Friday, October 3, 2014

Answer: YOU make up the Challenge!

Diving in Fiji.  Huge numbers of colorful fish on the coral reef.

As usually happens, this turned out to be deeper and more interesting than I'd expected.  (That's one of the things I love about writing this blog--there's always something more to learn that holds my attention powerfully.)  

This week's Challenge was... 

2.  Can you create a Search Challenge that highlights the use of the  subject: operator in Google Books? 

Ideally, you'll write a Challenge that requires the use of a search in Google Books that needs the subject: + subject-heading method to be solvable.  
As you found out, this is actually a little tricky.  It's easy to write a simple question ("Is an ostrich's eye bigger than its brain?")  But it's harder to write a Challenge question that actually requires the use of a particular skill.  
In this case, the skill we're highlighting is "use of the subject: operator in Google Books."  
When I write the weekly Challenges, I try to make it so the Challenge can be solve ONLY with the skill (or data) under consideration.  And that's often the tricky part.  
So let's think about what the subject: operator does... Basically, it just limits or scopes the search to books that have that particular tag in the metadata.  
An example:  Suppose I want to find a book that talks about the color of reef fishes.  (I want to know the answer to the question: "Why are the fish on the reef so colorful?")  
One approach might be to Books searches like
     [ coral reef fish color ] 
but this kind of search is pretty open-ended; it returns lots of books (e.g., "reef fish coloring book") that aren't especially well-suited to what we seek.  
One way to focus the search (or, in other words, scope the search--see my earlier post about why scoping is a key skill for SearchResearch) is to use the Subject Headings. 
In this case, I'll go to the BISAC Subject Headings Complete List, and look for the subject "Science."  If I click on that link I'll be taken to the complete list of Science subjects (at least according to BISAC).  Control-F for "Icthyology" leads me to the subject heading: 
     SCIENCE / Life Sciences / Zoology / Ichthyology & Herpetology 
Now, if I do a search like this (in Books):  
     [ coral reef fish color subject:"SCIENCE / Life Sciences / Zoology / Ichthyology & Herpetology" ] 
I'll get a very focused set of results, one of which will very likely have what I'm searching for. 
Notice that I had to include the entire string of the subject heading.  (And using the code, "SCI070010" just won't work at all.)  

And, sure enough, the second book in the list "Fish: An Enthusiast's Guide" (Peter B. Moyle) has several very nice sections that describe why reef fish are colored the way they are.  (In short, there's cryptic coloration, countershading, poster colors, disruptive coloration, and so on. Fascinating stuff... and it's not all just camouflage.)
I'd argue that this would have been a difficult search to do without the scoping provided by the subject: field.  

Browsing:  One thing people say to me all the time (when talking about Books online) is "I just can't browse online books the way I browse books in a bookstore."  
I feel their pain--one of my very favorite things to do is to wander through a bookstore and see what's there.  We can't quite do that yet.  BUT we can give you an experience that's close to the sense of scanning the nearby bookshelves.  There are two ways to do this.  
Browsing Method #1:  Use the related books function.  When you click on "About this book" link (on the left hand side of the page view)... 
you'll immediately see a bunch of additional information about this book, INCLUDING "Related Books" 

Notice how you can scroll left and right to see more books that are closely related to this one. 

Browsing Method #2:  The other way to browse is by scrolling down and looking at the "Common terms" and "Subjects" (that is, the subject headings in the book's metadata).  Look at the following image....  I've scrolled the "About this book" view down far enough to see the "Common Terms" and the "Bibliographic Information."  
Note the Subjects list.  Guess what those are!  
You can browse subjects in Books by clicking on those links, which will then do the subject: search for you automatically.  (And note in particular, the last link is exactly the BISAC subject heading we got by browsing in their master list.)  

There's much more to say about this, but I want to wrap it up for today.  (We'll return to this topic.)  

Search Lessons:  First off, the subject: operator in Books is very powerful.  Once you learn how to use it (and remember how to get to the master list), it's your friend for life.  (Now that I know about to use it, my searches in Books have become more precise and relevant.  There's stuff in Books that I never thought I could find.)  
Second, remember the subjects list at the end of "About this book."  It's a great way to browse around, especially when you're just learning about a topic.  (As an example, check out the subject headings on the book "Your Guide to the National Parks." You'll learn about the space of National Parks and travel in the US very quickly.  I predict you'll find books by browsing like this that you'd never find any other way.  It is, in effect, powerbrowsing.  

Search on! (Subjectively!) 


  1. Hello Dr. Russell. It is a powerbrowsing indeed. Thanks for sharing these new tools. I have found new information and an easy way to narrow my searches. It is also very interesting the topic that were brought in the Challenge. Fish and Corals are a topic that I always have loved. Thanks for sharing books, photos and information about that.

