Charles Petzold

Google Books Needs to List the Issues

September 9, 2007
New York, N.Y.

If you read anything much at all about the Victorian era, you've undoubtedly come across references to The Edinburgh Review, a quarterly published between 1802 and 1929. The Wikipedia entry on The Edinburgh Review calls it "one of the most influential British magazines of the 19th century."

Having easy access to the issues of this periodical is one of the many benefits of an online service such as Google Books. And if we're only interested in the issues published in the 19th century, there should be no copyright issues. So let's type "Edinburgh Review" into Google Books and see what we get. Google Books indicates 22,136 hits, but here's the top of the first page:

Many of these hits are apparently books and reprints with the words "Edinburgh Review" in their titles. But to get to the actual issues of the magazine requires a trick: You need to click "More editions" in the first hit. Here's what you get:

This actually looks encouraging: Despite the uniform date of 1929 — curiously enough, the date the magazine stopped publishing — the thumbnails look different, and actually seem like different designs from several different eras.

Unfortunately, clicking any of these links moves you to a page where you can't access the actual pages of the magazine, and despite the fact that Google Books is only showing you "Books 1 - 10 of about 417 editions of The Edinburgh Review," you can't actually get to the next page.

If you try the same task with The Quarterly Review — the Tory counterpart to the Whig Edinburgh Review — you have more luck. The actual issue dates seem to be present and accurate (although in no particular order), and you can actually view the issues, but you still can't go to the next page of hits. And when I tried to actually read an article — a review of a book by John Addington Symonds entitled Shakespere's Predecessors in the English Drama (Vol. 161, July & October, 1885, pg. 330), I found chunks of text cut off at the bottoms of many pages, such as this one:

If you happen to be looking for a particular issue of a particular periodical, Google Books is pretty much a mess. But it's easy to see a proper solution:

For each periodical there needs to be a page where every issue of the periodical is listed with a linked label starting with "Vol. 1, Oct. 1802-Jan. 1803" (for example). If Google Books has more than one copy of a particular issue, the additional copies need to follow the first link as "Copy 2" and "Copy 3". That way, if the primary scan has some chunks missing from the bottom of the page, you can check the other copies. If Google Books is lacking a copy of a particular issue, the issue should still be listed but without a link.