When the Libraries closed our buildings for safety reasons, students and faculty who rely on our print collections suddenly found themselves in a bind. Even more, grad students preparing for their comprehensive exams in History, American Studies, and Anthropology were left to improvise without many of the print texts they ordinarily would have studied to pass this important step in their academic careers.
We were able to begin responding to these needs quickly, and the library's collections team made purchasing of e-books and trials of databases as easy and openly available as possible. Even so, at least 40% of academic books are not published in an e-book format, which seemed to leave no recourse for those scholars who ordinarily would be using the summer downtime to research and study using our print collections. This was hard on everyone, but especially challenging for graduate students who have to read and analyze dozens if not hundreds of texts in preparation for their comp exams which are held, on schedule, in the fall.
Sympathetic to the plight of the students and faculty we support, the team began seeking a way to increase access to our collections that still kept our patrons and our staff safe. We heard that HathiTrust, a book preservation organization composed of academic libraries who digitize their print holdings, was making their digitized collection available to member libraries who had to close because of COVID-19. Joining Hathi seemed like an excellent option for us, and we decided to become members as swiftly as possible in order to gain access to these digitized versions of print materials that are only available in our physical collection.
While the work to become members of the organization typically takes 2 months because of the need to gather records for every item we own and compare it against HathiTrust's corpus, the Libraries made this effort a high priority. With a team of multiple librarians from Swem and Law including Libby McDaniel, Jean Sibley, Joanna Quint, Linda Tesar, Laura Morales, Sara Belmont, and Georgie Donovan, we were able to meet all the requirements for membership in 3 weeks, then rapidly join the ranks of HathiTrust and get access to the materials up and running. To make this effort more visible to users, our web developer even worked out a programming solution in the catalog to help make the Hathi books easily discoverable by anyone searching the library's holdings!
While there is no perfect solution in this pandemic, we hope that this expansion of our digital collections by over a quarter of a million books will help our scholars make it through this difficult time. Visit HathiTrust to try for yourself, and feel free to ask us questions or send us feedback!