Question about public domain works in Google Books with a Harvard library example

Garson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Tue Nov 1 18:24:51 UTC 2011

This post is about Universities that have partnered with Google. A
significant question that affects American Dialect researchers that
use the Google Books (GB) database concerns access to public domain
works. Some books in the GB database that are in the public domain are
in "No Preview" mode, i.e., they are unreadable. Why?

To make this post concrete I will give an example. While tracing a
quotation I was led to a 1912 periodical in GB that is in "No Preview"
mode. The database entry says "Original from Harvard University,"
hence the book is probably from the Harvard library system. I have
been unable to find the volume at HathiTrust or at the Internet
Archive. Here is more background.

Historically, Philadelphia has been the brunt of several jokes. Its
night-life and overall liveliness have been faulted by comedians. For
example, the following quip has been attributed to W.C. Fields: "I
spent a week in Philadelphia one day." I am trying to locate early
instances of this saying.

According to GB there is an exact match for "He spent a week in
Philadelphia one day" in the following volume that is held in the
Widener library at Harvard:

Title: The Fra: for Philistines and Roycrofters.
Published: [East Aurora, N.Y. : E. Hubbard, 1908-1917.]
Volume: 9
Date: 1912

Because of the restricted access mode the page number of the match is
not given. Also, no snippet is displayed. This lack of information
results in a metaphorical brick wall. I cannot request scans via
interlibrary loan (ILL) because the page number is unknown. Also, I
have no article title. Also, the book is rare enough that it is very
unlikely that any library will physically loan it via ILL.
I used a feedback form to notify Google Books that the work is in the
public domain and should be fully displayed. I have received no
response. Past experience indicates that there will probably be no
response from GB.

I sent an email to a digital collections specialist at Harvard but I
have not received a response at this time.

It is not clear whether a policy decision at Google or Harvard is
blocking access. It is also not clear how to determine why access is
blocked. That is why I am appealing to list members for help.

Perhaps a list member knows why access to public-domain works scanned
via Google-University partnerships is sometimes blocked. Perhaps
someone has pertinent information about Harvard or Google policies.
Maybe some individual has "The Fra" Volume 9 in his or her attic.

Thanks for any help you can provide,
Garson O'Toole

The American Dialect Society -

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