Making the Most of the Internet
Peter Suber & Liffey Thorpe

Issue #6 Finding New Books in Your Field April 17, 1999

How do you find new books in your field? We all know how to do it inefficiently and incompletely:  wait for certain catalogs to cross your desk (and wait for time to read them), wait for a colleague to recommend a title, wait for a review to appear in a journal you skim regularly, wait for the next professional conference at which you can browse the book exhibits.

There are ways to search systematically for new books that meet your criteria. If you've played with the search engines at online booksellers, then you already know this. But if you don't have time to visit the online booksellers regularly, or to run all the searches you need for your work, then this method is little better than the catalogue-across-the-desk method. If you're still alternating between these two methods, you will be glad to hear that there are ways to automate the systematic search for books. Here are a few to get you started.

Searching for newly published books

Amazon.com lists virtually all books in print. Even if you don't buy from Amazon, you can use its email notification service, Eyes, to learn about new books in your field.

First go to Amazon.com's book search screen. If you want to be notified of all books by a certain author (say, Daniel Dennett), then search by author. If you want to be notified of all books that have certain words in the title (say, "artificial intelligence"), then search by title. If you want to be notified of all books on a certain subject (say, "cognitive science"), then search by subject.

On the next screen, which lists your hits, look in beige bar on left side for links to the Eyes service. (Yes, there should be a link to Eyes on the front page, but there isn't.) There are two links to choose from. Use the "Sign up for Eyes!" link to be notified of books that match the search you just ran —books by the same author, or with the same words in the title, or on the same subject. Use the "Eyes" link to specify afresh the search criteria for the books in which you're interested. (A third way to use Eyes is to run a search that comes up dry. Amazon.com will then offer you the chance to be notified if the search is ever satisfied in the future.)

If you take the second option, you'll be able to choose betwen Focused Eyes and Roving Eyes. Focused Eyes simply lets you run another search by author, title, or subject and use that search for future email notifications. Roving Eyes gives you the additional options to search by ISBN, publication date, or a boolean search on any of these parameters, for example, when the title contains the words "neural nets or connectionism".

Once you've made requests of the Eyes service, you'll receive email automatically when Amazon.com learns of a book that meets your search criteria. At that point you can order it from your favorite bookstore. If you don't have a a favorite bookstore, then you can find out who is selling the book at the lowest price from Asces or the Book Price Calculator.

By default, your requests for email notification are "standing orders" to Amazon.com's software. In fact, Amazon.com calls them subscriptions. To modify or delete them, look at the list of active subscriptions in your account. Did we mention that you can have as many subscriptions as you want, for as long as you want, free of charge?

Barnes and Noble has a virtually identical service.  (Guess why.)  It's called "e-nnouncements" and you activate it in virtually the same way as Amazon.com's Eyes.

If you're interested in books that are about to be released, but which have not yet been released, then visit When.com. For this service you don't have to keep a personal calendar on When.com, but you do have to sign up as if you were going to. There is no charge for this. Once you have an account, you can track newly released books in any of 25 categories. Selecting a category brings up a list of upcoming releases in that category (courtesy of Barnes and Noble). You can skim the list and stop there. Or you can check those of special interest, and the release date will be added to your online calendar.

Searching for out of print books

Both Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble deal in OP books, but neither extends its email notification service to OP books.

The two best online sources of OP, used, rare, and antiquarian books are probably Bibliofind and Powell's. Unfortunately, Powell's does not offer an email notification service. Bibliofind does, but it's only free if you limit yourself to 10 items on your "Want List". To create a standing search for additional titles, you must become a subscriber at $25 per month.

If these constraints don't bother you, then we recommend Bibliofind. But if you want more, here's a sneaky and powerful way to get free and unlimited email notification from any online merchant with a search engine. Use the Mind-It service from NetMind. From the Mind-It page, select the Minder Wizard option from the left hand column. Enter the URL of the site to be monitored (say, Bibliofind). Mind-It will then open a framed window with Bibliofind in the bottom frame and its own buttons in the top. Fill out the Bibliofind search box in the way that you'd like Mind-It to repeat for you automatically in the future. Then press return or whatever it takes to advance from the search box to the hit page. Then press the Mind-It button in the top frame.

After some minor clerical details (such as collecting your email address), Mind-It will run this search for you as often as once a day and send you an email notification if the hit page ever changes. This will not always mean that a book meeting your search criteria has been found by the bookseller. But at least when such a book has been found, you will be notified.

(If what you're looking for can be searched with a standard search engine, such as Alta Vista, then try Mind-It's Persistent Search. It will not only send you email to announce that your stored search has generated a different hit page. It will also tell you what the new hits are.)

The Mind-It services are very flexible and convenient. They would be easier to use if their web pages were more clearly written. But it's worth an afternoon of experimentation to learn the quirks of these powerful tools.

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Peter Suber, Department of Philosophy, Earlham College
A.L.P. Thorpe, Department of Classics, Earlham College
Copyright © 1999, Peter Suber, A.L.P. Thorpe.