The future of the historical research process is arriving faster than I thought.

2 12 2010

Yesterday, I was bloviating about what research would be like when all the coolest primary sources are online. I think it might be easier for me to see that future as students in the two research classes I’ve been teaching (slavery and food history) have been doing lots of work before 1923, and therefore have lots of full-view sources available to them.

If you’re doing post-1923 work in American history, finding entire sources online is a little tougher because of copyright laws. But it looks like things will be getting better fast:

This is from Library Journal:

If a work was published between 1923 and 1963, but the copyright holder didn’t renew the copyright after its first 28-year term, it, too, is public domain. Those works should legally be accessible via the HathiTrust as well, but determining a work’s copyright status requires research. That’s where the Copyright Review Project comes in…

The University of Michigan Library—which alone has deposited more than four million scans to the HathiTrust project—was awarded a $578,955 Institute of Museum and Library Services grant (match: $655,898) in 2008 for a three-year project. Its aim: to go through HathiTrust scans of works published between 1923 and 1963 and determine their copyright status.

The project has since expanded to include staff from other institutions, including the University of Minnesota, Indiana University, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison—currently about 20 staffers in all.

According to Anne Karle-Zenith, the Copyright Review Project Librarian at University of Michigan, the project has checked the status of about 95,000 books so far; of those, more than 52,000—greater than half—have been found to be public domain. The project looks at the books most recently deposited into the HathiTrust database, and that’s a lot of books: there’s a backlog of about 175,000 books currently, Karle-Zenith said.

I was wondering why HathiTrust had so much post-1923 full view work. This is the answer! While this isn’t an automatic solution to the full access hole in studying recent American history, it is a huge help for students with post-1923 topics already and will seemingly get even more helpful fast.

I am particularly grateful for this effort as I only recently decided to take my ice and refrigeration book up from 1930 to the present and can really use some more depth in my last, modern chapter. It’s kind of weird when you think about it: good, full-view sources from 1910 are now easier to access than good, full-view sources from 1950.

So if you want to see what HathiTrust has on full view for your mid-twentieth century topic, click here, HathiTrust’s advanced catalog search. Enter your terms and fields. Then check “Full view only” and “During or after” 1923 before searching. The results will be delivered by the document rather than inside the text, but you can still search inside texts once you call them up.

If this blog goes dark for the next week or so, you’ll know that this kind of searching (plus grading, of course) has managed to suck up all of my time.


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