Friday, January 3, 2020

Answer: Difficult to find?

I'm often surprised... 

... when a Search Challenge turns out to be unexpectedly difficult.  Alas, this happens more often than I'd like.  You'd expect that by now I'd have a good sense for what makes a SearchResearch question easy or hard.  

To be fair, I think my assessment of hard vs. easy is correct about 90% of the time, it's just that pesky 10% of Challenges that keeps me on my toes.  The last Challenge of 2019 was like that.  

Here it is again:  

1. Can you find the full text of this article? 

Hebb, D. O. (November, 1978) “On watching myself get old”  Psychology Today, 12(6):15-23

This article came up in a conversation with my friend Pete, who mentioned that there were some great ideas in this article, and that I should read it.  

This was--I thought--going to be a quick search.  I'd planned on finding a magazine archive site and then just opening that particular volume from 1978... I'd expected it to be just a couple of minutes.  

Here's what happened instead: 

First thought: Maybe it's in the Google Books collection of Magazines.  They have a good collection of magazines, but it's a bit idiosyncratic--if they have what you seek, all is good.  For instance, Google Books has the complete run of Life magazine, New York magazine, The Advocate, Ski, Field & Stream, and so on. 

Here is a reasonably complete list of the magazine holdings in Google Books (about 140 items long).  

 But there's no Psychology Today!  

Where to next?  

I thought I'd check to see if the publisher / magazine has an archive.  The query:  [ "psychology today" archive ] quickly leads you to the Psychology Today archive... which, turns out to go back to January, 1992.  Not enough for our purposes.  

On the other hand, the site does offer to sell you back issues, but starting only with June 2003... there's nothing before that.  

But it did make me think that I should search for a place that sells magazine back issues.  

     [ magazine back issues ] 

takes you to a few different sites, but most notably the website has a pretty deep collection--including our sought-after issue (volume 12 from 1978)... for $11.11 + shipping, which would bring it to $15.  (It would also take a week or so to get to me.)  

Obviously, I want to find this online and for free.  Is there a way? 

That previous query also suggested that I check the academic research service for the magazine.  (Questia  claims to have more than 94,000 academic books and more than 14 million journal, magazine, and newspaper articles in their collection.  It also costs real money.)  

But when I check their holdings of Psychology Today, I see it only goes back to 2012--and that doesn't work for this Challenge.  

However, it DOES give me the idea to check other academic library data services.  
Sidenote: I promise that I'll write up an entire post about academic databases (what they are, what they cover, etc.)... but that will be for a future time.  

I logged into my university library site and found that lots of academic databases cover Psychology Today, but their coverage is often very limited.  I checked some of the big, well-known databases, but few of them go back to the '70s.  

I DID find that Gale's Health and Wellness database has entries for those dates... but when you drill down, you'll find it's ONLY citations (and not complete ones at that).  That is, you can find the article, but you can only see what kind of article it is and when published!  Frustrating!  

This is getting tough.  Does this exist anywhere online?  Maybe not!  

Next good idea?  Look for hardcopies (or microfilm) copies.  How do you do that?  I'll check to find places close to me that would have the magazines from 1978.  

Here's WorldCat's interface: 

Clearly we'll want to use the "Advanced Search" option.  In that interface I specify the title, the years, and the format ("Journal/Magazine"): 

Once you do this, you'll get back a list of libraries near you (here, you can see my Zip code--but note that this works internationally as well and can point you to libraries nearly everywhere):

Here you can see that there are 5 libraries that have copies of Psychology Today, all within 3 miles (5km) of me.  

I know I can't get into the Sofia University library, so instead I hop on my bike and zip over to the Stanford Hospital Health Library (which IS open to the public).  

That's when I find out that I did a dumb thing:  I should have checked their holdings before going over!  ("Holdings" means what they actually have, either via online access or physically in the library.)  

If I HAD done that (by visiting their website and checking), I would have seen this: 

Which is fine:  They have access to Psychology Today in an eJournal format through Gale Health and Wellness... which we already know doesn't offer the full-text of articles before 1992!  Moral: Check the holdings before bicycling to the library. 

