May 16, 2022

U. of Michigan Library Users Will Soon Have Internet/Searchable Access to Thousands of Orphan Works in HathiTrust Database

From The University Record Online:

U-M Library users soon will have access to digital versions of some of the thousands of orphan works held in common by the U-M Library and the HathiTrust Digital Library. Making these works available in HathiTrust will render them fully searchable, viewable, and accessible to U-M researchers wherever there is a connection to the Internet.

This marks the next phase in the library’s orphan works project, following last month’s announcement that the MLibrary Copyright Office has begun identifying orphan works from among the millions of in-copyright digitized books in the HathiTrust Digital Library.


The library’s intent is to foster these works, and make them available so they can be used. Paul Courant, university librarian and dean of libraries, says it is integral to the library’s overall mission to preserve and share the scholarly and cultural record, and is in keeping with the intent of copyright law, which is to promote progress. He also says that this sharing of orphan works falls within copyright law’s “fair use” provision for libraries (specifically, section 107 of the Copyright Act of 1976).

“The work we’re talking about is not commercial, and most of it never was,” Courant says. “It’s scholarly work, of interest mainly to students, faculty, and researchers, who, these days, expect to be able to access much of their research material digitally, and from locations other than the library.”

He adds that sharing these orphan works does no economic harm to any person or organization, while not doing so harms scholarship and learning by severely limiting access to 20th-century works.


Access to orphan works will be limited to U-M authenticated users and visitors to the campus libraries in Ann Arbor, and to works that the library holds in its print collection. In other words, the same population that can check out these works from the library’s print collection now will be able to read the digital copies from other locations.

According to John Wilkin, associate university librarian and executive director of HathiTrust, other institutions among the HathiTrust’s more than 50 partners, including the University of Wisconsin, are moving forward with similar plans to share digitized orphan works from their own collections.


The library expects that some of these works will be accessible to the U-M community by early October.

Wilkin says, “If a copyright holder makes a legitimate claim to a work, we’ll honor that claim.” He adds that copyright holders, especially scholars, often are eager to make their out-of-print works available in HathiTrust.

Read the Complete Story

See Also: “Orphan Works Wager: University of Michigan Giving Scholars On-Campus Access” (via LJ)

See Also: “U. of Michigan Library Opens Up Orphan Works” (via Inside Higher Ed)

See Also: Learn More About the University of Michigan Orphan Works Project

Update: Jeff Young at the Chronicle of Higher Education has posted an interview with Paul Courant

About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.