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April 26, 2007

The Google Books Project & the Dental Profession

While I was at the IADR meeting last month, I found myself having a number of conversations about the Google Books Project and the potential impact on the profession of dentistry.

Basically, here's the idea.

Based on the holdings in this library, I would estimate that approximately 4/5s of the professonal literature in dentistry is in journals. More and more of the journals are electronic, which is just dandy for those who have access to the Internet. Right? Well, yes, as long as what you want is in those electronic journals.

What sort of dental information is not in the journals? The basics and the cutting edge. What do I mean by basics? Standard clinical practice that has been being done the same way for so long that no one writes new articles about it. Research standards and methodologies. Information that would be in books, especially textbooks or reference books. For the cutting edge, this would include proceedings from meetings and technical reports from corporations, especially work on new materials, adverse events that did not get written up as case reports, and similar bits of information that tend to fall through the cracks. In the library profession would call that type of cutting edge material Grey Literature.

Increasingly, much of the grey literature is being made available via the Internet, so you can find many of those with a well-crafted search in a good search engine (such as Google and Yahoo) or in specialty databases (such as MAUDE from the FDA). It takes some digging, but you can get it.

But what about the classics and basics? Books are still more likely than not to be print only. Then came Google. Google is working through scanning the collections of the University of Michigan and many other libraries. Here, this is called the Michigan Digitization Project.

I'm going to skip the whole philosophical context for now, and just focus on the practical applications.

Google Books does not provide the fulltext of a book unless it is copyright-free or the copyright owner has given permission. Most of what would be useful and interesting to dentists is new stuff under copyright. For those items, all Google shows is a snippet from the page where it found the search phrase. (Again, please see the MDP page or About Google Books for the full description of what happens.)

How much is the snippet? Well, it looks a lot like the Google web search results -- just a couple lines of text. What use is that? Aha, well, it might be more useful than you think. No, the Google Book search won't just give you the whole text. However, right now one of the biggest challenges in finding that critical piece of information you need in one of the dental books is figuring out which book, which edition, which page, etcetera. That is the power of Google Books.

If you want to know what was the standard of clinical practice for third molar extraction in the 1960s (for example), you can find out -- without a trip to the Library! Here's how.

First, do a search in Google Books on third molar extraction.

Google Books: "third molar" extraction

You can find full text for books describing the older methods, such as these two.

Black, GV (Greene Vardiman).
Descriptive Anatomy of the Human Teeth
1897 (1902)

Brophy, Truman William.
Oral Surgery: A Treatise on the Diseases, Injuries and Malformations of the Mouth and Associated ...
1915

Let's say you'd really rather have something more current. Here is one example.

Koerner, Karl R. Manual of Minor Oral Surgery for the General Dentist. 2006.

Google Books will tell you that extraction of third molars is discussed on page 73. When you look at that page, available as a limited preview, you see a couple diagrams, a few paragraphs, and find that the title of the chapter is called, "Surgical Management of Impacted Third Molar Teeth." It gives you an index page showing third molar impactions being discussed on pages 48, 58, and 71. You check the Table of Contents, and find that the chapter goes from pages 49-80. Now that you know what you are looking for, it is a relatively simple matter to either purchase a copy of the book, request that the book be held for you or your secretary to pick up at the library, request the chapter via Interlibrary Loan if it isn't on campus, or phone/visit the library to see the book yourself.

Take home message? Think of Google Books as a way to discover just which book is the one you really want, then go get that book.

Posted by pfa at April 26, 2007 10:48 AM

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