I searched a small sample of ten pre-1923, public-domain books in Google Web Search in the last week, to find full-text versions, with the results below. These are all non-fiction titles, chosen more/less randomly, in subject fields of my interest — Medicine, botany, and history.


I did the searches in Google Web Search as detailed below — I looked at the first ten results, and recorded all occurrences of freely-available full-view versions for each title, with rank number. I’ve identified the GBS records by the library that scanned the book. For Internet Archive (IA), I’ve identified records by sponsor/contributor, and also noted whether the link goes to the book home page or the DjVu-formatted version of the book.

Both Google Books & Internet Archive records found:

• 1. American medical botany, Cummings and Hilliard, 1817
Google Web Search: American medical botany cummings
. . # 3 GBS-Library: Oxford Univ
. . # 7 GBS-Library: Harvard
. . # 9 IA:  Book Home Page – Sponsor & Contrib: NCSU

• 2. Portfolio of dermochromes, Jerome Kingsbury, 1913 (3 volumes)
Google Web Search: portfolio dermochromes kingsbury
. . # 1 GBS-Library: Harvard – Volume 1
. . # 5 IA:  Book Home Page – Volume 1 – Sponsor: IA; Contrib: U California
. . # 6 IA:  DjVu format – Volume 2 – Sponsor: IA; Contrib: U California

• 3. The Complete herbalist, or, The people their own physicians, Oliver Phelps Brown, 1870
Google Web Search: Complete herbalist, or, The people their own physicians
. . # 1 IA:  Book Home Page – Sponsor: Lyrasis, Sloan Fndtn; Contrib: Rutgers
. . # 2 IA:  Book Home Page – Sponsor: MSN; Contrib: U California
. . # 8 GBS-Library: Harvard

• 4. English and American tool builders, Joseph W. Roe, 1916
Google Web Search: english and american tool builders roe
. . # 1 GBS-Library: Harvard
. . # 4 IA:  Book Home Page – Sponsor: Boston Lib Consortium; Contrib: Northeastern U
. . # 5 IA:  DjVu format – Full Text of #4

• 5. Health service in industry, Irving Clark, 1922
Google Web Search: health service in industry clark
. . # 1 GBS-Library: California
. . # 2 IA:  Book Home Page – Sponsor: MSN; Contrib: U Toronto
. . # 3 IA:  Book Home Page – Sponsor: Google; Contrib: ?

• 6. History of medicine in its salient features, Walter Libby, 1922
Google Web Search: history of medicine in its salient features libby
. . # 1 GBS-Library: Harvard
. . # 4 IA:  DjVu record – Sponsor: MSN; Contrib: U California

Only Google Books records found, none from Internet Archive:

• 7. The Theory and practice of veterinary medicine, Austin H. Baker, Alexander Eger, 1911
Google Web Search: theory and practice of veterinary medicine baker
. . # 1 GBS-Library: Wisconsin

• 8. Atlas of diseases of the skin, Franz Mraček, ed. by Henry W. Stelwagon, 1899
Google Web Search: atlas diseases of the skin stelwagon
. . # 1 GBS-Library: Harvard – umQPAAAAYAAJ

• 9. How are you feeling now, Edwin Sabin, 1917
Google Web Search: how are you feeling now sabin
. . # 1 GBS-Library: California

Only in Google Books – Publisher Preview only – Google Book Search has in Full-view:

• 10. Beyond the Mississippi : from the great river to the great ocean, Albert Richardson, 1867
Google Web Search: beyond the mississippi richardson
. . # 3 GBS-Publisher: Preview of 2007 reprint, no full-view available. The title IS available when searched directly in Google Book Search ->>
>> Google Book Search search, limit to Full view: beyond the mississippi richardson
. . # 1 GBS-Library: Virginia


This is certainly not a larger enough sample to draw many conclusions, but I think it does show a few things:

  • There’s a lot of overlap between what’s in the two sources – The first 6 of the 10 books searched are in both Google Books (GBS) and Internet Archive (IA).
  • Not surprisingly, when there are titles in both sources, Google usually ranks GBS higher than IA (one exception: #3).
  • Libraries represented in GBS – Harvard predominates, with 6 of the 10 records — This fits my general Googling experience. Univ California is second with 2 records — This is a higher proportion than I’ve experienced.
  • IA sources – 3 of the 6 records have MSN as sponsor; of these, 2 are contributed by Univ California.
  • Links to Internet Archive are haphazard – In most cases there’s a link to the Book Home Page, as there should be, since it has a list of different formats available. In some cases, there’s also a link to the DjVu format, and in one case (#10), that’s the only link. Why does Google link to this format instead of others? Maybe it’s because DjVu is good for displaying pages with pictures. But the version of the DjVu format that Google links to is not the best one, as I’ve discussed previously.
  • In one case (#10), Google Web Search didn’t find any full-view versions, and Google Book Search did find one.

