighted works.


    1. Paul Courant, HathiTrust, PowerPoint slides, posted 30 October 2012, HathiTrust (http://www.hathitrust.org : accessed 2 February 2013), slide 7.

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    Powell, Kimberly. "HathiTrust Digital Library - A Researcher's Guide." ThoughtCo, Mar. 3, 2017, thoughtco.com/hathitrust-digital-library-a-researchers-guide-1422033. Powell, Kimberly. (2017, March 3). HathiTrust Digital Library - A Researcher's Guide. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/hathitrust-digital-library-a-researchers-guide-1422033 Powell, Kimberly. "HathiTrust Digital Library - A Researcher's Guide." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/hathitrust-digital-library-a-researchers-guide-1422033 (accessed November 20, 2017).