Digital books…

Last week while on the reference desk, I had a faculty member that needed a book…fast. Our library has the copy he needed in our library service center; we could have gotten it into the library by that afternoon. But he would have missed an important deadline. So, I went searching online. I started, of course, at Google Books. Now I should point out at this time, this was a novel from the 1920’s.  Google Books had a few pages, and I let the faculty member know this. I cleared it with him that it would be fine to have a digital copy.

Next stop, I did a search in Worldcat, but only turned up the incomplete scanned version in Google Books.  Next, I turned to my iPhone, and did several quick checks in two of my online book readers: Stanza, and Bookshelf.  Nothing. After several searches in Google, I was lucky enough to come across a link to a University of Chicago catalog record. As I clicked through, it would not let me in, but once I edited out the proxy server information, and put that into the url box, I went directly to a beautiful scanned copy! I knew from the catalog record that the digital version was available with no restrictions, and it was just the University of Chicago proxy that was keeping me out.

As a fun exercise, I gave the task of finding an online version of this book to the head of our Interlibrary Loan department. He logged into his OCLC database, and quickly found a copy–it seems that OCLC has cataloged many of the digital copies in archives. We are still investigating why it showed up in OCLC, but not in Worldcat. Perhaps a secret beta test?

Take away points: I am making it a part of my reference process to think about digital repositories more. Fondren will be creating a Libguide to address searching in these digital archives. Also, the Hathi Trust is an excellent resource. It is a collaboration of the thirteen universities of the Committee on Institutional Cooperation and the University of California system to establish a repository for these universities to archive and share their digitized collections. This will enable greater searching into hidden repositories.

Of course, for math and physics articles, arxiv, Numdam, and Gallica remain the go to places.


About effervescentlibrarian

UX Librarian at Rice University, Houston, Texas.
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