My purpose here was not to look at the proportion of all books that are in GBS or IA — That would take a larger sample, and more systematic randomizing. But I can report that I did find most of the titles I searched, which surprised me.

As I report in a separate article, it’s likely that there are  GBS or IA versions of other editions of many of these books, that could be found by searching directly in these sources.

There were no full-text versions in the Google Web Searches I did from any other source than GBS or IA. I was surprised at this, especially that Gutenberg.org did not appear in any of the search results.

Caveat: The results for the specific searches in Google Web Search will certainly change over time, so the study should be thought of as capturing a moment in time, not results set in stone!

Related articles:

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

My son, Brian Rumsey, studies History in Mississippi.This is an interest of mine also, so I read along with him on some of his books. We’ve been having a running discussion on the revival of narrative history writing, as discussed by Lawrence Stone, who relates it to the idea of “thick description.” More less unconsciously, I think, as this idea  has percolated in my mind, it has become “thick history” instead of “thick description.”

These ideas were bouncing around in my mind when I visited Brian recently at Mississippi State, where he studies, and especially when we got a kind invitation from a fellow grad student to share Thanksgiving dinner with his extended family. The gracious Southern hospitality we enjoyed there was the highlight of our trip, in many ways – Story-telling, food, and much more. Of course, I couldn’t resist making a connection — This is history at its thickest! The rich dimensions of a Southern family! This made me realize that my conception of “thick history” is much like family history — It’s history that takes in all “members of the family” — all dimensions, all of the context of the story. History that values the STORY, and follows it wherever it goes, without trying to fit it into an ideological framework.

As I continued to cogitate on the idea of “thick history,” of course, I turned to Google — Searching in Google Web and Google Books, I find that I’m certainly not the first one to coin the term — It’s been used especially in discussions of Keynesian economics, but also in religion and sociology.


So I poke around more, and explore the idea that “thick history” resonates with “family” — I don’t find much in Google Web search, but then I turn to GBS and — Bingo! — Searching GBS for thick history” family, I find just what I’ve been imagining — Number two is The Genetic Strand, with the passage “DNA measures thick history …” This book, by Edward Ball — is “the story of a writer’s investigation, using DNA science, into the tale of his family’s origins.” — with his Southern family being centered in Charleston, South Carolina.

No earth-shattering find, admittedly, but a neat little trick nonetheless — Using GBS to make a surprising connection between history and biology that would have been impossible without it. The sort of connection that I’m sure makes GBS invaluable for real historians, enabling them to see history in completely new ways.

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

The recent controversy about the Google Book Search Settlement seems to have taken up peoples’ Google-watching attention so much that advances in the way GBS actually works have been getting overlooked. Several notable improvements were made during the summer, for example, that got very little recognition. Another change that seems to have gotten little recognition is that Google web searches have begun to include links to books in GBS in the last 1-2 years (as in the example at left). Particularly in searching for historical topics, I’ve been seeing searches recently in which the majority of the first 10 hits are from GBS — A great advance, I think, for historical research. Up to now, my experience has been that history has been a fairly weak subject on the Web — Locked away in books, not on Web pages.

I had occasion to take advantage of the newly accessible books from GBS recently, when I was least expecting it, while having a discussion with my son David, who’s a long-distance runner, about track runners of the past at the University of Iowa. I remembered that one particular runner on the team, Ted Wheeler, ran on the US Olympic team in the 1950′s, and that he later went on to become the coach for the UI track team (I especially knew about him because while he was the coach he married Sheila Creth, the University Librarian at the University of Iowa Libraries, where I work). David knew that Wheeler had been in the Olympics, and thought that he had been an assistant coach at Iowa, rather than the head coach. So … of course I turned to Google to settle the “discussion.” It turned out to be a surprisingly difficult search. I assumed that it would be fairly easy to find records of recent track coaches at a large, Big Ten program like Iowa. But it wasn’t — I tried several search terms without success before — Bingo! — I finally hit upon the combination that turned up the page shown here, establishing that Wheeler was, indeed, the UI track coach from 1978 to 1996 — with the added benefit of a great picture!

The point of this little story: I think integrating GBS links into Google web search is a great advance, and deserves more attention. As I said above, there’s been so much negative press for Google in recent discussions of the Settlement that everything they do is interpreted negatively — I saw a link in the last couple of weeks, that I unfortunately didn’t keep track of, decrying Google’s putting GBS links in Web search results because someone thought Google was trying to unfairly boost their own content. Really?? I think there’s such a treasure in old books that the world will benefit from Google’s making them more accessible. There are questions, certainly, about the algorithm used by Google to determine which books are included in Web search results, and I hope Google will say more about that. But it’s not only Google that’s saying little on the subject — I haven’t seen much discussion at all by anybody on the integration of GBS books in Google web search results –  If anyone can find it, please add a comment or contact me by Twitter or Email.

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey