Searching for textbooks in a library catalog

Feb 14 2014 Published by under finding information

So this should be easy/obvious, but it's not so much ... at least to me. It's very common that people want to locate textbooks for diverse reasons including:

  • they want to get it from a library because they don't want to pay for it (grrr...)
  • they are thinking about taking the class and they want to see what's involved
  • they want to get background/overview information on a field to learn a new field or brush up on old knowledge
  • they need to reference a basic idea from their field

For the first bullet, they should have the exact title, author, publisher, year, etc., so it's a standard known item search (which might also be complicated*). For the second, we or they can go to the syllabus of a class and get the book information or even go to the bookstore page to look up the book information.

For the last two, however, it's more of a subject search and then narrowing for format. It's not format in a straight forward sense like CD or DVD, it's the format of the content inside the container.** Librarians have some tricks in searching for textbooks including combinations of the following:

  • One word titles like Microbiology or Physics
  • Foundations of... or Introduction to... in the title
  • Using [topic] -- textbooks (not as effective as you'd like)
  • Looking up publishers that do a lot of textbook publishing (e.g., Pearson)

We at my larger institution were asked if we could add a facet in for textbooks. Or could we try and how hard would that be. So we're looking at these tools and how we could write an algorithm to tag various records so they could be brought up in search. How accurate do we need to be? Should we say it has to have one or more of the above categories? Ideally, we could also get multiple semester's adoptions from the bookstore or whatever, but we also want to know what other institutions use for textbooks. Some vendors (like Elsevier and maybe Springer, EBL) put textbook-type ebooks on a different platform or on the same platform but with a different license. Could we somehow get those lists and use them to tag items? How do we maintain as new items are purchased or licensed? Maybe YBP or whoever has a mark for that? Could we get that information for items we've already purchased over the last few years?

Ugh. Searching for this is difficult because all I keep finding are messages of varying crankiness levels about how students need to buy their own damn textbooks and not count on getting them from a or any library!  Ideas?

* Lee, J. H., Renear, A., & Smith, L. C. (2006). Known-Item Search: Variations on a Concept. Proceedings 69th Annual Meeting of the American Society for Information Science and Technology (ASIST), Austin, TX.

and the Kilgour series from JASIST c2001-2004

but: Buckland, M. K. (1979). On Types of Search and the Allocation of Library Resources. Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 30, 143-147.

** FWIW, we don't even do this uniformly with conferences. Some are "books" and some are conference proceedings in our catalog and some LNCS are monographic series so they come up as periodicals. And there are conference proceedings printed in journals...

2 responses so far

  • namnezia says:

    We put several copies of course textbooks on 3hr reserve for students who don't want to or can't afford to buy their own overpriced copy.

    • Christina Pikas says:

      I think that's probably pretty common. I think those copies often belong to the library and they might keep some or all after they are no longer used... but once they're not on reserve any more, how would you know it's a textbook?