Google Books – Admitting Usefulness

I hadn’t spent much time playing with Google Book Search, but I was intrigued by this recent post from Dr. Joshua Schwimmer describing a moment in which it was very useful:

Several months ago, a group of medical students, residents and I were in the emergency department examining a patient who might have had necrotizing fasciitis. This condition, also known as “the flesh eating bacteria,” is as evil as it sounds. It must be diagnosed and treated quickly — often with extensive surgical debridement — or the patient will die. Atul Gawande, one of my favorite medical authors, had written about a patient with necrotizing fasciitis in his book Complications, which I’d recently read. It’s a great book, it contains a perfect description of the disease, and at that moment, I wished I had it in front of me. So I punched “gawande necrotizing fasciitis” into Google Book Search, and instantly the exact passage was on the screen.

It got me thinking. How many potential opportunities for teaching are lost because the original text isn’t available, short of taking a trip to the nearest medical library? How much knowledge lies dormant because no one can find it?

Having recently read this post by Dr. Schwimmer, Google Books was on my mind the other day when a library patron put to me a question about how commas should appropriately be used. Wishing that I had my home copy of Strunk and White’s Elements of Style with me, I wondered if I could look it up via Google Books. I went to Google Books and searched for “elements of style” comma after each term. The first search result was exactly what I wanted.


I’m not sure I have a solid grasp of the issues surrounding the anxiety/fear/loathing that some librarians seem to have for Google Books. If anyone would like to recommend a good article or essay on the topic, I’d be grateful.