Google Book Search lets you search inside the contents of books, which can help you identify books very relevant to research you’re doing. The advanced search option lets you search for specific titles, authors, publishers, etc. Even if the University Library is closed or you are far away, you may be able to use this resource to read from a book’s text.
How much can you read online?
Well, it depends.
Full text of titles either out of copyright or provided with permission of the author(s) is available. Titles still under copyright and not readable in their entirety online may have selected preview pages (with publisher or author permission) or more limited “snippets.” Preview content may include the book’s table of contents, selected pages, and “popular passages.” Snippets are brief sentences surrounding your search word(s), but that can be enough to tell you if you want to borrow the book, either from the UWW University Library, another UW library (using the free Universal Borrowing service), or, if necessary, from libraries beyond the UW System using the ILLiad interlibrary loan service ($1 per requested book). In some cases, however, all you can see is a description of the book.
- Full Text Examples: Machiavelli’s The Prince. Some government publications are included also, e.g., read the entire report Losing a million minds: Confronting the tragedy of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, published by the U.S. Congress Office of Technology Assessment in 1987.
- Preview Pages Example: Taboo tunes: A history of banned bands & censored songs (2004) has selected preview pages available and allows the text of the book to be searched for snippets (using the “Search in this book” box).
- No Preview Options Example: Ads to icons: How advertising succeeds in a multimedia age (2007) does not provide any preview pages or snippets. But you can read a summary of the book and use that to decide whether to look for the book’s availability.
How does Google get the books and documents?
From publisher, author, and library partners like the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and several others. Read more about Google Book Search online.
What can you do with it?
The most important advantage is identifying books most relevant to research you’re doing, and sometimes you can see enough text to answer a question or get a useful quote (be careful not to use something without enough context to be sure you understand it correctly!). It’s also possible to create a personal, customized online “library” of titles through Google Book Search, which can be shared with others along with your ratings and reviews (see also LibraryThing, especially for fiction, discussed in a previous blog entry).