Friday, November 5, 2010

Answer: Textbooks archive?

One of the things I find most interesting about writing this blog is that I sometimes have no idea how hard a question will be to answer.  I mean, ahead of time, would you think that finding a few textbooks online would be difficult?  

Well... surprise, surprise, surprise... it looks to be one of those impossible search tasks.  I've had several offblog discussions with people about textbooks online, and it seems to be fraught with copyright issues.  Textbook publishers are (I guess I should have expected this) VERY cautious about putting their materials online.  I don't know if it's a worry about liability, fear of copyright infringement or what.. but the truth is that few textbooks have their entire text online.  

You might think that going to Google Books would solve the problem--aren't they there?  Well, yes, there are a few--but only ones that are pre-1923 (the current copyright cutoff date).  Since most of the concepts of interest are relatively recent (post 1955), these pre-1923 texts aren't much help.  

Since I was failing at my searches, I turned to the "Ask A Librarian" feature at the Library of Congress.  This is a fantastic feature that lets you send an email to a reference librarian with a question that they might hope to answer.  (I have to say that the good people at the LOC deserve every bit of credit they get for offering this service.  They're amazingly good!)  

In this particular case, I just forwarded my question to them, and got back the following answer: 


Your question was referred to the Science Reference Service at the Library of Congress <> since your inquiry involves topics under our purview.

The Library of Congress has a good collection of high school and college textbooks, mainly by the big publishers. Many of the topics you listed are concepts from the mid to late 20th century. Works that are published after the 1920's will still be protected under copyright, so you would have to visit the Library to access these titles- more than likely they are not digitized or available online for free. Since you are in the Bay Area you might wish to consult with local universities that have special textbook collections.

You may wish to consult with Stanford's Cubberley Education Library <> about the Hurd collection- Paul Hart Hurd wrote extensively on science education and reform <>

Also, the San Francisco State University Library Marguerite Archer Collection of Children material might also be of interest <>

There are a number of ways to approach your research.

You might also wish to consult books or articles about teaching science in the 20th/21st century such as The National Science Foundation and pre-college science education, 1950-1975: report

Using the Library of Congress online catalog you can search the following subjects:

Science study and teaching
Biology study and teaching (and other specific disciplines, plate tectonics, physical sciences, etc.)
Textbooks United States (can also search Textbooks United States History)

You also may find textbook catalogs or bibliographies helpful with identifying titles- For example El-Hi Textbooks in print <>

In terms of articles you might wish to use the ERIC database <>

Although the following is about current science education, you still may find it helpful with your research:  LC Science Tracer Bullet: Science Education


This helps my friend out because he can go to the libraries listed.  But I'm not sure how to deal with this problem more generally.  

Any more ideas from the SearchResearchers? 

Still searching! 

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