Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Books: Hard Copy vs. Digital Access

In my recent, ongoing series of posts concerning the MacEntee and McEntee families, I've decided to invoke the muse of footnoteMaven and document my research with many endnotes. Not only have I learned (from the best) that this is good form and the basis of credible research, but since I am dealing with a disputed topic, it many serve to finally settle the matter once and for all.

But I'll have to admit it hasn't been easy to do all the research from the comfort of my own home office. We try to run a "green" home here in Chicago, as much as possible so that we aren't living like a hippie commune with a dirt floor. One aspect is to cut down on our use of paper.

I am totally paperless - well 99% paperless. I have an all-in-one printer that I use more for scanning than anything. So when someone says, "Print it and send it to me," my mind automatically thinks of PDF creation. All our banking is done on-line with paperless statements which I download each month. Same for all credit accounts, utilities, phone bills, etc. When I shop online (which I will be doing more frequently now that Chicago's sales tax is 10.25%) I use coupon codes, and try to bundle as much in one shipment as possible, plus look for free shipping. Instead of writing checks for Ebay purchaes, I use Paypal. For donations to charities and the walks and runs in which friends particiapte, I go online to donate. It took some doing to break the habit, but I tell you I was able to get rid of my large filing cabinet!

In genealogy research, there will always be paper records that you will want, such as copies of birth certificates, death certificates, etc. But for census records, I save imaged copies and include them in my database. The problem for me has always been this: do I go and buy a book that I only need to use once? Or do I go over to the local Family History Center or library? What if I could find the book on-line? Here's my approach:

Google Books

First, I look in Google Books to see if the book has been digitized and is available in Full View Mode. This means, I can even download the book in PDF format and save it for future use. For the most part, only books that are out-of-print or those for which the copyright has lapsed making it part of the public domain are available in Full View.

Second, some books are available in Preview Mode. This means there is limited access and some pages or sections are deliberately blocked. Also, it means that after a certain number of views (during one Internet connection session), you will be blocked from viewing any more of the book. I've found that the Title Page is often blocked but the About This Book section has all the information (title, date, author, publisher) you need. Preview Mode, like some free MP3 files, has actually encouraged me to go over to Amazon and purchase the book itself.

Third, some books are available only in Snippet Mode. This means you can get the same About This Book information, but you will only see sections, without page numbers, and with data partially obliterated (usually what you need). This mode is not of much use to me and I find it is used for books that have recently been re-printed or for which the copyright is still enforced and the author or publisher has not consented to Preview Mode (which is their right).

Family History Archives

I've discovered the existence of the Family History Archives at the Harold B. Lee Library of the Brigham Young University and their on-line digitized collection. They have a robust search engine that allows me to find books that I can't find or can't access on Google Books. I will often do this for books that I only need to reference one or two times.

There is a large collection of privately published family history books, notes, and family stories. You can also do a full-text as well as a surname search. You cannot download PDF copies but this resource has been a life saver for me.

Internet Archive

For a short period of time, I was using the Project Guttenberg site to find books that I could not find using my other options above. But then I discovered Internet Archive.

Basically, Internet Archive is a "catch all" site of digitized collections from American Libraries, Canadian Libraries, Project Guttenberg and more. Most of the books are available for download in PDF format as well as in other formats and even versions that can be printed. Very often I can find what I need using their search engine and then search for terms within a selected text.


Some of the books for which I don't have full access, can be located under Ancestry's Stories and Publications section. With a paid subscription, you can search the Ancestry Database Card Catalog for the title or author needed and then have full access to the book. You cannot download the book, but you can often save images of the book page needed.

Citing On-Line Books

This was a challenge when I first started using on-line versions of books, but now I've gotten into a routine.

I cite the book as one normally would (author, title, publisher (location: name), date, etc. Then when it comes down to citing the page, I insert the link to the on-line source and mention the access date prior to the page notation. Example:

Leonard, John William, Who's Who in America, 1903-1905, Chicago, Illinois: A.N. Marquis & Company, 1905, <>, accessed February 28, 2008, p. 32.

If you haven't pursued the option of on-line books I urge you to do so. Just remember that if a book is copyrighted and you find an on-line version that violates the copyright of the author and/or publisher, you should make sure that not only the author/publisher know about this, but also inform the website posting the book. And then either go to a library or Family History Center or purchase the book. I know that if my work were published, I would not want the rights to the intellectual property that I created to be violated.


Terry Thornton said...

Thanks, Thomas, for this handy review of what is available --- and for your footnote/citation information. You've made some excellent suggestions and provided some new-to-me links to online books which I will start using immediately. THANKS.

Elizabeth said...

Thanks for a great post, Thomas. I use Google Books all the time, plus the scanned books at Heritage Quest. I didn't know about Internet Archive, but I'll be checking it out now!

P.S. Love the photo!

Thomas MacEntee said...

Thanks Elizabeth and Terry!

And thanks for the photo comment too - as you can see I will soon be celebrating the day set aside for my people. I usually go by the undercover name Paddy O'Furniture - because I usually turn up in the back lawn the next morning after being out all night.