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How can I find out whether a book is available online?

Last Updated: Mar 20, 2014  |  410 Views

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Unfortunately, there is no one place to look to for online versions of books. However, searching in these resources, in the order listed below, will be an effective and relatively comprehensive approach.  Detailed instructions follow the list.

HOLLIS

HathiTrust

Google Books

The Internet Archive

WorldCat

OAISTER

Wikipedia

Search in HOLLIS

HOLLIS contains links to digital books available through various sources, both internal Harvard digital projects, and subscription and purchased electronic resources (which are available at library workstations and off-site to members of the Harvard community with IDs and PINs), as illustrated by the examples, below.

HOLLIS searches information about items (i.e., metadata such as title, author, publisher, subjects, etc.), not the full text of the item.

The titles below link to HOLLIS records, which include links to full-text:

John Keats’s copy of The Dramatic Plays of William Shakespeare
Digitized through the collection Reading: Harvard Views of Readers, Readership, and Reading History, a project of Harvard University Library’s Open Collections Program.

Google Power Search by Stephan M. Spencer

Full-text available through Safari Tech Books Online, a subscription database.

The autobiography of W. E. B. Du Bois : a soliloquy on viewing my life from the last decade of its first century.
Full-text available through the Alexander Street Press E-Resource Black Thought and Culture, a subscription database.

Philosophy of mathematics / edited by Andrew D. Irvine (2011)
Full-text available online through
Elsevier ScienceDirect, a subscription database.

Consciousness: A very short introduction/Susan Blackmore (2005)
Full-text available through
Ebsco eBook Collection, a purchased e-resource.

Alice's adventures in wonderland, [by Lewis Carroll]. Illus. by J. Tenniel (1898)
Harvard College Library copy digitized through Google Books. Generally these are books no longer under copyright. See Cornell Copyright Information Office Chart for more information on copyright duration.
HOLLIS records will link to available Google Books versions of texts whether the texts were scanned at Harvard or another institution.

Search in HathiTrust

The HathiTrust Digital Library provides access to a growing collection of 5 million digital items.  It provides online to access to some 2.5 million volumes in the public domain and other items that are open access or Creative Commons-licensed.

HathiTrust searches both information about items (i.e., metadata such as title, author, publisher, subjects, etc.), and the full text of items. See HathiTrust Resources Page.

Harvard readers can view texts and download them a page at the time.

Note:  Though Harvard is a partner institution of HathiTrust, there is currently a technical problem that prevents Harvard-affiliate authentication through the Hathi system. When that problem is solved, Harvard readers will also be able to download whole books as PDFs.  In the meantime, when a HathiTrust item is available through Google Books, readers can download the PDF through Google Books. 

Example:

Charles Darwin: His life told in an autobiographical chapter and in a selected series of his published letters / Ed. by his son Francis Darwin.
Full text of copy digitized from Penn State University.

Search in Google Books

All books that were scanned by Google at partner libraries or contributed by publishers are listed in Google Books; Google Books reports 10 million titles. 

Google Books searches both information about items (i.e., metadata such as title, author, publisher, subjects, etc.), and the full text of items.

Google Book Search allows viewing the full text of books if the books are out of copyright, or if the publisher has opted to allow it.

To view within Google Books the FIND AT HARVARD links that will connect you to HOLLIS Catalog records for print and Harvard subscription e-texts, begin your searching at the Google Books Harvard Portal.

For more information, see the Harvard Library  Google Books FAQ or Google Books About page.

Search in the Internet Archive

The Internet Archive Text Archive contains a wide range of fiction, popular books, children's books, historical texts and academic books. The texts come from a variety of sources, including Project Gutenberg, Google Books, and material uploaded by individuals.

Internet Archive Texts searches information about items (i.e., metadata such as title, author, publisher, subjects, etc.), not the full text of the item.

Example:

The Birds of Massachusetts (1901) by Reginald Heber Howe and Glover M. Morrill
Available through the Biodiversity Heritage Library within the Internet Archive, digitized by the Smithsonian Institution Libraries.  Text and additional data is available at the
Biodiversity Heritage Library’s collection website.

Search in WorldCat

WorldCat is a collective catalog of more than 47 million records of any type of material (books, periodicals, scores, films, recordings, etc.) cataloged by over 41,000 OCLC (Online Computer Library Center) member libraries, primarily but not exclusively, from libraries in the United States, but extending to 82 other nations.

WorldCat searches information about items (i.e., metadata such as title, author, publisher, subjects, etc.), not the full text of the item.

To find digital books in WorldCat, use ADVANCED SEARCH to limit your results to Internet Resources. The search may retrieve both public-domain texts that are freely available and subscription resources available only through purchasing libraries.

This database is particular useful for finding European digital texts.  

Search in OAIster

OAIster is a free, public database, containing records of digital resources from open-archive collections worldwide; currently OAIster claims over 25 million records representing over 1,100 contributors.  

OAIster searches information about items (i.e., metadata such as title, author, publisher, subjects, etc.), not the full text of the item.)  The metadata OAIster searches is provided by its various contributors and may vary from record to record.

Records are harvested from open-access collections through the Open Archives Initiative Protocol for Metadata Harvesting (OAI-PMH).  OAIster includes records for digitized book and journal articles, manuscript/archival material, photographic images, audio and visual files, datasets, theses, technical reports, and research papers.

When the item is available digitally, OAIster records provide a link allowing users access to the object in a single click.

Searching in OAIster can help direct you to databases that offer digitized resources in a subject area that interests you.

Search in Wikipedia

Wikipedia entries on authors and particular works sometimes provide a section of External Links at the end of the entry, including links to online archives and full-text versions of books.

Examples:

The Wikipedia entry on Moby Dick concludes with links to nine on-line versions in various formats.

The Wikipedia entry on William Blake provides links to full-text online material at Victoria University Library, the William Blake Archive sponsored by the Library of Congress, and the William Blake Archive at the Ransom Center, University of Texas, Austin.

For more information about finding e-books, please see this research guide, or contact Pam Matz, Fred Burchsted, or James Capobianco.

Also, please see Finding Full-Text Books Online: An FAQ.

 

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