Monday, July 20, 2009

New Features on Google Books

Good news for users of Google Books--a passel of new features on Google Books have been released. The improvement range from better overview pages to browsable thumbnail to improved search within books (my favorite feature). There is even a nifty "page turn" animation.

For historian of 18th and 19th century America, Google Book Search is the most radical expansion of available research resources since--I don't know, since JSTOR. (Because of copyright it is much less useful to 20th century historians). Suddenly the number of period books at my disposal has gone from the few thousand at my library to a few hundred thousand--all of them downloadable and subject to keyword searches.

(If you use Google Books as much as I do, it pays to keep Inside Google Book Search, the official blog, in your RSS feed.)


Katrina said...

I also love Google Books. And actually Amazon have been adding more books with a "search inside" feature, which helps in choosing which ones to buy.
I wonder what the impact of this will be on scholarship, in terms of expectations: will the greater ease of access to many more books lead to an expectation of much larger bibliographies in doctoral theses, for instance?

Larry Cebula said...

Katrina: The thing is that Google Book Search is a huge boon for Americanists who study the 19th century, and progressively less useful for scholars the farther they get from that area. If you do late 20th century American history, for example, nearly all of your printed materials are under copyright and available only in excerpted form (or not at all) on Google Book Search. And if you are doing non-US history you quickly run into the fact that GBS is an America-based project scanning largely American library collections.

This is not to say that it is not useful for a wide range of scholars, but the impact is going to vary quite a bit.

Katrina said...

Of course - I don't even do American history but I still find it very useful, it's a wonderful resource. I'm amazed at the number of older (pre C19th) books are on there.
My wonder was more whether the wealth of online material (not only Google) will add to expectations of literature surveys in PhDs...
Do you use I have found it very useful, although you have to pay it's not very expensive.

Bill Youngs said...

Comment on Larry's Blog and Katrina's comment:

1) Larry on new Google Books features: Thanks for this post keeping us up-to-date on the new elements. I find Google books tremendously useful, but would like to see one additional feature. Unless I'm missing something, you can see the page images, and you can search through underlying text, but you can not view and work efficiently with the underlying text file. Why does it matter? (a) because you can't select chunks of text for your own anthology of useful passages; (2) because you can't download a large section of text (or a whole work) and apply text-to-speech software to create an audible file.
--Case in point: I'm working on Thoreau's "Maine Woods" now. It's on line at a Thoreau site, and I am currently listening to the entire work (while driving, doing housework, etc.). I simply copied and pasted it from the web to a Microsoft Word document and let word create an audible file. Very, Very useful. But I don't think Google Books (or Early American Imprints) lets you do that. I would like to be proven wrong, but in the mean time I have to hope that Google will do an upgrade that allows access to underlying text files -- and not just one page at a time.

2) Katrina on new research expectations because of easier access to texts: why not, but count your blessings! When I wrote my Ph.D. dissertation at Berkeley 40 years ago on the Puritan Ministers (1700-1750) I needed to use microcards -- hundreds of hours at microcard viewers -- typing out key quotations and notes as I strained my eyes. One of my main areas was ordinations and ordination sermons. The published bibliography got me started.... Recently I checked out how I would might approach the same subject with the Early American Imprints on line source (like Google books). Not only could I access key pages quickly, but I could also search "ordination" in hundreds of books in a few seconds and so access other sources for context. If I had sought those references with a needle-in-the-haystack approach in 1969, I'd still be a Ph. D. CANDIDATE!