Available Indexes

June 5, 2019 - Website Update

On June 5th, 2019, we updated the HathiTrust Digital Library to improve the accessibility.

In the past few months, we have undertaken a comprehensive accessibility evaluation of our digital library. As a result of this comprehensive review, we identified a number of areas where we could improve the HathiTrust website and make it easier for users with disabilities to navigate the website and read books. Read more about our goals and process in our blog post announcing the website update.

Following is a description of the most noticeable changes, with screenshots of the website before and after. In addition to the changes described below, we have done a lot of work to update the underlying code. 

These changes add to previously existing accessibility features, which are described at the bottom of this page. 

June 2019 Digital Library Changes

Visual Enhancements

We increased the base font size for text to 16 pixels throughout the site, which benefits individuals with low vision as well as those who have high resolution monitors that make text look tiny. You can always adjust the zoom level of your browser on your computer. In addition, we’ve ensured that we support the ability to zoom in browsers up to 200%, as recommended by the W3C. The only exception for this is when you open a book, where we have our own zoom feature that allows you to increase the size of the book pages.

Similarly, throughout the site, we increased the contrast of text and elements where they failed to meet accessibility standards previously. We previously had implemented “zebra striping” by alternating the background color for every other row, which can make it easier to scan a long list, but in the update, we’ve added this feature to a few other sections of the site.

Buttons instead of tabs 

One of the bigger changes we have made is to remove the tabs that allowed you to switch between Catalog and Full-Text search and to sort search results into “All Items” and “Full View” items (example below). The tabs have been replaced by buttons with the same functionality but a different appearance.


 Screenshot of a search for “diamond” in the previous interface, which allowed users to select either the “Full-Text” or “Catalog” tab for searching. Results were also sorted into tabs for “All Items” and “Full View” items.

We discovered that the tabs are not fully functional for users navigating with accessibility technology. There is no visual indicator when a keyboard focuses on the search tabs, and screen reader software can’t detect whether the All Items or Full View is currently selected.

Instead of using tabs, we have switched to buttons, as in the following examples. You are able to toggle between Full-Text and Catalog search using the buttons beneath the search bar, which are more detectable to screen reader software. You can also switch between whether you wish to receive All Items or just Full View items in your search results by using the buttons in the “Filter your search” section. If you prefer to always search for only full view items, you can still select the “Full view only” checkbox underneath the search bar, which is sticky through all searches.


 Screenshot of a search for “sapphire” in the updated version, which uses buttons for Full-Text Search and Catalog Search. Results are also controlled by buttons, which allow users to switch between “All Items” and “Full View” items.

Search bar becomes a button

As a result of the above change to replace tabs with buttons, when you are reading a book, the field that allows you to search in the HathiTrust collection has been changed into a button. When clicked, the button opens a search form that allows you to switch between Full-Text Search and Catalog Search. In other parts of the Digital Library where we have more screen space, this remains a search field. 


Screenshot of a book “A Short History of Amber” in the previous site. A search field inviting users to “Search words about or within the items” is embedded into the header menu.  

 When you clicked into the search field, more options would become available.

 Screenshot of a book “A Short History of Amber” in the previous site. When a user clicks into the search field, a quasi-popup appears below the field with more functions that a user can select.  


Now, to search within the HathiTrust collection after you’ve opened a book, you can click the Search HathiTrust button in the header navigation bar.

Screenshot of a book “The Black Opal” in the updated site, which features a “Search HathiTrust” button in the header menu.  

When you click the Search HathiTrust button, an accessible search form loads above the book. You can switch between Full Text and Catalog search and take advantage of other search features from this popup.

Screenshot from updated site, which displays the popup box that appears when a user clicks the new Search HathiTrust button. The term “emerald” is input in the search field.

Different locations for some features

If you use a keyboard or accessibility technology that depends on keyboard navigation (e.g., a screen reader or a refreshable braille display), you may notice that it is quicker to get to key content on the page. As we reviewed the navigation order of the website, we determined that it made sense to move certain features that are less important and may interrupt your reading experience.

