Newsletter of the Association of Library and Information Science Students (ALISS)




 title of the newsletter: The Silverfish


March 2004

Vol VIII Issue III

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Next article>>’s New Feature: Search Inside the Book

By Dyan Smith Chandler, MLIS Evening
Amazon has launched a nifty little feature called "Search Inside the Book". You don't have to do anything special to find the feature-- all you do is go to their home page and enter your search term. Within your search results, you will see that some of the returns give you an extra piece of information: an excerpt of the text of the item, containing your search term. For example, if you do a search for "paint colors", one of the results returned is a book entitled Color Palettes: Atmospheric Interiors Using the Donald Kaufman Color Collection. You get an excerpt from the book showing you where the search term appeared in the text, and you are also presented with a link to the full page where the search term appeared. Then it gets really interesting.

You can now browse through pages such as the table of contents, the front and back cover material, and you also have an option to search the entire book. Now that you have found your “paint colors” book, you can continue to search the text of the book for subtopics of all sorts- "kitchens", "complementary colors", or "color swatches", to name a few. For each search you get a listing of pages where the term appears, along with the term in the context of its excerpt and a link to the full page for online perusal (that is, assuming you are already a registered Amazon customer). Pretty cool, right? You can begin to envision hundreds of ways this capability could come in handy…

In order to get the feature launched, Amazon invested thousands of hours in the physical scanning of approximately 33 million pages from more than 120,000 books. Nearly 200 publishers, including Wiley & Sons, Time Warner, Simon & Schuster, and Random House offered up their books for online browsing and searching. (Since the feature launched in October 2003, there are bound to be more books online today. The plan was to keep adding more and more as long as publishers would cooperate.) For the most part, books are scanned in their entirety, but there are some instances where certain pages were omitted, either by request from the publisher or because of copyright restrictions. In addition, because of copyright concerns, users are only allowed to access 20% or less of a work’s pages; tracking these usage limits is the reason users are required to log in as Amazon users to access the feature.

It can be said that this feature is more than just a neat new e-tailing trick. Some see it as a giant first step in revolutionizing the way we view, store, and access books. Likening this new feature to a universal digital "archive", Gary Wolf of Wired magazine says: "The Amazon archive is dizzying not because it unearths books that would necessarily have languished in obscurity, but because it renders their contents instantly visible in response to a search. It allows quick query revisions, backtracking, and exploration. It provides a new form of map."

Is it true that we will soon be using this “new form of map” ubiquitously? Will Amazon succeed in revolutionizing the way we access materials online? Or is this simply a clever way of marketing and selling more books? For me, the answer remains to be seen, as it is still very early in the game. But I do know this—for now, thumbing through a superstore–sized inventory of books in the comfort of my living room is a fun way to spend a rainy afternoon.

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