Full text links from within ShipIndex

ShipIndex.org links to the full-text for nearly 85% of its citations! Before Mike ran the numbers, I guessed that a conservative estimate on links to full text would be at about 70%, so the 85% number was quite a surprise, but it’s true.

How did we do this? First, we’re linking to lots and lots of content online. There are so many free online resources with information about ships out there, and I feel like I find another one every week. But other than ShipIndex, there’s no place that brings all these resources to one place, and no way to search all of them at once. However, with ShipIndex, that’s what you’re doing. But that doesn’t get one to 85%.

Recently, we started looking for resources in Google Books. The next time you’re searching in ShipIndex and you see a hotlinked page number, try clicking on that page number. It should take you right to the page of the book within Google’s Book Search project.

Here are two examples from freely-available resources:

  • The citations for Aroostook, from Paul Calore’s Naval Campaigns of the Civil War, has a link to page 128, and the vessel is mentioned near the start of the last paragraph.
  • The citation for City of Pekin, from Arthur Clark’s The Clipper Ship Era, has a link to page 86, and the ship is mentioned about 2/3 of the way down the page.

This was an interesting experience, and I learned a lot when we did it. The goal was to try and link directly to the page that cited a specific ship. I discovered four different levels of Google Books linking:

  • No content: The book just can’t found, or it’s cited but offers no view into it at all
  • Snippet view: With snippet view, you really do only get just a touch of the book, and it’s hard to know how much or what you’ll get. Most importantly, you can only search by terms, you can’t ask Google to show you all of a specific page.
  • Preview: With preview, Google offers most of the pages of a book. This is common for recently-published works, and Google works with the publisher to figure out what they’ll show. The idea, obviously, is to show enough that someone wants to go out and buy the full book.
  • Full view: For these books, Google shows the entire thing. These are primarily books that are out of copyright protection – so, published before 1923.

We only activate links for books that are available via Full View and Preview — and we only do the Preview if it appears that most links will get to the page in question. We’ve found a few titles that are available in Preview, but so many links go to pages that aren’t visible, perhaps because the publisher only allows 10-20% of the book to be shown via Google Books, that it seems misleading to offer those links.

Links to Snippet views don’t work because there’s no way to get to a specific page. You could try to search for the ship name, but if the ship name is something like “Elizabeth”, then you’ll get every mention of “Elizabeth” in the book – including names of people, not just ships. Also, the searches just don’t work as well. This could be a result of problems in OCR work, too – if the OCR work isn’t very good, then Google won’t find specific phrases, and with the page linking, we’re going to a specific page, not searching for a ship name in the book’s text.

So, as a result, you’ll most likely find linking to Google for very old books (via Full View) and very new books (via Preview).

The horror stories about metadata in Google Books are very true. It’s a mess for any slightly complicated title, such as multi-volume sets. So, finding Navy Records Society volumes — especially multi-volume works that weren’t published consecutively — was sometimes quite a challenge. And, in some cases, volumes that should be available just aren’t. I found one book that was completely upside down. Others have lousy scan quality. But the fact is that an enormous amount of content is available from anyone’s computer now, and it will only improve.

Try it out; see what you think.

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