Saturday, December 20, 2008

Finding books to read - the joy of interlibrary loan

If we really want to find out a lot about a topic (like public speaking) then we can find and read a book. What should we do if our local public library does not have what we need? That depends on if we are more limited by time or by money. If time is limited, then we might choose to buy a book at a local bookstore. First we might look online at Amazon to see what books exist on that topic. (We also could look on Google Book Search).

If we have time but are limited by money, then we can find information about the book and ask our public library to obtain it via an interlibrary loan.

The simplest version of interlibrary loan occurs when our library is part of a regional union with a shared system catalog. For example, although I live in the city of Boise I have browsed the shared catalog and requested books from the nearby towns of Nampa, Eagle and Meridian. Those books were sent to the main Boise library, who emailed me to come and pick them up.

More complicated versions of interlibrary loan are possible. Typically to request a book we will need to supply the title, author, publisher, edition, publication date, and perhaps other details like the ISBN. Each library has specific procedures. For example, Boise Public Library will NOT request titles copyrighted in the current year. It can take about two weeks to obtain a book, which can come from thousands of miles away.

If we search for books at just with the phrase “public speaking” we will find over 36,000 results. The Look Inside feature lets us preview things like the Table of Contents to decide if a book looks interesting.

Google Book Search will only find about 12,800 books using the phrase “public speaking”. The Preview feature will let us look inside some of them. We still need to add other terms to narrow our search down to a reasonable number of results.

There is another less well known search tool, the “planetary library catalog” called WorldCat. If we put the phrase “public speaking” into its search box, then we will find about 12,800 books in the 1.2 billion items from its 10,000 libraries. Add another word like “secrets” and we will find only 55 books. WorldCat has other much more powerful search features than Google or Amazon. It was built by librarians, so it incorporates detailed subject indexing.

If we looked up Peter Desburg’s book, Speaking scared, sounding good: public speaking for the private person, at the Boise Public Library we would have found it was listed both under the very broad subject of “public speaking” and also the much narrower subject of “public speaking – psychological aspects”. Looking on Worldcat with the latter subject gives only 114 results. Similarly, combining the subjects of public speaking and humor with the Boolean search phrase “su:public speaking AND su:humor” will give just 247 results.

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