How to study a book before you have it

The wait for a crucial book to become available in the library is frustrating.  Even worse when the library doesn’t have the book at all.

Aside from inter-library loans, buying the book yourself, and other costly or time-heavy options, what other options do you have in the meantime?

photo by Newton Free Library

photo by Newton Free Library

To Do: Dissertation has some great tips on what to do while you wait for that book to become available.

But it got me thinking about others ways to the book that may work in your favour.  Here are a few ideas that might land you more access to a book than you think you have:

  • Check publisher’s website for excerpts and sample chapters – Some publishers are great at making PDF samples available to download.  You may get instant access to the Introduction, first chapter, possibly more.  Even a simple table of contents or index is a helpful head start on your research.
  • Check library online databases for books in electronic format – Don’t just check the library shelves.  An increasing number of books are now available online.  Services such as Cambridge Books Online provide a huge range of books at your fingertips.  Find out if your library has access.  If not, ask if they can get a trial.
  • Use Google Books – It’s not just Google Scholar that can help your research.  With Google Books, you can look through the pages of many books as a preview.  And the previews can be extensive.  Combine that with the ability to search for specific terms within each book and you may not even need to track down the physical copy of the book at all!
  • Use Amazon “Look Inside” – An alternative to Google Books, Amazon have their own preview function for a large number of books.  Again, you can search within the book and get busy with the research straight away.  However, it looks like Amazon may start charging for this feature soon.
  • Play Google and Amazon off with each other – Online previews are limited and don’t display all pages.  Rightly so.  You’re not meant to read entire books with the services.  However, when researching, you may find a specific page is excluded.  If both Google and Amazon have a preview available, that missing page on one resource may be there to view on the other.
  • YouTube talks – Why wait to read what the author wants to say when they may have said a lot of it in a talk or lecture?  By searching for the author (and maybe even book title) in YouTube, you may stumble upon directly relevant content for your research.  It’s another worthwhile reference to add to your bibliography too!
  • Read reviews – All sorts of texts get reviewed, not just bestsellers.  Reviews can give a breakdown of a book’s main ideas, flaws and coverage.  A Google search for book title and author and the word ‘review‘ should bring up newspaper reviews.  You can also check Times Higher Education.  It’s worth checking Google Scholar or journal databases for the title and author too, which should point you toward scholarly reviews and even related papers by the same authors.
  • Search for author details – Personal websites, university web pages, Google Scholar, JSTOR, etc…  All these can give further detail on the individual and their background, as well as other literature they have produced.  You may not have the book, but you may uncover key opinions and similar texts to chew on.

Don’t let the wait for a book stop you from getting on with your reading and research.  In the unlikely event that you find absolutely nothing after these searches, you can still go back to those helpful tips from To Do: Dissertation.

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