When a Search is Not a Search- Part 2 – Traditional Catalogs vs. Google Books

In part 1 of my blog, I discussed some of the limitations traditional online catalogs pose for attorneys in terms of relevance and terminology. As an example, I used the bibliographic record that can be retrieved in a library catalog search for a book on securities regulation by Thomas Hazen. I’d like to return to that example now, but I’d like to strip the record down to some essentials to show these limitations more clearly.

Here’s the modified record:

Title: Treatise on the law of securities regulation, Volume 3

Practitioner treatise series   Author: Thomas Lee Hazen

Subjects:  1. Business & Economics; 2. Investments & Securities; 3. Business & Economics / Investments & Securities;   4. Securities;   5. Securities – United States

Notice that this series is called “Practitioner treatise series”. Yet there is not a single reference in the entire record to the terminology used by a securities law practitioner such as “tender offer’, “hostile takeover”, or “white knight”.  These terms are not mentioned in the subject headings.  Nor can the record tell us if they are even mentioned in the book itself, and if so, on which pages. Don’t even try to    determine the context of the references or the depth of coverage. Unfortunately, many of the answers to these questions require a physical examination of the actual book itself, and its table of contents and/ or index- something that’s difficult to do if the book isn’t on hand or nearby.

Google Books, www.books.google.com  other hand, provides a viable option to the traditional catalog in terms of searchability.  When you go to their website, you can then search their digitized book collection by entering natural language in their search bar. For example, if were looking to see if there were any references to “hostile takeovers’ in volume 3 of the Hazen treatise on securities regulation you could enter the words hostile takeover (no parentheses needed), and hazen to limit your search.  Google Books would then search their collection and respond with the following snippet message showing you the number of matches within this book and the context:

2 pages matching hostile takeover and hazen in this book


Page 431


If you wanted to do a more exhaustive search, you would enter your search terms in the bar, without the limitation of the Hazen book, and Google Books will retrieve other book titles containing the terms for you to view – along with the snippets on the context. Quite a difference from the traditional catalog search!

In Part 3 of my blog, I’ll discuss the reasoning behind the snippets (as opposed to full text entries), and provide more information on the pluses and minuses of Google Books.


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