On the other hand, the librarian there mentioned that the Green Library (the main library on Stanford campus) probably did have it in hardcopy.  

Thankfully, although it's a private university, Stanford lets anyone search their online catalog, which is often a great way to find information about what you seek.  (I learned my lesson and checked before biking over.)  

In this case, I went to Stanford's online catalog and did the obvious search for their holdings on Psychology Today.  

As you can see, they have online access (again, nothing before 1992), but when you click on the "Check availability" button (gray button at the bottom), you get a new bit of information: 

Click to zoom in.

Hurrah!  They have hardcopies of the magazine, and they even have all of the issues going right back to 1978 and beyond.  

Even better:  See the blue button that says "Request on site access"?  That lets you request that the volume with that issue in it be brought out of long-term storage and be delivered to the library.  You can't take it out of the library, but you're able to scan it yourself. 

I'm not a Stanford student, and although I've taught computer science there in the past, I don't have any special privileges now.  But the Stanford library allows each person in the community to visit the library up to 3 times each year.  (Kudos to them for this!)

This method works to get the scanned version of the article, although it takes a bit of time.  I got it, scanned it, and life is good. 

But noticing that university libraries have collections like this leads to.... 

Another method to get the article!!  

Obviously, university libraries often have great archives of older non-scanned / non-full-text magazines and journals.  

As I've said before (and will doubtlessly say again), Keep any university library affiliation that you ever have... 

Why?  This is a perfect example.  

While I was waiting for the Stanford library delivery, I emailed to a few of my friends in other academic universities.  They went through the same process at their libraries (U. Maryland, UC San Diego, and U. North Carolina Chapel Hill)--each requesting a scan from the archives.  

To their credit, all three of my friends were able to come up with the scan in 24 hours (often by having a library worker pull out the appropriate microfiche and then convert that image to PDF--that's a service many university libraries provide). 

Bottom line:  I wasn't able to find a scan of the article anywhere on the web via regular search, I WAS able to get a scanned version through university archives (and a little human intervention).  All's fair in love and search!   

Here's the first page of the article.  I have the rest.  

Many thanks to my university library friends:  Nevenka (Maryland), Don (UCSD), and Gary (UNC Chapel Hill). It really pays to have a great, skilled, very literate social network that can help your SRSing.  

2.  Can you find the novel by James Patterson that has a yellow cover AND has a number in the title? 

This turns out to be fairly straight forward, although complicated a bit.  

I went to to do a regular image search and then used the Color Filter tool to limit the covers to yellow... 

The result was a bit of a surprise: 

I didn't know that James Patterson has a LOT of books with numbers in the title!  

Doing a bit of checking on Google Books (or Amazon) quickly tells us that queries like: 

     [ James Patterson 1 ] 
     [ James Patterson 2 ] 


... all yield books by Patterson up to 12 (probably beyond, but I stopped checking there).  

It's probably the case that MANY books by James Patterson have numbers, and many are yellow.  

Is there a list with all of Patterson's book titles? 

     [ list of books by James Patterson ] 

leads us to this list of books (from Patterson's website):  

1st to Die, 2nd Chance, 3rd Degree, 4th Of July, The 5th Horseman, The 6th Target, 7th Heaven, The 8th Confession, The 9th Judgment, 10th Anniversary, 11th Hour, 12th of Never, The 13-Minute Murder, 14th Deadly Sin, 15th Affair, 16th Seduction, 17th Suspect, 18th Abduction, 19th Christmas, 96 Words for Love

Well!  That certainly limits the range of possibilities.  Time to go back to my friend Bill and ask for a BIT more information.  There are 19 books here... surely he must have a bit more information to help out on our search!  

Search Lessons 

There are a bunch to take away here.  

1.  Not everything is online!  I know it's a surprise to some of you, but there are useful articles that were written before the age of the digital, and much of them haven't yet been digitized.  (The back catalog is really huge.  Maybe we'll get it all scanned in the future, but for the time being, you have to remember this.  It's NOT all online.)  

