Antique roads-show: Google Book Search edition

Thursday, June 26, 2008 at 2:20 PM

Who would have thought that Google Book Search would be so useful to researchers of international roads? Hot on the heels of our series of videos from Book Search innovators comes this story from Gerald Cummins, author and proprietor of the website Old Roads of Scotland. His research calls to mind the story of Jo Guldi, another road expert who we’ve highlighted on this blog before.

We invite you to have a look at our new User Stories page, which collects all of the interesting uses of Book Search we've found so far, and to let us know if you've had a special experience yourself. As for Gerald, he's found Google Book Search useful for his work, and we asked him to highlight a few of his interesting finds for Inside Google Book Search:

Having written a book on the history of roads and tracks of Ayrshire, a county in the west of Scotland, I decided to include it in my website on the old roads of Scotland. I’ve found Google Book Search really useful for making it possible to link to original source material, as well as general research. In my own case, I’ve been able to link to the Old and New Statistical Accounts of Scotland, which provide a description of each parish in Scotland in the 1790's and 1830's. I've found various other works, some of which are very difficult to find otherwise.

One fascinating example comes from Charles Bertram, who in the early 1800s forged a document, The Description of Britain, which was allegedly written by a medieval monk named Richard of Cirencester. The document supposedly chronicled the time of the Romans in Britain, giving details of non-existent Roman roads. This work wreaked havoc amongst antiquarians 200 years ago, and is now almost forgotten, but there it was in Google Book Search.

I recently came across references to the Girthgate, an old route that led from Melrose Abbey to the medieval hospital of Soutra, in the hills south of Edinburgh. Apart from books on Melrose Abbey, Google Book Search had a superb illustration of a medieval bridge on this route that has long disappeared.

Dare we dub these interstate intellectuals "roads scholars"? Could we really stoop so low as to recycle a second-rate pun for the third time? Apparently so. I guess when it comes to inane wordplay, we're pretty sure never to take the road less travelled. Read the full post 0 comments


U.S. copyright renewal records available for download

Monday, June 23, 2008 at 9:45 AM

If I handed you a book and asked whether it was in copyright or in the public domain, you'd probably turn to the copyright page first. Unfortunately, a copyright page can't answer that question definitively -- at best, it could tell you when the book in your hands was published, and who owned the rights to it at that time. Ownership can change, though: rights revert back to authors, and after enough time has passed, the book enters into the public domain, letting people copy and adapt it as they wish.

So how much time is "enough"? It varies, often depending on the country, on when the book was published, and whether the author is living. For U.S. books published between 1923 and 1963, the rights holder needed to submit a form to the U.S. Copyright Office renewing the copyright 28 years after publication. In most cases, books that were never renewed are now in the public domain. Estimates of how many books were renewed vary, but everyone agrees that most books weren't renewed. If true, that means that the majority of U.S. books published between 1923 and 1963 are freely usable.

How do you find out whether a book was renewed? You have to check the U.S. Copyright Office records. Records from 1978 onward are online (see but not downloadable in bulk. The Copyright Office hasn't digitized their earlier records, but Carnegie Mellon scanned them as part of their Universal Library Project, and the tireless folks at Project Gutenberg and the Distributed Proofreaders painstakingly corrected the OCR.

Thanks to the efforts of Google software engineer Jarkko Hietaniemi, we've gathered the records from both sources, massaged them a bit for easier parsing, and combined them into a single XML file available for download here.

There are undoubtedly errors in these records, but we believe this is the best and most comprehensive set of renewal records available today. These records are free and in the public domain, and we hope you're able to use them to determine the copyright status of books that interest you.

At Google, we're committed to making as many books available online to users as possible while respecting copyright, and this is one example of that commitment. Watch this space for more to come. Read the full post 0 comments


A beary personal use of Book Search

Tuesday, June 17, 2008 at 1:42 PM

Whether it’s finding a moonwalking bear or researching Shakespeare, we’re known for a broad range of searches here at Google. But Miriam Midkiff of Spokane, Washington uses Google Book Search for a very specific reason – discovering her family’s history.

Miriam became interested in genealogy after visiting relatives in Michigan when she was twelve. She’s since devoted her career to teaching and writing for a genealogical society, and recently discovered how Google Book Search can help illuminate her understanding of her own ancestors. The Google Book Search index contains pamphlets, directories and other printed documents that can be useful for historical searches like Miriam’s.

Among her discoveries on Google Book Search, one surprising find was the role that a relative played in helping a bear to fame for a unique talent. Let's just say this happened before the time of the moonwalk, but not so long ago that a bear couldn't be strapped to roller skates. Watch this video to get the story from Miriam:

If you’ve already looked up your name on Google (unthinkable we know), why not try it on Google Book Search? We can't promise that you'll be regaled with tales of novelty bear acts, but you might find something equally unexpected. Read the full post 0 comments


Abraham Lincoln’s a poet; we didn’t know it

Friday, June 06, 2008 at 11:41 AM

Here’s another video from a reader who found an exceptional use of Google Book Search. This week’s installment comes from Samuel Wheeler, a graduate student at Southern Illinois University who’s writing a dissertation on the poetry of Abraham Lincoln.

Wheeler makes the challenge of researching Abraham Lincoln clear: with the possible exception of Jesus, he estimates that there’s been more books written about him than any other historical figure. Take a look at this video to find out how he used Book Search to find just the right material for his project.

On top of that, you can’t miss the slammin’ soundtrack. Read the full post 0 comments