Anyone who has ever tried to use Google Book Search for serious historical research has had to grapple with its highly frustrating limitations. I've griped about the situation on several occasions (here, here, here, here). The problem is twofold: GBS is plagued by inaccurate or misleading dating, particularly for serial publications, and it does not offer full page images even for many works that are clearly in the public domain (namely, pre-1923 US works and noncopyrightable government publications). Many of us have been patiently waiting for Google to ease up on its viewing restrictions, which would simultaneously ameliorate the dating problem: if you can skim through page images, then you can determine if the year that Google gives you in the metadata is actually correct.
Help is on the way — but not from Google, exactly. Rather, several of Google's partners in its library scanning project are stepping up to the plate. Jesse Sheidlower of the Oxford English Dictionary passes on the news that the Hathi Trust has been established by the thirteen university libraries that make up the Committee on Institutional Cooperation. This includes the University of Michigan, which has contributed a major portion of Google's scanned material thus far. The Hathi Trust is not nearly as wary as Google in providing page images and fully searchable text for public domain materials. What this means is that if you find something on GBS that only gives you "snippet view," "limited preview," or "no preview available," you may be able to find the full page images by going to a CIC library site. The University of Michigan has already implemented this as part of its Mirlyn Library Catalog, with links to public domain material provided under the name "HathiTrust Digital Library." (Roy Tennant of Library Journal has also mocked up a prototype search service, but it still needs some work.)
Below the jump, an example of Hathi goodness in action.
In my post, "Jottings on the 'Jamaica' joke," I traced some of the history of an old bit of British comedy. ("My wife's gone to the West Indies!" "Jamaica?" "No, she went of her own accord!") In the comments, Ray Girvan chipped in with an example he found on GBS from 1914, in The Railroad Telegrapher. Fortunately, that volume is available in full view, so there's no question that it is indeed from 1914 (evidently from the June 1914 issue, if you scroll back from the joke's appearance on p. 993 to the beginning of the issue on p. 945). Inspired by Ray's find, I ran my own GBS query, looking for the search string "My wife's gone to the West Indies" in works dated 1913 or earlier. When I ran the search, I found two examples, both ostensibly from 1913. One, from The Medical Sentinel, is in full view, so again we can verify the exact date: in this case it's from the December 1913 issue (scrolling back from p. 1317 to p. 1271). But the other example listed on the search results page, from The Spatula: A Magazine for Pharmacists, has no preview at all. The metadata on the "About this book" page tells us it's in Volume 20, from 1913-1914, but we have no clue what issue it's actually in (or if it really is in that volume).
Enter Hathi. The Google metadata also tells us "Original from the University of Michigan," so we can head over to Mirlyn to check it out. Once we locate Volume 20, we can click on the Hathi link to get to the page images (along with other viewing options, including full text and PDF). GBS already informed us that the joke appears on p. 684, so we can go straight to that page image. Sure enough, it's there. Now we can scroll back until we find the first page of the issue: on p. 633 we can see it's actually in the September 1914 issue, so now we know it appeared slightly later than the Medical Sentinel example and slightly earlier than the Railroad Telegrapher example.
Unfortunately, Hathi's search functionality does not seem to be as robust as GBS. If I search on the word "Indies" in that 1913-14 volume of The Spatula, it shows four hits, but not the one with the "Jamaica" joke. For now, at least, it seems like GBS should be used for the heavy-duty searching, and then Hathi can be used to zero in on the page images once you know where to look. That's not such a bad arrangement, I think, and ultimately proves that the partnership between Google and the university libraries can be extremely beneficial to the research community.
(By the way, the Hathi Trust FAQ explains that hathi is "the Hindi word for elephant, an animal highly regarded for its memory, wisdom, and strength.")