Searching HathiTrust: Old Concepts in a New Context

  • Eamon P. Duffy McGill University
Keywords: HathiTrust, primary sources, historians, Library of Congress Subject Headings, free-floating subdivisions


This paper examines the use of the HathiTrust Digital Library as a resource for locating primary sources in the course of historical research. It focuses on the incorporation of library metadata into HathiTrust database records and the benefits this has on search strategies. The author outlines a method for locating primary sources that reduces information overload and allows researchers to target specific types of documents commonly used by historians. Historians report turning more and more frequently to open book repositories to find relevant material for their research, but also that searching full text databases often leads to information overload. The case study presented demonstrates that HathiTrust provides not only a rich collection of primary sources, but also that its inclusion of Library of Congress Subject Headings creates a uniquely effective means of searching them with higher recall and precision. Despite their usefulness, the author identifies some limitations to searching LCSH in HathiTrust and makes recommendations for overcoming them. Librarians in academic environments should promote the informed use of HathiTrust among their faculty as a way of providing superior research support and improving collaboration between researchers and librarians.

Author Biography

Eamon P. Duffy, McGill University
Coordinator, Humanities and Social Sciences Library. Liaison Librarian for History, Classical Studies and Government Information.
Innovations in Practice