I really like Google Books.
Lots of times, when I’ve considered buying a book that isn’t in the library, I’ve just read a chapter or two on Google Books and made my decision. Or when trying to remember just the way someone described something, I can find the book and read for myself:
“My very photogenic mother died in a freak accident (picnic, lightning) when I was three, and save for a pocket of warmth in the darkest past, nothing of her subsists within the hollows and dells of my memory.” – Lolita, by Nabokov
Such a great mix of quick humor and evocative metaphor. Thank you google books!
But then, it has its problems. According to this article, the metadata is completely unreliable.
That is, if you want to see whether the 1956 edition differed from the 1982 edition, you’re probably out of luck. If you want to see how people talked about New Orleans before Katrina, look elsewhere.
Google does show data about the dates of its books, but it’s all screwed up, as is the category of the book.
An example from the article: “A search on “Internet” in books published before 1950 produces 527 results.”
“An edition of Moby Dick is labeled Computers; The Cat Lover’s Book of Fascinating Facts falls under Technology & Engineering. And a catalog of copyright entries from the Library of Congress is listed under Drama….”