A Baker’s Dozen of Tips: Searching for Digitized Books

As you may have noticed, I have been working madly, compiling links to digitized county histories. One of my mother’s favorite sayings – Practice makes Perfect – certainly applies to my situation and I’ve learned a lot about searching for digitized books, in general.

Here are some tips that will increase your chance of success when you search for digitized books online – not just county histories.

  1. Internet Archive has the most robust collection of books which are no longer under copyright restriction.
  2. Hathtrust is most likely to have digital books which would be under copyright, except an author or other owner has waived their rights and allowed the book to be digitized.
  3. FamilySearch is the most likely to have locally printed books in any time period, right up into the 21st century, as they have obtained permission to digitize from the copyright owner.
  4. FamilySearch CATALOG and FamilySearch BOOKS DO NOT bring the same results in a search. BOOKS includes all repositories in the FamilySearch partnership.
  5. Google Books has the weakest collection of digitized books, measured by my own experience.
  6. Having read #1-5, in this list, be aware that there are exceptions to each. You need to search multiple places. I can’t count how many times I’ve found a digitized book on only ONE website.
  7. There are many different renditions of digitized books. Some copies are so faint, they are almost impossible to read, while others probably have better image quality than the originals. Be sure to browse various pages to be sure they are of good quality. This is more likely to be an issue on Internet Archive than the other site.
  8. The Internet Archive search engine can be slow – 30 seconds or more to load – and it sometimes gets hung up. If that happens, close the browser and reopen a new tab.
  9. Typos in search terms can most definitely affect your search results. Internet Archive is unforgiving with typos and doesn’t like too many words, so if your book title is lengthy, search with just enough of the beginning words to narrow your results.
  10. Frequently, the book one searches for is NOT the first item in the results list. You may need to scroll down the page to find what you are looking for.
  11. There are books long out of copyright which can’t be found on any of the major sites I’ve mentioned. Filby noted in A Bibliography of American County Histories that some volumes have been lost and not a single copy has been located.
  12. If there is a book which you feel should be in digitized format, take some extra time to hunt for it. Be aware that I’ve found books with typos on the website and I’ve also found, in two cases, where the county was assigned to the wrong state, so when I included the state in the book title, no results came up. For example, let’s say that county Xyzxyz exists in three different states. The book I wanted to view was from State #1, but the data entry person erred and placed it in the collection with State #3. When I searched for “History of Xyzxyz, State #1”, nothing appeared. When I searched only for “History of Xyzxyz,” the book was in the results list and when I examined the bibliographic information, I saw that it was ascribed to the wrong state.
  13. Remember that digitized books are part of an expanding collection. With each passing year, new books are no longer under copyright restrictions and are being added to digital online collections. No, it’s not all online and probably never will be. If you can’t find a digitized copy of your book, try interlibrary loan or, if you are really desperate, purchase a copy.

Happy Hunting!

4 thoughts on “A Baker’s Dozen of Tips: Searching for Digitized Books”

  1. Great tips! I have been doing some searching for military books and use Google Books, Internet Archive, and HathiTrust to search and your tips are right on. Different books are found on different sites. Sometimes one can find a color scan on one site but a black and white one from microfilm on another. It’s good to check all three for the best version.

  2. Great list! And, yes, searching more than one site is necessary. Plus, periodically searching again as digitizing is ongoing.

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