I Can’t Find A Book Online, Now What?

You Googled every which way to Sunday and you can’t find an online copy of a book you need. You tried Amazon and your book is either unavailable or priced beyond your reach. We’re assuming that you already searched your local public library. If you’re a student, you checked with your campus library, right?

Millions of books are now online. But not every book in the world has been digitized or will be. You may need to track it down in hard copy. Here are 8 suggestions.

Where else to tryWhy
1. WorldCat WorldCat is a free searchable database of a billion distinct items (books, audiobooks, videos, newspapers, periodicals, etc.) in the libraries of the world. If you find your book, contact the library and ask if they can produce a PDF. Or bring the link/record to your public or campus library. Ask if they can borrow a copy for you via ILL.
2. Interlibrary Loan (ILL)What’s ILL, you say? Libraries have been borrowing stuff from each other since before you were born. Your public or campus library will handle the logistics. You may pay a nominal service fee or none at all.
3. Archive.orgMillions of books are online here either in full text, or borrowable as e-books if you sign up for a free account. Why you need an Archive.org account.
4. Google BooksMillions of online books & periodicals here. Lots in full text, some in preview (only certain pages), some in snippet (the relevant paragraph) or not at all (placeholder for future full text).
5. HathiTrustMillions of books online here either in full text, or borrowable as e-books if you are affiliated with a participating institution.
6. AddAll
Bookgilt
BookFinder
BookFinder4U
ViaLibri
Maybe there’s a used copy on the market. These metasearch tools search across multiple bookselling sites for you, including Amazon & eBay.
7. Bookshop.orgHad to include this site because the proceeds support independent booksellers
8. The publisher’s websiteBooks go out of print and publishers go out of business. But if you can figure out who published a book, see if they have a website. I have often beaten Amazon’s price by going right to the source.

Photograph courtesy of Wikimedia.

Why You Need an Archive.org Account

Disclaimer: I have no connection to Archive.org beyond than having a free account and being acquainted with one of their employees.


Most of my readers already know about Archive.org, also known as the Internet Archive, as a place to find cool old stuff online. While I spend my time with their full-text, online books, Archive.org also offers audio and video, including TV, films, and concert tapes. Patents. Podcasts. Census microfilms. Outdated software. Plus the magnificent Wayback Machine, which has been crawling the web and saving websites for 25 years.

Here’s another service they offer: community uploading. Anyone may register for a free account and start contributing their stuff. From their Help screen:

Having an Archive.org account allows you to:
Upload files to the site
Have collections for your uploads (50 items minimum required)
Borrow books from the lending library
Leave reviews
Participate in forums
View and use some items that are restricted
Receive monthly newsletters and event notices

excerpt From: Accounts – A Basic Guide

Why is this important? A lot of individuals and groups — now that we all create and accumulate digital property without even trying, let’s call ourselves collectors — are turning to libraries, educational institutions, historical organizations, and museums, asking them to put the collector’s stuff online. It might be photos, letters, or home movies that have or have not been digitized. It might be original essays or artwork by the collector. It might be by-laws, minutes, spreadsheets. It might be articles and downloads that are still protected by copyright.

Some large and well-funded organizations might store or host your digital assets. Smaller organizations, though, rarely have enough server space to digitize collections they already own and have title to. Under the circumstances, they may be simply unable to commit the time and server space to additional stuff.

While server space is definitely cheaper than bricks and mortar storage space, it is not free. Neither is the labor, software, and hardware needed to do all of the processing that makes digital files findable and usable online. Whether it is tangible objects in boxes or digital files on hard drives, we all simply own more stuff than our institutions can possibly house and care for in perpetuity.

Here’s where Archive.org comes in. You or your organization can take out an account and scan and upload. Here’s why I recommend Archive.org:

  • Archive.org is a non-profit, so your stuff won’t get monetized for stockholder benefit
  • No ads or paywalls
  • No intrusive and unnerving suggested content pop-ups
  • Superb access options for those with vision limitations
  • Accepts files in almost any format
  • Your stuff joins an international community of individuals and organizations who have already shared bazillions* of collections for public access and benefit

If you join and start contributing, please donate what you can to offset their server, software and labor costs. Here’s where to sign up.


*A technical term that roughly translates as More than I can count