2.  One investigation leads to another.  In the long story of finding the article, notice how trying one thing often led to another idea about something to try.  Here's the recap of what I did:  
Google Magazines led to...
Psychology Today magazine archive led to...
searching for back issues led to... led to... led to...
other academic sites led to...
Gale’s Health and Wellness led to...
WorldCat led to...
Stanford Health library led to...
Stanford Green library led to...
other academic libraries led to..
emailing librarian friends... 
That's a lot of steps, but notice that most of the steps were pretty quick.  The takeaway is that one idea often leads to (or is suggested by) something you're doing now.  In the case of my search on, it was an advertisement that reminded me of Questia and all of the other online databases.  

3.  Check the library listings carefully BEFORE you travel.  Don't do what I did and just travel to the library--the online catalog can save you multiple trips IF you use it before you travel. Make sure they really have what you want.  

4.  You have friends in libraries who can help out.  In this case, I have wonderful friends who can help with access to otherwise difficult to find content.  Make friends with your librarians--they are often your best internet search resource!  

5.  Remember that the search idiom [list of ... ] is a handy thing.  People love to make lists--they'll make lists of the craziest things. (My favorite list-of is the Wikipedia List-of-Lists-of-Lists.  It's always entertaining reading.)  

Hope you found this search saga interesting.  I certainly had a good time.  

Search on! 


  1. I have a search problem for you to solve. Lost Art Press publishes books on woodworking and design. Acoording to their website there are currently 37 books currently available from them. How do I find what libraries around me own any book from them without having to do 37 separate searches? In other words, how do I locate books by publisher in an online library catalog? I have great network resources in my state (MA) but how to find this publisher or any other small publisher?

    1. Sure! Use the pb: operator on WorldCat. Here's a link to test for you: Search WorldCat for Lost Art Press

  2. For the Lost Arts request, another way to find locally-owned materials & then request them on ILL is to see if your state has a statewide catalog/ILL system. In MN, it is Minitex. It searches 100+ catalogs and has a Request Item button that results in the item being delivered to your home library, often in as few as 2 days. (For the Psych Today request, you would create a request and the article would be scanned & delivered electronically, often the same day or the following day.) You will get the item even if a MN library doesn’t own it—the glory of library cooperation & ILL.

    In MA, it is Commonwealth Catalog, aka CommCat, that searches the library catalogs & offers ILL. It doesn’t appear that any MA libraries own Lost Arts books. You can’t do an initial search that limits by publisher, but after a subject search, you can limit by publisher. Many states offer these systems. If yours doesn’t there are probably library consortia that have shared catalogs that search the members’ collections with one search, so that would at least eliminate the 37-search problem. WorldCat is great at telling you who owns what & where, but you can’t ILL an item.

    Note that libraries often offer chat reference/Ask a Librarian & telephone reference that can save a lot of effort. I know the point here is online search, but after I encountered the first few barriers & before I got to BackIssues,, I would have called my local academic or public library with the request, esp since you have a complete citation.

    I enjoy this blog a lot—and bought the book!

    1. Thanks Ann -- that's a great answer as well! I should add that back into the post. (I admit I thought about it, but forgot to include it in my writeup.)

      We've talked about Ask A Librarian before in the blog See: Ask A Librarian discussion, but it's worth bringing up again. Thanks!

    2. Glad you bought the book too. Hope you're enjoying it!

  3. Just curious if you thought to look through the Internet Archives? It was the first place, I would have searched. I did search.. and unfortunately, couldn't locate the magazine. But, still!! A major resource that I love to use!

    1. I did try that, and had the same result.

      In the next week or so I'll send out a post that lists all of the steps to for finding a magazine. Look for that post!

      But an excellent point!

  4. I once ontacted a library in England that had stuff I wanted see whilst there. They confirmed they had the stuff and would get it ready. Would I please let them know exactly when I wd arrive a couple of days before. My plan worked great. Except everything I wanted had been sent to an outlying branch that I could not visit in time I had available. There's a lesson there about good intentions .. . jon