HathiTrust’s Strategic Directions 2019-2023 state that HathiTrust will “responsibly steward our collections and resources on behalf of HathiTrust member libraries.” Important components of that vision are that we will “deepen and add breadth to the HathiTrust collections, guided by a targeted, intentional strategy for new and retrospective publications” and that we will “include many voices and perspectives in our collections.”  HathiTrust’s challenge is to build on our origins in library mass digitization and advance beyond that model into collection spaces that are essential for our constituency.

Given the worldwide reach and collaborative nature of HathiTrust, HathiTrust staff and member groups together have an opportunity to make an impact on the bigger challenges of our time as we address our shared digital collection. HathiTrust staff and Digital Collection Strategy Working Group members believe that collection priorities should be oriented toward a more just society, and towards resilience in response to changing economic, social and environmental conditions in support of scholarship and our libraries.


1. HathiTrust seeks to understand how structural racism and other inequities are manifested in our collection and commits to addressing racism and other inequities as we grow, assess, and provide access to HathiTrust’s collection.

2. HathiTrust aspires, in response to changing economic, social, and environmental conditions, to orient its shared digital collection toward establishing a more just society and toward resilience by:

  • Including a full spectrum of voices and perspectives
  • Prioritizing and encouraging the inclusion of locally-digitized and collaboratively digitized collections
  • Directly supporting scholarship and continuation of access to local library print materials related to courses and research, especially in emergency situations
  • Comprehensively including U.S. federal documents, and broadening our government documents focus to include U.S. State and potentially international government documents
  • Opening reading access to the digital collection to the fullest extent permitted by copyright, licensing, or other factors

3. HathiTrust continues to position libraries and users to benefit from economies of scale by aggregating the products of mass digitization from libraries in the United States and worldwide, as comprehensively as possible.

4. HathiTrust believes collection analysis and quality assessment are at the heart of our ability to improve and augment our shared digital collection.

5. HathiTrust supports libraries in collectively expanding their role in providing access to and preservation of publications that originate digitally. HathiTrust’s collecting scope will expand to include born-digital publications and including scholarly publications and U.S. federal government publications.


Value of the HathiTrust Collection

It is worth considering some of the benefits that our collaboratively-created aggregate collection currently offers, in order to place these principles in context.

  • Our current digital collection is unique in its massive size and scope, and provides our libraries and users with materials under a rich array of topics, time periods, languages and publication types. Its nature as a “research library at web scale” covers an incredibly wide range of content. Our copyright review program expands the value of our collection by opening reading access to large portions that were previously restricted. The Accessible Text Request Service and the Emergency Temporary Access Service (ETAS) highlight the value of access to digital volumes in our collection that span the full range of publication dates. Use of the digital collection for non-consumptive research through the HathiTrust Research Center (HTRC) drives new areas and methods of scholarly inquiry. There is very keen interest from member groups to further understand the collection and its use in order to better understand the specific values it can bring.
  • Digital preservation that is reliable and affordable for our libraries is another key value. Since our collection extends the mass digitization model of efficiency-at-scale, we can afford to preserve both the commonly-held and the “long tail” of published material. Digital preservation outside of Google’s corporate control has a high value to Google Books partner libraries, but it is a key value that, in HathiTrust, the “collective collection” of both Google- and member-digitized volumes is preserved on behalf of all member libraries, not just those who contribute content.
  • HathiTrust’s Shared Print Program ensures that multiple print copies are preserved and accounted for based on our digital collection, and that all HathiTrust libraries have access to a print copy. We are also providing a collection management opportunity for member libraries to reduce their costs for physical shelf space, as well as positioning libraries for service opportunities that capitalize on the connection between the print and digital corpus, for example, ETAS or extensions of interlibrary loan, even where local print copies have been withdrawn. The data that we have about our members’ print collections will be a valuable HathiTrust community asset for use in both content and service-focused collaborative print and digital collection development.
  • Our U.S. federal documents collection is the largest aggregation outside of government and commercial services. It is a key value to keep this content in non-profit open space. The HathiTrust federal documents collection is known and well-used, and has a constituency of invested librarians. The U.S. Federal Documents Registry is an asset that provides us with a unique opportunity to “complete” the collection. HathiTrust staff, in consultation with the HathiTrust Federal Documents Advisory Committee, have made progress in delineating the scope of the collection, setting priorities, and adding to it. We have also been able to pioneer collection analysis and gap filling workflows as part of HathiTrust’s U.S. Federal Documents Program activities. The methodologies developed through this work could potentially be adapted to other types of materials.
  • The HathiTrust Research Center is unique and beginning to realize value. Content sets have a direct dynamic with scholarly inquiry; our researchers are interested in the details of the content and in scoping materials for use. The Research Center has a role to play in facilitating a deeper understanding of the dimensions of our collection and the opportunities to add content that supports computationally-oriented scholarship.

The Collective Opportunity

The Covid-19 pandemic has created uncertain conditions that have amplified challenges already faced by HathiTrust member libraries, primarily, sustaining library services and providing access to print and digital scholarly resources on shrinking budgets. In general, libraries are called upon to demonstrate their value to their local institution, and now must do so in an uncertain environment that is likely to continue with the pandemic and the increasing threat of the climate crisis. Additionally, HathiTrust has made a commitment to social change, to address structural racism, and to prioritize equity and wide representation in our collection. With these important considerations, HathiTrust can be a resource for our member libraries, both in support of their individual collection goals, and as a locus of collaboratively-driven transformation that better positions all libraries for equity and resilience.


March 2022