This post first appeared on Daily Genius.
If you’re unfamiliar with Google Books, it is a repository of books that Google has scanned and published digitally using Optical Character Recognition (OCR); this means that you can search for words within a book itself. Depending on copyright status, books can be offered in complete form, in snippets, or available for purchase or loan from a library. Due to a recent legal ruling, you are about to hear a lot more about this service as it will no doubt be more broadly expanded and dispersed in the public forum.
In an October decision of the case Authors Guild vs. Google Inc., the Second Circuit Court ruled that Google Books does not violate copyright and, rather, rightfully operates within the realm of Fair Use. In the original 2012 ruling, presiding Judge Dennis Chin stated that Google Books “…advances the progress of the arts and sciences, while maintaining respectful consideration for the rights of authors and other creative individuals, and without adversely impacting the rights of copyright holders (Meyer: Atlantic).” In the recent October 2015 ruling, the Circuit Court “rejected infringement claims from the Authors Guild and several individual writers, and found that the project provides a public service without violating intellectual property law (Axe: Reuters).” What this means for the public is that Google Books and the Google Books Library project will continue to provide scanned and digitized content to the public for free.
In addition to more popular academic, fiction, and nonfiction works, Google Books has partnered with dozens of libraries around the world in order to digitize their collections and make them available to users wherever they are. For example, you can access the special collections at Oxford’s Bodleian Library or large sections of Harvard’s Library of out-of-print books. Oxford has lauded its partnership with Google as being in accord with the library’s mission:
The Bodleian Library’s mission, from its founding in 1602, has been based on Sir Thomas Bodley’s vision of a library serving the worldwide ‘Republic of Letters’, with the Library’s collections open to all who have need to use them. To this day over 60% of readers who use and work in the Bodleian Library have no direct affiliation with the University of Oxford. The Google Library Project in Oxford testifies to our ongoing commitment to enable and facilitate access to our content for the scholarly community and beyond. The initiative will carry forward Sir Thomas Bodley’s vision and the ethos of the Bodleian Library into the digital age, allowing readers from around the world to access the Library’s collections over the World Wide Web. — Ronald Milne, former Director of Oxford University Library & Bodleian Librarian
Google Books is an especially powerful tool in the classroom. Educators and students now have access to resources from around the world. Using the advanced searches available with OCR and Google’s algorithms, academic searches can be more comprehensive and encompassing. Additionally, users can create “book shelves” (reading lists) to help organize their research or share information with others.
To begin your research on Google Books, go to: books.google.com. Enter your search the same way you do in order to Google anything – using a question, key phrase or term, or subject. This will return a list of books that are relevant to the search topic that you entered. You can then refine your search by selecting “Search Tools” and filter by availability (preview available, Google eBook, Free Google eBook), Document Type (Book or Magazine), Time published (by a particular century or a custom range), and sort by relevance or date.
When you open a book, if it has been scanned for OCR, you can search within the text for a word or phrase. This is especially helpful for books without an index! You can clip sections of the book, share the book as a link, embed it into a page, or even create shelves on which to curate your Google Books Collection. This is a great way to create a reading list for students. To do this, simply go to your Google Books Library → “create shelf” → “edit properties” to ensure that it is set to public, and share via a link.
With the recent ruling on Google Books, there is no doubt that more resources will become available to the public, allowing educators and students greater access to content and material from around the world.
Learn more about Google Books at our next Google Jamboree!