Just the books, Google, only the books!
August 31, 2017 3:23 AM   Subscribe

For some time now (I don't believe it was always this way), Google Books has been padding its search results with books that do not themselves contain the search terms entered. Is there any way to only get results that are actual books containing one's search terms (and not just results from across the web)?

For example, let's say you're looking for all Google-indexed books that contain a reference to a specific author and book. If you go to here and

1. Enter in the last name of the author in the "(Find Results) with all of the words" field
2. Enter in the title of the book by that author in the "(Find Results) with the exact phrase" field
3. Search: All books
4. Content: Books

you will get back a long list of books, many of which are absolutely without any reference to the author/title in question whatsoever. (If you then do a regular web search for the original search terms along with the book from the search results, you will get back stuff Google found on the web connecting the two; for example, the author of the book that turned up in the results may have written a review of the book you were enquiring about, or someone somewhere may have mentioned both books in the same piece.)

If I wanted to view results from across the web, I would just do a regular web search; if I'm searching Google Books, it's because I want to see which books contain my search terms. Can someone explain why Google is giving me back these unwanted results from all over the place (and if there is any way to only get back results that are books containing my search terms?
posted by tenderly to Computers & Internet (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Can you share an example you are seeing? I am having a hard time replicating what you are seeing. I am

- starting at books.google.com advanced search
- entering search terms both very specific and very general
- my results are only books containing the terms I am looking for

It may be possible that you are searching for something in literally NO indexed Google Books in which case Google abhors a vacuum and would show you other items.

A few other strategies:

It might be helpful to know that, to the best of my knowledge, the Internet Archive has a large amount of the public domain Google Books books ingested. Their advanced search was clearly designed by an engineer but it does allow for granularity in searching.

Hathi Trust digital library has a lot of academically paywalled content but their search is free to use and behaves a lot more like normal search is supposed to.
posted by jessamyn at 6:11 AM on August 31, 2017

I can reproduce tenderly's issue by using my own name:


The first 10-20 books actually do have my actual name in them ( ... huh. I'm in 10-20 books? Who knew?), but then you see things like "What to Listen for in Jazz" and "Harry Truman's Excellent Adventure" and "The Thin Place," which are books that definitely DO NOT include my name; rather, they're books I happen to have written about, however briefly, on my blog. Below that there are a number of books that do not contain my name AND I don't think I've ever heard of them. I don't see any connection between those books and my name at all.

So I think tenderly's describing an actual misconfiguration of Google's book search. I'm sorry I don't have a solution, but I did want to say I can reproduce the problem.

(I did also click the "Send Feedback" link and sent some feedback letting them know about it.)

The only advice I can offer, crummy as it is, is to just visually skim the results for your search phrase. If it actually does appear in the book, it'll typically be highlighted in the excerpt, and you can ignore the rest.
posted by kristi at 10:37 AM on August 31, 2017 [2 favorites]

It's a broader problem than Google books; the web search will also ignore "exact phrase" search requests and turn up "anything we think is useful." I don't just mean, "we didn't find your phrase so here's some other things you might want to see;" it will turn up both websites that have the exact phrase or exact word, and some that don't.

Google's decided that they don't want to hand you just 3-5 results, even if those are all you're looking for.

I've been having better luck on Bing recently, which does honor the "only these terms" and even "only these dates" fields, but that's not going to help while searching through Google's book collection.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 12:25 PM on August 31, 2017 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Below that there are a number of books that do not contain my name AND I don't think I've ever heard of them. I don't see any connection between those books and my name at all.

Further to this, if you search for your full name and "THE SOVIET ART OF BRAINWASHING" (one of the results for your search terms in Google Books in which your name does not appear) in web search, there are zero results, but if you search for your last name only and "THE SOVIET ART OF BRAINWASHING" there are five results in web search. So not only is Google Books returning specific books as results for search terms not present in those books (which it found, however, in web search), it is also returning specific books as results when only one word in an exact phrase (such as your last name, kristi) turned up, not in book search, but in web search only!

Thanks for the suggestions, jessamyn; Open Library is definitely useful for older stuff, and I consult it regularly, but usually I am looking mainly for book results from the last twenty or thirty years when searching Google Books. (kristi's example is typical, and trust me, it happens all the time!)

"Oh well, Google Books is free, so what right do I have to expect it to function in a useful way?"
posted by tenderly at 1:51 PM on August 31, 2017

I use Gogle Books every single day for a variety of texts in different languages and you're not alone; the lack of a verbatim search for books is frustrating. Depending on the kinds of materials you're using, it's possible to triangulate some searches between Hathitrust and Google. If you find a solution, please report back!
posted by jetlagaddict at 10:05 PM on August 31, 2017

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