Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Finding Google Books

In response to a query yesterday from a friend of mine who was finding it a bit frustrating to look for books at Google Books, I thought I would share here some of the ways that I find books at Google Books.

1. Searching for text strings. Since I am usually collecting proverbs and fables and short poems, I find it very productive to search for text strings. To search on a string, just put quotation marks around the string. When I find an unusual proverb, for example, I search for a few words at Google Books, and often find some amazing books that also contain the proverb. Here's an example: "magna nocet, medicina docet" (the full saying: Cena brevis, vel cena levis, fit rara molesta; / Magna nocet, medicina docet, res est manifesta). When searching for text strings it is important to avoid word initial i/j and u/v ambiguities, along with other characters that are variable in Latin orthography and/or characters which cause special trouble for optical character recognition software. For example, the "ae" diphthong was often printed with æ, which the usual OCR software cannot read. So, avoid those ambiguities in your search terms.

2. Searching for title words. Although Google Books has an interface where you can do advanced searches, it's usually easier just to do this on your own. For example, to search on a word or phrase in the title of a book, just add intitle:word or intitle:"word phrase" to your search parameters. Remember that Google does not compensate for Latin morphology, so if you are looking for emblem books, you might do separate searches for the various forms of emblem you might find in a Latin book title: emblemata, emblematibus, emblematum, emblematica, emblematicis, etc.

3. Searching for author names. Just like intitle:term, you can add inauthor:name to your search. Remember that Latin authors are sometimes cataloged under their Latin name and sometimes under their name in their native language, e.g. Rollenhagen v. Rollenhagius. Also, Google Books conveniently turns the author's name in the "About This Book" page into an active link, so you can just click on the author's name in blue to get a search based on the author's name.

4. Filter your search for just free Google Books. Unless you want to torture yourself with search results that will not lead you to an actual online book (I am constantly tortured, for example, by references to Samuel Singer's Thesaurus proverbiorum medii aevi... SIGH: just $250 per volume), then you can limit your search to just free books by selecting the "Free Google eBooks" filter option in the left-hand column.

5. Save books to your Google Books Library. I'm not super-happy with how the Google Books Library Bookshelves work (I want my old tags back...) - but it is really useful to save books to one of your Google Bookshelves, any shelf at all. That way, if/when the book shows up again in your search results, you'll know that this is a book you have already saved because it will display as already being "in your library."

6. Save books to Zotero also. Since the Google Books Library Bookshelves are so frustrating to work with, I also save my Google Books to Zotero. Google Books is one of the sites that Zotero responds to really nicely, so if you install Zotero for your browser, you will see a little Zotero icon in the browser bar allowing you to save the Google Book to Zotero. Since I can update and correct the bibliographical errors in the Google Book listings (sadly, there are lots of errors), Zotero is incredibly useful for me in managing my Google Books Library.

7. Multivolume works. In my experience, the single biggest problem I have at Google Books is the way multivolume works are handled. At least in Latin, Google Books does not seem to understand multivolume works because of the way the different volumes are referred to in Latin on the title page. Here's a good trick: if you are looking for a given volume in a multivolume work, try checking the "More Editions" option - often Google Books considers those different volumes just as more editions of the same work. Not good at all, but maybe that is something that Google Books will start letting us curate in the future; all that machine intelligence could use with a good dose of human intelligence, too! :-)

Finally, the best advice I can give for enjoying Google Books is to approach it with a sense of adventure. Yes, in some ways the Latin works at Google Books really are a big mess... but a mess that is positively full of absolutely amazing delights! If anyone else is keeping track of Google Book discoveries, esp. of Latin or other Classics-related books, in the form of a blog like this one, let me know so I can add it to my blog roll.

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