For a bibliophile like me, it is sad to see library visits on the decline. This decline is somewhat of a double-edged sword, though, as there is a very positive corollary to this. Part of the decline is due to the fact that more and more books can be accessed digitally online for free.
For family historians, probably the best known search engine can be found at FamilySearch. What many seem to still not know is that this search engine includes not just books found in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, but also searches the holdings of the Allen County Public Library, several of the Brigham Young University libraries, the Clayton Library Center for Genealogical Research at the Houston Public Library, the Mid-West Genealogy Center at the Mid-Continent Public Library, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and the Onondaga County Public Library in Syracuse.
If you haven’t ever used the FamilySearch book search engine, it is very simple. On the FamilySearch.org home page, click on “Search” and then “Books” in the drop down menu. This page will open up:
A surname, author or title can be entered. Depending on the publishing rights given to the libraries, some books can only be viewed in person at the library or, in the case of holdings at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, they can be viewed at a local Family History Center.
Where else can digitized books be found? Google, of course. Just go to Google Books. Again, depending on rights, some book titles may come up with no views or just a preview. However, many older titles have been digitized and can be read from the comfort of home.
A lesser known site, Project Gutenberg at www.gutenberg.org has 45,000+ digitized books. Most of the books that I have browsed on this site are a bit more esoteric or academically oriented. However, a genealogist looking for perhaps histories (worldwide) might come across Salem Witchcraft and Cotton Mather by Charles Wentworth Upham, found on Project Gutenberg.
Another academically oriented search engine is the HathiTrust Digital Library. I mentioned this site a while back in the post about the Works Progress Administration resources.
Like FamilySearch, this site is also free and no account is even required to search and read books.
Archive.org has not only archives of videos, music and audio recordings, but also has millions of digitized books. It is also home to the Wayback Machine, which has archived web pages. The site has recently been updated.
Maybe you just want to find out where a copy of a book in which you are interested in located. In that case, try WorldCat. Again, anyone can use this site for free with no account required.
However, a word of warning – WorldCat’s purpose to to help you locate a hard copy of a book, not to provide digital versions. If you find a library that has the title you want, and you are lucky, you might find that the local library has a digital copy of the book to be accessed.
Lastly, while researching information for this post, I came across a website which I’ve never before seen – The Online Books Page, edited by John Mark Ockerbloom at the University of Pennsylvania. It includes 2,000,000 book titles (!) and was last updated on 19 June 2015.
Click on the Archives and Indexes page and an astounding selection of possibilities opens up. Not only are major search engines noted at the top of the page, but lesser known search engines have links, followed by a gigantic list of non-English archive lists and the Specialty Archives, with titles grouped by categories.
One last suggestion is to search university and major public libraries online in your areas of interest. More and more is appearing online every day.
So, if you are looking for that one special book in a digital format, take some time to explore with these search engines.