One such feature that has moved is the Similar Items feature in Catalog Records, which has moved from the left side of the screen to the right side. If navigating with a keyboard, you can access this list of items after interacting with the Catalog Record and the list of books associated with the record.


Screenshot of a catalog record for “The Ruby, a Token of Friendship” in the previous site. The Similar Items feature appears on the left side of the catalog record. Screen readers detected this section before arriving at the book description and item links. 


Screenshot of a catalog record for “Pearl, a 14th Century poem” in the updated site. The Similar Items have been moved from the left side to the right side. Books listed in this section will be detected by a screen reader after the book description and all item links. 

Another feature that has moved can be found in the book display. The “jump to page” feature will now appear at the bottom of the book display, alongside a new scrollbar and the page number display. 

Screenshot of the book “The Amethyst Ring” by Anatole France in the updated site. New page features include a prominent scroll bar, a page number that indicates which page you’re on and how many total pages are in the book, and a button that reads “Jump”.

Tab focus

If you use a keyboard to navigate the Digital Library, you may notice improvements in tab focus. We supported tab focus previously, but there were sections of a page where the tab focus disappeared. In the updated version, we’ve ensured that tab focus is consistent and visible throughout. Depending on the browser you use, the appearance of the box around the selected element varies.

Screenshot of “Garnet Ghost Town” as it appears in Catalog search results. A blue box surrounds the Catalog Record link, indicating the tab focus.

Accessible popups 

Popups in the Digital Library have a different look and behave slightly differently. There were a number of accessibility problems with popup features (example: the “X” to close a book was read as the mathematical function “times” instead of “close”; once a screen reader opened the Jump To Section feature, you couldn’t close it without selecting a section link) which are improved by the new approach to popups.


Previously, the Jump to Section feature was a list that appeared above the book page and was connected to the navigation menu above it.

 Screenshot of the book “Descriptive Catalogue of Carved Jades” in the old site. The dropdown menu for the Jump To Section is barely distinguishable against the underlying page.


An example of the different approach to popups is below. The popup is a white box that overlays the underlying page, which is shadowed.

 Screenshot of the book “Descriptive Catalogue of Carved Jades” in the updated site. The Jump To Section popup contains a Contents list and links to the front cover, title page, section 1-1, and section 2-5.

Smaller changes 

  • Miscellaneous improvements to spelling and labelling issues for features detected by screen reader software. 
  • Better “page loading” graphics in the book display, which will help you better distinguish between when a page is loading versus a blank page.
  • The download dialog will provide better feedback to screen readers and sighted users. In addition to the progress bar, the dialog tells users how what percentage of the download has been completed.

Existing Accessibility Features

The above improvements join other features we already support for easier access of the digital library, notably the following. 

Skip links

If using a keyboard to navigate the HathiTrust Digital Library, we’ve incorporated skip links in the following tasks. Skip links are the first link that users encounter and allow them to bypass navigation menus and go directly to the content. 

  • When searching for a book, a skip link allows users to skip the top menus and sidebar of filtering options and to jump straight to the search results. 
  • When opening a book to read, there are four skip links that allow users to decide what they want to skip:
    • “Skip to page content”
    • “Skip to text only view of this item”
    • “Skip to search in this text”
    • “Skip to book options”

Access keys

Users who use access keys to interact with a site may prefer to use the following access keys when reading a book. Access keys allow you to use the keyboard to skip to different sections of the page and switch book views. Each browser uses a different combination of keys to activate an access key. Please refer to Wikipedia for browser-specific instructions on using access keys.

  • Access Key 2: Skip site navigation
  • Access Key 5: Switch to full text OCR for current book
  • Access Key f: Go to first page in book
  • Access Key p: Go to previous page in book
  • Access Key n: Go to next page in book
  • Access Key l: Go to last page in book

ARIA markup

We’ve marked up the digital library following the Accessible Rich Internet Applications (ARIA) protocol. Using this standard helps screen readers and other assistive technology better understand different features and functions of our site and gives users the ability to navigate dynamic content much more effectively.

You are browsing an archive of the HathiTrust website. In July 2023, we launched a new site at www.hathitrust.org.