Google Books is an awesome resource to help you in your study. I am on the site constantly and have found it invaluable in my academic studies. Let me tell you how.
When I first learned many moons ago that Google had begun a major initiative to scan pretty much every book in existence, I was over the moon with excitement. If by chance you don't really know what Google Books is, Google has scanned almost every book in existence. They now sit on their servers and, depending on the publisher, you have a certain amount of access to the content of the book. For most books, you can do a full text search within the books, although how much of the book you can view is different based on publisher preferences – either full view, limited preview, snippet view, or no preview. Books that are in the public domain in your country are not only full view, but can be downloaded. All of the metadata is there for the books as well, so Google Books is a good place to import data about a book for bibliographic software.
So here is a list of the 5 ways I've used Google Books in my academic study.
- Search and Find Relevant Resources. The first and most basic use of Google Books is to find resources for your study. The best way to do this from the front page is to use keywords for searching. Google Books uses the same kind of boolean searches as regular google. So quotations provide exact matches for phrases, you can use AND between keywords so that both words occur, as well OR to say "find either X or Y." You'll find lots of great stuff.
While this is a post on Google Books, I would actually recommend that users use Google Scholar for this step if you want to look beyond just books. Google Scholar searches not only Google Books, but periodicals and journal articles that are available on the web. Using Google Scholar for this step will help you find both books and articles.
- Search a book on your shelf. Because Google has scanned every book and made it text-searchable, Google Books is a great place to go in order to do a full-text search of a book you have on your shelf. If you ever remember something from a book, but can't remember what page it was on – Google Books to the rescue! Google makes it easy to see your search results by highlighting the hits right in the book and all of the hits in a book can be navigated.
- Search a collection of books (or your whole library!). An expansion on the first usage is to actually search a collection of books. Google Books has a feature called "My Library." It is a grouping of books that can be searched in isolation from the rest of Google's collection (You can also sub-categorize your "My Library" list in virtual shelves). In my case, I added to my library books of my shelf (I have most there but am working to get them all there). Depending on my current area of research – right now it's my dissertation – I create a shelf. Now all books in My Library can be searched, and I can further refine my search based on any shelves created.
- Read snippets of "peripheral books". Google Books has been invaluable for checking out sources cited in footnotes. As I have been reading for my dissertation, on pretty much every page a book is cited that I don't have. Sometimes it is quite obvious that I need to get the book from the library, other times it is not so obvious. This is where Google Books has been invaluable – it has allowed me to browse books within seconds without leaving my office! This has yielded some great resources as well as pointed out some obvious flaws in how and why people footnote!
- Cross referencing! Google Books has allowed me to "peer in" to the academic conversation that surrounds articles in a whole new way. Let me give you a quick example. A chapter of my current dissertation is on the death of Judas in Matthew and its typological connection with the death of Ahithophel. Beyond brief mention in commentaries, I found no significant work on this. But all commentaries references two articles by L. Paul Trudinger and T. Francis Glasson called “Davidic Links With The Betrayal Of Jesus." These articles, though, were short critical notes only two pages in length. I had found nothing else. This is where I turned to Google Books. I wrapped the title of the article in quotations and did a search (quotations in google searches for the exact phrase). This resulted in a list of books that had these articles in their bibliography. I then went to each book, and within the book looked for the author's last name (so that I can find any footnote, including short-form footnotes). This helped me find a couple of significant works that discussed the issue in more depth. I simply would not have found these works if I hadn't used Google Books to do this type of cross-referencing.
As in point #1, Google Scholar is valuable here as well, as it will highlight journal articles in your cross reference search.
You may have more ways that you use Google Books that I haven't thought of – I'd love to hear about it! Please share in the comments below and spread the knowledge!
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