Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Microsoft Releases the Beta Version of Its "Live Search Books"

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On Thursday, December 7, 2006, Microsoft Corporation released its answer to Google Books: "Live Search Books". The free service allows users to search the full text of books that have been scanned and loaded into the Live Search Books collection. Today's Historic Pelham Blog will describe the new service and its utility to those who research local history.

Live Search Books may be accessed at http://books.live.com. The search function is simple. There does not appear to be any form of "Advanced Search". An informative "Help" section is available via a link at the foot of the page.

As an experiment, type "Thomas Pell" (using quotation marks around the name) into the search box and click on the "Search" button. The system returns 24 results, many of which do indeed contain references to the Thomas Pell who is considered the so-called "First Lord of the Manor of Pelham". As would be expected, some of the resources are available based on using such a search via the competitive service known as "Google Books", but some are not. Thus, it is now possible to get a wider set of results by running the same search in both the Microsoft service and the Google service.

Select one of the search results and open it by clicking on the thumbnail image of the title page of the publication. I chose "Early History of New England by Increase Mather". An image of the result screen appears immediately below.

In this example, the book is actually an edited version of papers prepared by Dr. Increase Mather regarding 17th century New England. Like Google Books, Microsoft's "Live Search Books" allows a search of the content of the book you have selected. Unlike Google Books, however, there is no easy way to locate the table of contents of the publication. Nor does there appear to be any way to jump to a particular page of the book unless you have run a search for a term or phrase within the book and the search results allow you to jump to pages containing such term or phrase. Otherwise, you must move through the book one page at a time using the page forward arrow key at the top of the image.

One thing that Microsoft seems to have done better than Google relates to -- of all things -- search. If you download a copy of the entire book, the system generates a searchable PDF that you then can save to the hard drive of your computer. Google's service generates a non-searchable PDF.

Microsoft's service is limited to books in the public domain (i.e., out-of-copyright books). It reportedly already includes "tens of thousands of books" including materials from the collections of the British library and major universities in Toronto and California. Microsoft reportedly has entered into book-scanning partnerships with New York Public Library and the American Museum of Veterinary Medicine.

So far I have run an extensive series of searches using Live Search Books. The system certainly shows promise. I already have been able to locate numerous texts that I do not own and have not been able to locate in the Google Books collections.

As long as Microsoft keeps adding -- sufficiently quickly -- a substantial number of meaningful scanned books to its collections, the new service looks promising. It certainly should not be ignored by anyone who is performing serious research regarding local history issues.

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