Rethinking HathiTrust Metadata to Support Workset Creation for Scholarly Analysis

poster / demo / art installation
  1. 1. Katrina Fenlon

    University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

  2. 2. Timothy W. Cole

    University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

  3. 3. Myung-Ja K. Han

    University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

  4. 4. Craig Willis

    University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

  5. 5. Colleen Fallaw

    University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Work text
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1. Introduction
The HathiTrust Digital Library includes over 10 million volumes digitized from more than 90 research libraries. The HathiTrust Research Center (HTRC) has been established to help scholars get the most from this massive text corpus by providing cutting-edge tools, services and cyberinfrastructure that enable advanced computational access to the HathiTrust corpus. An immediate objective for HTRC is to allow scholars to collect items together for computational analysis. This has required rethinking the HathiTrust metadata model, inherited from print-based library cataloging traditions. This poster describes the motivation for this work, shortcomings of the current metadata model, and requirements driving the updated model.

2. Motivation
Humanities scholars regularly create collections in the course of their research – selecting, gathering, and organizing materials from disparate sources to answer specific research questions 12. As scholars increasingly rely on digital sources, they need sophisticated tools for the management and manipulation of “custom collections” of digital texts 3 4 56 7 89.

The HTRC workset creation tools will allow users to formally gather selected subsets of the HathiTrust corpus together for computational analysis. Early user studies 10 suggest several requirements, e.g.:

Worksets must allow scholars to gather not just the primary constituents of the HathiTrust corpus (books), but also metadata and granular, intra-book content.
Worksets must allow integration of external sources, such as linked datasets, secondary literature, and references, as shown in Figure 1.
Scholars must be able to identify and describe worksets so that they may function as sustainable and reusable scholarly resources.

Fig. 1: Fig. 1: Creating worksets for scholarly analysis

3. Limitations of MARC-based metadata
Items in the HathiTrust corpus today are described exclusively by MARC. While MARC is the predominant bibliographic metadata standard used in libraries, it is proving inadequate to support the creation of scholarly worksets from large digital repositories such as the HathiTrust.

To begin with MARC can accommodate only a fraction of properties of texts and their contexts that are of interest to scholars. For example, the MARC bibliographic format does not provide fields for describing an author’s gender, nationality, religion or social relationships. In addition, library catalogers rarely use the full expressiveness potential of MARC. The MARC specification defines more than 1,900 fields. However, most bibliographic records contain only a handful of these 11. Table 1 illustrates the use of MARC fields across the 6 million HathiTrust bibliographic records. Additionally fields used vary by class of text. Table 2 illustrates how infrequently subject headings are used in describing fictional works.

Property Percent of Records Having
Title > 99%
Publisher 87%
Subject -- Topical 72%
LC / Dewey Classification Number 41% / 17%
Subject -- Geographic 37%
Subject -- Temporal 10%
Fiction Literary Form 5%
Property Percent of Fiction Records Having
Subject -- Topical 25%
Subject -- Geographic 10%
Subject -- Temporal 5%
4. Metadata Design Requirements to Support Workset Creation
With the generous support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Workset Creation for Scholarly Analysis (WCSA) project, a collaboration between the HTRC and 4 independent research groups (competitively selected from among 15 respondents to a Request For Proposals issued in November 2013), is exploring answers to the following intertwined questions:

Given sparseness of HathiTrust records, can we enrich the corpus metadata by distilling analytics over full text? Could we deploy/modify off-the-shelf tools, for example, to confirm or determine language(s) of the text, temporal coverage, spatial coverage, etc.?
Can we augment string-based metadata with URIs for entities – e.g., names, subjects, place of publication, etc.? If so, HTRC could leverage additional services to meet scholars' needs.
Can we formalize the notion of worksets in HTRC, e.g., defining the necessary elements of a workset? In doing so, how do we balance rigor with extensibility and flexibility? What roles do “data”, “metadata”, “annotations”, “tags”, “feature sets”, and so on, play in the conception, creation, use and reuse of worksets?
In reporting on these questions, we expect to articulate recommendations to move away from a solely MARC-based metadata architecture towards a more RDF-centric metadata architecture relying on multiple library-specific and non-library standards, e.g., MARC, MODS, DC, SKOS, FOAF,, etc.

1. Brogan, M. (2006). Contexts and Contributions: Building the Distributed Library. Digital Library Federation/Council on Library and Information Resources. Retrieved August2, 2010 from

2. Palmer, C. L. (2005). Scholarly work and the shaping of digital access. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 56(11), 1140-1153.

3. Dempsey, L. (2006). The (digital) library environment: Ten years after. Ariadne, 46. Retrieved February 13, 2013 from

4. Green, H., Saylor, N.,& Courtney, A. (2013). Beyond the scanned image: A needs assessment of faculty users of digital collections. Digital Humanities 2013, Lincoln, Nebraska.

5. Mueller, M. (2010). Towards a Digital Carrel: A Report about Corpus Query Tools, retrieved September 17, 2013 from

6. Spiro, L., & Segal, J. (2005). The Impact of Digital Resources on Humanities Research, retrieved October 31, 2013 from

7. Warwick, C., Terras, M., Huntington, P., & Pappa, N. (2008). If you build it will they come? The Lairah Study: Quantifying the use of online resources in the arts and humanities through statistical analysis of user log data. Literary and Linguistic Computing, 23(1), 85-102.

8. Sukovic, S. (2008). Convergent flows: Humanities scholars and their interactions with electronic texts. Library Quarterly 78(3), 263-284.

9. Sukovic, S.(2011). E-Texts in Research Projects in the Humanities. In A. Woodsworth & W. D. Penniman (Eds.) Advances in Librarianship (131-202). Bingley, UK: Emerald Group Publishing.

10. Green, H., Fenlon, K., Senseney, M., Bhattacharyya, S., Willis, C., Organisciak, P., Downie, J. S., Cole, T., and Plale, E. (2014). Using collections and worksets in large-scale corpora: Preliminary findings from the Workset Creation for Scholarly Analysis project. Forthcoming paper to be presented at iConference 2014, Berlin, Germany.

11. Moen, William E. & Benardino, P. (2003). Assessing Metadata Utilization: An Analysis of MARC Content Designation Use. 2003 Dublin Core Conference: Supporting Communities of Discourse and Practice — Metadata Research and Application, Seattle, Wash. Retrieved October 31, 2013 from

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Conference Info


ADHO - 2014
"Digital Cultural Empowerment"

Hosted at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Université de Lausanne

Lausanne, Switzerland

July 7, 2014 - July 12, 2014

377 works by 898 authors indexed

XML available from (needs to replace plaintext)

Conference website:

Attendance: 750 delegates according to Nyhan 2016

Series: ADHO (9)

Organizers: ADHO