HathiTrust’s mission of access and my own experiences

0108_ct_feat_google3I have a pretty long history using HathiTrust, while I was an undergraduate HathiTrust was a vital resource for a women in science project I completed Senior year. Because I attended UW-Whitewater instead of UW-Madison I had comparatively fewer library provided resources, we had fewer subject databases and our print collection was much smaller, so the access HathiTrust provided for me was incredibly helpful for finding things like transcripts of conference proceedings that took place in 1911.

There are three problems that HathiTrust has in fulfilling its mission of access 1) Quality Control and 2) Copyright Law. These three challenges are not unique to HathiTrust because they are issues faced by all but the smallest of digital libraries.

While working at Wendt Commons one of my jobs was a Cutter retro-conversion project in which I compared our print collection to HathiTrust’s catalog. The collection management decisions from the project ultimately were determined by the rarity of the books and not their digital presence (which is why this post isn’t about my experiences using HathiTrust to weed a collection), but this project gave me a greater familiarity with HathiTrust. The biggest issue I came across while analyzing HathiTrust books was that often books would have various pages in which the scans were of such low quality that they were unreadable. A further issue I became aware of while working at the USGS was that HathiTrust books often are missing supplemental materials (map typically for USGS works). Both these problems represent quality control problems that prevent access to a work. Given the size of HathiTrust and the difficulty of digitizing works such as fragile 19th century books or books with numerious fold outs, the current state of the library is understandable.

Since most of HathiTrust’s digitized works are under copyright the biggest block to access is intellectual property law. It was risky to include orphan works and the lawsuit against HathiTrust proves the risk. But I belive that because of the importance of HathiTrust’s mission of access that the risks were justified.

So overall I think HathiTrust’s accomplishes its mission of access.


4 responses to “HathiTrust’s mission of access and my own experiences

  1. Your experience while at UW-Whitewater gave a good reason to justify the existence of HathiTrust.

    The problem of scanning quality can mostly be blamed to Google. It seems HathiTrust has been working on re-scan.

    • As tempting as it is to blame Google for scan quality some of the worst offenders were libraries. This actually makes sense because its a lot easier to scan a book if you are ripping it apart. I think because of the preservation goal many libraries have they would rather have a worse scan and not harm the books they are scanning.

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