Using the HathiTrust Digital Library

Alicia Crane WilliamsI have access to every book, microfilm and manuscript in the NEHGS library, but because I don’t actually work in the building (I work from home, generally on a 3 pm to 3 am schedule), I have to rely on the staff at the library to make copies. Fortunately, with so many books available on-line these days, I have been accumulating my own mini-digital library using google,, and Each of these has limitations of one kind or another – e.g., poor quality of digitizing, page numbers that don’t match, lack of indexing, wait time to borrow, inability to print, etc. So I am very excited by my newest discovery, HathiTrust Digital Library.

A collaboration of universities that have pooled their digital libraries for the use of faculty and students, HathiTrust also provides free access to its materials (as laws and contracts allow) as a “public good to users around the world.”

The great thing about HathiTrust is the ability to search text in all of the titles at once. “Babson” entered under “Full-Text” search comes up with 83,975 hits and a refinement list that shows the number of hits by subject, author, language, etc. Under “Catalog” search, there are 143 works that contain the word Babson in their title.

Click on “Catalog Record” and see the full bibliographic citation or click on “Full Text” (if available) and have the whole book up on the screen in seconds. You can then go to a page number or search for a word or words in that book, which will bring up a list with the page numbers where that/those words appear and an excerpt from the surrounding text so you can judge whether you want to look at the page.

Not all books have “Full Text” available because of copyright laws, but you are still able to do a text search and get a list of how many times and on what pages words appear in the book, which will give you a better idea if you might want to buy the book or track it down in a library.

You cannot download the file from HathiTrust, but you are able to print one page at a time – a definite advantage over Open Library where you can download but not print. I still go to and google to download whole works that I use frequently, but when I need to access and print a limited number of pages in a genealogy or history that is not restricted by copyright, I go straight to HathiTrust.

About Alicia Crane Williams

Alicia Crane Williams, FASG, Lead Genealogist of Early Families of New England Study Project, has compiled and edited numerous important genealogical publications including The Mayflower Descendant and the Alden Family “Silver Book” Five Generations project of the Mayflower Society. Most recently, she is the author of the 2017 edition of The Babson Genealogy, 1606-2017, Descendants of Thomas and Isabel Babson who first arrived in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1637. Alicia has served as Historian of the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants, Assistant Historian General at the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, and as Genealogist of the Alden Kindred of America. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut and a master’s degree in History from Northeastern University.

7 thoughts on “Using the HathiTrust Digital Library

  1. I have used HathiTrust many a time. I have found references that are rather obscure such as the Japan Daily Mail and other publications printed related to my ex-pat family in Japan from 1880 on. Highly recommend.

    1. Thanks Gail. Those sound like fun reading!

      One technical item to mention is that people need to “download this page in pdf” for the whole page to print properly.

  2. For times when you want to save a digital version of text from HathiTrust or one of the other services, even when all you get is one or more pages in PDF form, don’t forget the availability of PC-based OCR converters, which do a darn good job with PDFs, even of 19th century books.

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