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Going Under Cover with Book Search Tools

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Google, Amazon and others offer really useful "search inside the book" tools, but they're not always the easiest features to use. Here's a closer look at getting the most from online book search services.

A few weeks ago we blogged about Google offering a new shortcut that allows searchers to include books from the Google Print program on a search results page. By beginning your search with the word "book" or "books" you should see three book titles in a OneBox on your results page.

One problem: Google doesn't offer any way to limit your search to only Google Print material. However, there's a simple "hack" I've discovered that lets you run a keyword search with results limited solely to items included in Google Print.

Here's how:

  • Run a search from any Google web search form using the word "books" before your search term. For example, books california.
  • A OneBox near the top of the results page will offer up to three book choices. Pick any one of the three results, and click on it, such as this example.
  • At the bottom of the page, you'll see a search box allowing you to search "all books."

Now, you've got your Google Print search box and are ready to go!

Another option limit your search to just Google Print material is to use this url: http://print.google.com/print?q= and add your search terms after the equal sign.

A few things to keep in mind:

  • You're still limited to a select number of pages you can view from any single book. Unfortunately, the limit (decided by the publisher) is not indicated. Also, in most cases you can only click-ahead or click-back a few pages.
  • It's possible to link to a specific page. Of course, if the person clicking the link has already reached their page view limit for that title, they will not be able to view the page.
  • Users are unable to print or annotate any Google Print material. It's also not possible to copy or use the print screen function on any of the text.
  • You can view the full text of some material acquired via Google's Library Print program. For the most part this is public domain material that was copyrighted prior to 1923. For those of you viewing Google Library material outside of the U.S., Google considers public domain material to be pre-1900.
  • For other Google Library Print material, for example, this book, it's only possible to see a few sentences and get basic bibliographic info. Google calls this their "Book Info Only" view.
For more on the various flavors of Google Print program and how it all works, this page has the details.

What About Amazon's Search Inside The Book Program?

Amazon.com's Search Inside the Book (SITB) program has been online since October 2003 and also provides limited full text and full image access to hundreds of thousands of books available through Amazon.com. However, at least at the present time, an interface to limit a search to only SITB material doesn't exist.

Just as with Google Print,however, there are ways to limit your searches to this content. Run an Amazon search, and look for the SITB logo above the image of a book cover.

Mouse over the title of the book on the cover image, and you see quite a bit of additional information about the book, including a concordance of the 100 most frequently used words in the book, citations to the book, statistics about the book (readability, complexity, etc.). You'll also see a search form that lets you run a keyword search limited to that specific title.

Actual scanned pages from books look similar to what Google Print offers, and you're also unable to print, copy/paste or otherwise save book content. One feature that SITB that I was unable to find at Google Print was the option to "zoom in" on a page and make it larger. A nice feature for tired eyes.

Other Full Text Book Resources

As useful as Google Print and Amazon's SITB are, the strict limits placed on what you can do with the content makes them less helpful than other full-text book resources.

Many other services provide full text book material that also allow you to print, copy and annotate what you're reading. Over the past several months I've blogged about several of these services. Some of these full-text book search services include:

  • NetLibrary and ebrary. These services are often made available for free from public and university libraries. ebrary also offers services to individual researchers via ebrary Discover.
  • Project Gutenberg. The original online book site has been providing full text access to books since 1971.
  • The Million Books Project from the Internet Archive is also worth a look.
  • The National Academies provides searchable, full text access to thousands of their titles.
  • The Online Books Page at the University of Pennsylvania and the Digital Book Index provides access to thousands of full text books online.

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