Magazine article Computers in Libraries

HathiTrust's Ascendance as a Web-Level Digital Library

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

HathiTrust's Ascendance as a Web-Level Digital Library

Article excerpt

Google's ambitious digitization initiative has been followed both with fascination and concern ever since it was launched. Much of the controversy surrounded issues of ownership, copyright, and the risks of monopolization. But now there is an interesting second-wave initiative that has sprung from the mass digitization movement. It has grown so quickly and has been such a success that Google may need to move over on its pedestal and share the limelight. That initiative is HathiTrust, which goes much further than the commercial goals of digitization and is quite likely rewriting the future for digital libraries.

When it comes to mass digitization, what we need most are digital libraries that integrate the new artifacts with existing collections and make them easy to use. Academic research libraries--the folks who had the books in the first place--have been doing just that: forging alliances and collaborative ventures to make the most of the mass digitization movement. HathiTrust is one of the most important of these broad collaborative efforts. It is a genuine web-level digital library with a well-articulated vision, and it has excellent embedded tools that support reading and research. As such it is among the most important achievements in recent times to emerge from the academic world. Indeed, since a digital library (as we view it) is a collection of artifacts, functions, and services, HathiTrust may be viewed as a poster child for academic innovation, illuminating the power and potential of full-scale digital library operations at the network level. Now in its third year of operation, HathiTrust is continuing to evolve in ways that directly support teaching, research, and collaborative administration.

Read all about it in Heather Christenson's recent article, "HathiTrust: A Research Library at Web Scale," which covers the full story of HathiTrust from its inception through its present-day operations (see Library Resources & Technical Services, 55, No. 2, 93-102). For those of you who don't want the whole story, here are a few historical highlights. The University of Michigan libraries decided to repurpose their MBooks initiative into something bigger and even better and launched the idea of the trust. Its first partners were the member libraries of the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC). The University of California also joined forces early on, along with the University of Virginia, Columbia University, The New York Public Library, and Yale University. HathiTrust now has more than 50 partner libraries, making it a force to be reckoned with. Governance is shared among the institutions, strengthening each of their contributions by drawing from the wellsprings of professional skill that exist at each campus. The crown jewels of the collection are the books that have been mass digitized by Google, the Open Content Alliance, and the Internet Archive. In spring 2011, HathiTrust announced that it is now entrusted with more than 8.6 million digital volumes--the fruit of ingest streams from mass digitization projects that continue to deliver content.

There's a whole lot that one could say about HathiTrust, given its scope and overall mission. I'd like to use this space in CIL to assess what I feel are the most significant successes that HathiTrust has enjoyed and what those successes tell us about the future of digital libraries.

Collaboration in the Spotlight

Library culture has a long history of genuine collaboration, which is best seen in our shared cataloging practices and coordinated collection development agreements. It is easy for us to overlook the fact that these practices are shockingly creative and innovative examples of smart work in the network era; as such they are being discovered and rediscovered by the business world, much to our benefit. As the internet makes it both possible and fashionable to collaborate, all of a sudden our long-term commitment is being viewed with greater interest by top administrators and business leaders. …

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