Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Monday, May 11, 2015

What is the HathiTrust? A Genealogical View

Genealogists should be very aware of record sources. However, in my average week of teaching and helping at the Brigham Young University Family History Library, I find that the genealogical resources beyond and perhaps, are uncharted and unknown territory for most researchers. Of course, this observation is not intended to be a commentary on the value of these two websites, but even when I was working at the Mesa FamilySearch Library in Mesa, Arizona, I saw the same phenomena. In Mesa there was a very visible, useful and valuable collection of books, but it was very unusual for any of the patrons to consult any of the books. By the way, at the time of the writing of this post, the Mesa FamilySearch Library was still closed and has no reopening date. This is another side-commentary on libraries for another post.

There are some major differences, of course, between the FamilySearch Library in Mesa and the BYU Library. The BYU Harold B. Lee Library (HBLL) is a major university library. The Mesa FamilySearch Library has a few thousand bound books, about 2000 plus microfilms and other resources. As of 2013, the BYU HBLL Library had over 4.1 million books and over 10 million total research materials including over 3 million microforms (microfilms, microfiche etc.). In addition, the BYU Library statistics show that the number of volumes (All printed, typewritten, handwritten, mimeographed or processed works, including bound serials/periodicals, that have been cataloged, classified, and made ready for use) increased by over 400,000 from 2008 to 2013. See HBLL Statistics.

Over the same time period, from 2008 through 2013, the HBLL has shown a steady decrease in circulation statistics. See SIRSI Circulation Statistics. It would be facile to conclude that the decrease in library circulation (i.e. books checked out) is due to increased availability of the same materials online. But my own experience indicates that the issues here are much more complex.

At the BYU Family History Library there is an extremely useful core of reference books that are readily accessible and highly visible. Since I began working at the library regularly in August of 2014, I have detected almost no use whatsoever of the bound, printed, paper books sitting on the shelves. Virtually zero use. As I already indicated, it would be all too easy to attribute this to the availability of the same materials online. I wish that this were the case. So now I get to the issue of the Here is what this website is:
HathiTrust (listen to pronunciation) is a partnership of major research institutions and libraries working to ensure that the cultural record is preserved and accessible long into the future. There are more than 100 partners in HathiTrust, and membership is open to institutions worldwide.
My old alma mater, the University of Utah, is a partner, but the HBLL at Brigham Young University apparently is not.  By the way, the BYU HBLL has a significantly larger library collection than the University of Utah. See J. Willard Marriott Library Statistics. This is true even though the most current statistics from the HBLL are from 2013 while the U of U's Marriott Library's statistics are a year later in 2014.

Now, back to the Here I am at BYU, sitting in a huge library that very few of the genealogical patrons use, wondering what are all these genealogists using for resources? If they were truly looking for online research materials, these genealogical researchers (and other library users) would be flocking to the largest libraries for assistance. So here are the's statistics:
Currently Digitized
  • 13,417,387 total volumes
  • 6,795,483 book titles
  • 355,118 serial titles
  • 4,696,085,450 pages
  • 601 terabytes
  • 159 miles
  • 10,902 tons
  • 5,101,011 volumes (~38% of total) in the public domain
Note that the total number of public domain volumes in the outnumber both the HBLL at BYU and the Marriott Library at the University of Utah. If you are doing online research, sitting in your own home, where ever you are in the world, you can search this free, online collection. In effect, you have the resources of over 100 large university libraries at your finger tips. The volumes on the website that are not in the public domain are available from the participating university libraries.

Perhaps you can begin to see why I am so puzzled about genealogical researchers.

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