    About this book and Common terms Subject headings tool was also new and is very useful. And, yesterday I was reading your post about Scoping. It is also very helpful and as always great to learn.

    Thanks, Debbie for your answer.

    Remmij, as always very interesting what you post. Suriname and Guyana are excluded, because their official languages and primary culture are Dutch and English, respectively. Latin America Background I didn't know about they not being Latin. Now, I know. Belize is excluded too. Puerto Rico is Latino.

    The query I used was [guyana suriname latin america]

    The Loneliness of the Guyanas

    After reading more, I have found that many sources add all the countries just for being in America.
    [latin american official countries]

    Latin American Network Information Center

    World Bank

    So, I guess countries are added or deleted if we choose Language and Culture or Geographical position. I have even read that many think Mexico is in Central America.

    I really liked your phrase better than the original. "There are many ways to search a Cat"

    1. Papal Line of Demarcation in 1493 & Treaty of Tordesillas of 1494 good finds Ramón… I'm always curious and surprised where the strands
      run in DrD's Learn-O-Rama
      …like the animation (off the Red ILCE site you found) don't understand the audio, but the visual language is pretty clear
      the World Bank info is interesting - but only for the developing -Latin America & Caribbean (developing only)

      two of my favorite imaginary felines - Ernest M. told me about them
      Bill tC
      Bucky B. Katt
      get fuzzy
      also am a fan here:
      pearls before swine

      fwiw, here's a post that seemed to be lost in the shuffle yesterday - had some SEARS info… who knows where the internet hides such things?
      as they might say in Curaçao - hebben een goed weekend, mijn vriend, onder de vulkaan.
      from 10/3…regarding a cat example, you have to love/curse the interwob:
      KC, 37M& going strong

      Bast, I think she invented the internet & the google thingy
      or Bastet…

      searching, searching… small tweaks, large range… how does it all work?
      LoC subject cat
      Foods of the Maya?

      (side subject - Ramón, you might check this? Sears Subject Headings
      how to…yada… or meow;))

  2. also non-Latin? coastal - subject:"cerebral diversion"
    île du Diable

    when search fails

    Los Lobos
    Ry Cooder
    and making the search a bit more elastic -
    Radmilla Cody, Diné
    ties to the previous Francis Scott Key search & the Code Talker ref…

    eye candy - perhaps Dan's next excursion - Unicorn fish 5:50
    Koh Tachai

  3. something else to search via maps… hmmm, still missing kitty/Sears post… does Dan dislike cats?

  4. I think these tools for book search are great. With the current answer along with previous posts I have gained a great deal. For example, in one previous post you mention that while we may not be able to view the entire text when doing Control F it does look at the whole text (in google books but not Amazon). I didn't know that.

    I can also see that if I find one book on a subject I can use the 'about book' in reverse finding related books & also using the subject heading at the bottom to further search within that category.

    Using the 'about book' or 'look inside' along with common terms gives me a good idea of the contents of the book. It is like how I would browse a book in a library/bookstore, almost.

    I did check out "Your guide to National Parks" This for me was an occasion to use ¨look inside"feature that gave me the Contents and excerpts. It also directed me to libraries or book stores for a copy. Now thats even better than searching at a book store. Something I just have recently begun to do is save my book searches in "my library". I can see that being handy.

    Sometimes we see something obvious in a result but this challenge has made me realize the importance of finding ways of using what we given.

    Ramón You are right about the idiom regarding "search a cat" [the other is a terrible expression but people still use it]. I am always researching to find lists of spanish idioms so I thought you might like an english list.

    I recently learned the term "colocacion" which pairs commonly used words in a language.
    Here's a couple links to some english colocations that you may enjoy.

    1. Thanks Remmij and Rosemary for the links and comments.

      I'll watch the video that you shared, Remmij. It looks very interesting and it is a good complement to learn more about Subject Headings.

      Thanks for sharing the history behind the "Cat", it is very interesting. Also is the map you share and the Siamese Cat are fantastic. I like Siamese. They are beautiful and love to "talk" with you. I still need to visit the other links.

      Thanks, Rosemary for the list of idioms. I'll visit them and search for Spanish ones to share with you.

      Nice Week, everyone

  5. Hi Dan! I feel I can call you by your first name since we have spent a lot of "time together" via Basic and Advanced Google search online course last month. Was excited to see the above title at the beginning of this newsletter, though a bit disappointed to read further (though I will use the great info there). Inspired by the online search courses, I attempted a search, using basic & advanced techniques, in English and Spanish, lasting most of 1 week. I was unsuccessful in obtaining a definitive answer to my query. If interested, I can pass the question along to you. Feel free to contact me at my email address. You would be welcome to pass it along for your readers to solve. Thanks in advance.

  6. Hi everyone. I just found this link Americas' first books from XIV century

    I am sure many of you will find interesting things on it.

    Have great weekend.