Google Books: A Tool for Book Collectors
Google Books Advanced Search
By Bruce McKinney
I'm using Google Books to identify additional early [or old if you prefer] material for the Rondout & Kingston Wiki Bibliography that I'm building on AE. The subject and purpose are unimportant. You can search for anything for any purpose; for research, collecting or whatever. I am hopeful of finding additional material to add to the one hundred eleven items I've already identified, and given the magnitude of books Google has now scanned - some 8 million and counting, I'm hopeful. I quickly realize though they have not been focusing this year on Rondout or on material that includes Rondout references in the text. I know this because the number of matches for this search has not materially changed from earlier this year. Nevertheless, there are enough references to make a close reading of the search results a worthwhile undertaking and confirm that Google Books is an extraordinary research tool. Many of the references will prove to be irrelevant but nowhere else on earth can you find this type of detail. It takes time to parse the multitude of references but it is worth the effort. There are, as of this writing, 1,085 references in the same text containing both Rondout and a date between 1600 and 1900. Compare that with Abe, 14; the American Antiquarian Society, 30, the Americana Exchange Bibliographic Database 32; and the Rondout-Kingston Wiki Bibliography, 111.
For this article I made a comparison of Google Books and Abe book listings as tools for discovering new material that include references within a narrow focus. Abebooks' database offers a hundred million items, and assuming a 150 word average listing, an instantaneous response within a search of 15 billion words. Google Books is already much larger. It today searches every word in 8 million books. That's probably 320 billion words more or less, more than twenty times the data Abe searches.
The search I'm running in the Advanced Search on both sites is simple, the term "Rondout" in the keyword field and various date ranges in the date fields. On AbeBooks I’ve been doing this type of search for years. It's very effective for identifying both primary and secondary material. When I run such searches on Abe, I sequence results in date posted order by selecting 'SORT RESULTS BY NEWEST'. In this way, before I get too far into the listings I usually recognize material from previous searches and stop there. Google lacks both this feature and its better alternative - 'search memory.' Given the scale of results it's almost an essential for searches that are updated every few months, to know when/where you left off.
So first I run the search on Abebooks and find nothing new. It is not surprising. I have made some great Rondout purchases over the years on Abe but there is nothing new of interest today. Fresh material appears randomly. I then switch to Google Books. It's easy to find. Just do a Google search for it by name: Google Books and then select Advanced Search.
Next I use Rondout as my search term in the title field and enter the date range 1600 to 1900. The results are both very fast and very thin; 39 records, many of them later. I then shift to the full text search and get buried in matches. Because Google Books matches both date range and terms anywhere in the full text of specific sources most references, it turns out, are to prior events rather than to original material. I can live with this because the detail is stunning.
Rondout's history emerges after 1750 but I start earlier because the second earliest known book auction in the colonies was held in Ulster County around 1665. There is a reference to it in Olde Ulster that Google Books hasn't yet found. I look just in case.
Google Books: A Tool for Book Collectors
Complex Results in a fraction of a second
Because there are more than a thousand results I then begin to search in 25 year increments to keep the quantity of results manageable and to complete one period at a time. The volume of results requires a strategy and evaluating material by period seems the best way to organize the work. I have to remember where I left off but need only remember the last cut-off date. If your search results are large you'll need to have a plan.
It works. Citation review is fast and this helps to offset the large number of references. In time, I identify two items that belong in the Kingston-Rondout Wiki Bibliography. There are certainly others and in time I'll return to further evaluate the references.
Here are two I would not otherwise have known about.
Christoph Daniel Ebelings' Erdbeschreibung und Geschichte von .. Hamburg 1794. The reference appears on page 1000 of a 7 volume set published between 1793 and 1816; its connection to Rondout previously unknown to me. It also includes references to other communities up and down the Hudson Valley.
I then search AE Books for Sale, Abe, ABAA-ILAB and several others. There are 3 copies of various volumes on Abe priced between $225 and $650. Bill Reese is offering the first 5 volumes for $650. None are complete sets, Reese's the best of those available.
The other item is Sketch of a Railway Judiciously Constructed Between Desirable Points. Exemplified by a map and an Appendix of Facts. New York, 1841. This early book on railroads contains information on the cost of shipping cement via the D & H Canal from Pennsylvania to Rondout and beyond. The references appear on page 78. MacManus of Philadelphia has a copy in AE's Books for Sale and I order it.
Both items are relevant to Rondout, deeply obscure, worth obtaining and undiscoverable without Google Books.
Overview: The Abe data is more easily parsed, the Google Books data more complex and rewarding. The Abe data is immediately accessible, the Google data accessible through links. Given what Google has taken on, a project to in time digitize all available books on paper it is an extraordinary commitment and one I hope survives economic downturns and changes in corporate strategy. Microsoft also committed to do this a few years back and has since shuttered their project. What is particularly stunning about Google Books is that in time it will become magnitudes larger. The ambition of it is beyond audacious, its impact on learning and knowledge impossible to overstate. That it facilitates deeper collecting is simply a lucky quirk.
That said, for the casual collector, I suspect listing sites generally will continue to be the easier and preferred research tool simply because both research and purchase are possible. Google provides links to copies but most are in libraries, not bookstores. In time I expect Google will also offer "The Bookstore from Hell," the combination of all books known and all copies for sale. When they do the world of books will be fundamentally changed, without doubt for the better.
A note about Google Book searches. Running updates on Google searches may become tedious if you seek, as I do, to update your research every two to three months because there does not yet appear to be a way to see only 'new since I last searched' material. In AE's Matchmaker, years ago, we found it essential to exclude previously reported matches on eBay, at auction and on listing sites. Once is enough most of the time. Particularly in Google Books where the references are deeper and more complex, it would take the sting out of parsing so many records if I knew I would only ever have to do it once. In saying this, I feel a bit like a beneficiary of one of Jesus's miracles asking for chocolate sprinkles on the magically appearing vanilla cone. Google has created a scholar's monster and probably has not over-taxed the company resources trying to perfect it as an aid to book collectors. Nevertheless, for those involved in old books, it is amazing.
Google Books is a free service. I'll become better at using it and the Google team will inevitably find ways to improve it.
Would you like to take a look at Google Books? Click Here.
Google Books: A Tool for Book Collectors