Simple, Powerful Uses for Google Books

Google Books imageIt’s hardly a secret that many of us here at Team ProfHacker are lovers of All Things Google. We’ve written numerous posts about several Google services. One that I’ve come to appreciate a great deal is Google Books.


First, it’s very handy for searching for a quote in a particular book when you know it’s there but can’t find it (though, annoyingly, you can remember that it was on the left-hand page, and about two-thirds of the way down, that memory’s of little use when you’re dealing with a 400-page book).

What else can you do with Google Books?

Well, at minimum, you should be able to pull publication information into your Zotero library. That will be the case even if there’s no preview at all available for the book. But if there is a preview, you may be in luck.

We’ve all had it happen. There’s a book we need, and our library doesn’t have it. Nor do any neighboring libraries. Interlibrary loan’s (ILL) certainly a possibility, but it isn’t always fast enough; we may need the book sooner than ILL can get it to us. If we really need the entire book, Google Books won’t be much help. But often we only need a portion of a book. If that portion is in the preview, we’re in luck. We can still get the information we need even if we can’t get our hands on a physical copy of the book. (I’m assuming that, in citing something from a Google Book preview, one would treat it as a hard copy and reference the edition from which the preview was taken—if anyone knows whether any of the major style manuals have yet commented on a case like this, please let us know in the comments.)

A caveat

There are, of course, some dangers. For copyright reasons, Google leaves pages out of previews, and sometimes the omitted pages are right in the middle of a chapter or section. That raises the potential for missing the context of whatever material one is citing, so caution is certainly in order. And sometimes, one of the omitted pages is precisely one of the ones you need. In that case, there’s no getting around it. You’re just going to have to put the project on hold until you can obtain a full copy of the work, or else decide you don’t really need that particular source after all.

If the book is in the public domain, of course, you can read it in its entirety (though if you’re a Nook owner your eyes will probably thank you if you read it there rather than on your computer screen).

I’ll readily admit that making use of a Google Book preview is a second-best option. Whenever possible, it’s best to have an actual copy of the full book (whether a paper or an electronic edition). But when circumstances make that impossible, Google Books can be of great help.

What uses have you found for Google Books? Let’s hear from you in the comments.

[Image by Flickr user cavenderamy / Creative Commons licensed]

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