A Digital Treasure Trove!

A year ago, as we began working remotely with no access to our physical materials, we found ourselves relying very heavily on previously digitized publications and images to help answer reference requests. One of the best tools we found was Emergency Temporary Access Service (ETAS) from HathiTrust. This temporary service (still in effect as of April 2021) allows us and our patrons to access specific digital materials in HathiTrust that correspond to physical books held by our library. It has been a true lifesaver with many of us still working remotely.

A Guide to Columbia University book cover
Cover of A Guide to Columbia University, 1937

In December 2020, a colleague pointed out that there were some Columbia course bulletins she wanted to access in HathiTrust but were inexplicably closed due to copyright restrictions. We took a closer look and determined these were most definitely Columbia-owned publications and inquired of HathiTrust staff how we could open them up for broader use. This simple request quickly turned into a much larger effort. We were provided with a comprehensive spreadsheet of thousands of titles associated with Columbia University – almost all scanned by other institutions. University Archives staff spent the next three months sorting and weeding through titles that were closed to the public and ended up identifying more than 2,100 titles that were owned by Columbia and could be opened under a Creative Commons license.

Among the titles we are very pleased to finally have fuller digital access to are: runs of Columbia Alumni News (1910-1948) and Columbia University Quarterly (1888-1919, 1930-1941) as well one of our favorite reference volumes, John William Robson’s A Guide to Columbia University, written in 1937. We will gratefully be incorporating links to these and other digitized resources into our existing finding aids, research guides and our website in the coming weeks and months.