TITLE: Amazon Books

ACCESS: http://www.amazon.com

TITLE: Books Out-of-Print

ACCESS: http://www.reedref.com TITLE: Book Stacks Unlimited

ACCESS: http://www.books.com TITLE: Library Of Congress - Z39.50

ACCESS: http://lcweb.loc.gov/z3950/gateway.html

There are a number of WWW sites available for those interested in locating that hard-to-find volume that isn't in the local book shop. These range from Internet "virtual book stores" to the Reed Reference Books Out-of-Print site, as well as one of the earliest Internet sites I ever visited, the Library of Congress. The thing that really stands out about these sites is how similar they are when the frills are stripped away, but some of the extras are what may make these sites popular.

The two commercial sites that I visited, Amazon Books (http://www.amazon.com), and Book Stacks Unlimited (http://www.books.com), offer very similar services. I personally liked Amazon Books the best, but the reasons are almost entirely based on it's cosmetic appearance (and when content is close to the same on several Web sites, I, like most, generally go for something that I like to look at). Amazon is quite attractively laid out and easy to navigate. The centrepiece, of course, is a search engine which allows the visitor to search a million title collection of items. This is managed by a forms- based search engine that quite simply prompts the user to fill in the blanks, and select the "submit" key. I was quite pleased with the number of items I was presented with when I attempted a search on a relatively hard-to -find author. I was also offered the bonus of reading about the author, browsing "related titles", or reviewing the book. The ability to add items to a virtual shopping basket was always available. Amazon also offered some nice related services, including national bestseller lists, staff favourites, and a service that notifies you when books of interest to you are released. It is a very attractive and friendly package.

Book Stacks Unlimited is also quite a nice site with a slightly different focus and presentation. Some audio files are available (authors reading their works seem to be popular), recommendations and reviews can be read, a large news section can be viewed, and this site has a nice emphasis on poetry. Of course, what one really wants to do is search, and that is where these sites are remarkably similar. I once again filled in the blanks, submitted my search, found a pleasing number of titles, and was offered the option of saving these in my "bookbag". While this is all very easy to do, I once again stopped short of actually purchasing anything (which is the very reason for these site's existence). I always get a little nervous as I approach the area where I must enter valuable information on a Web site. Whether my fears are groundless or not (after all, I give out my credit card number over the phone regularly), I can only tell you that it appears that these sites offer quick, easy, and we are promised, secure service. They are also fun to browse.

Reed Reference is now offering Books-Out-Print, the familiar library tool, free on the World Wide Web (http://www.reedref.com). This site is a little less flashy than the above commercial sites, but allows a little more flexibility in searching it's large database of titles. Once again the user is presented with a forms-based search engine that allows for the combining of various fields and the use of the boolean operators, in a way that the user of BIP on CD should recognize. The user is also able to customize the record displayed (in BIP format, Catalogue Card format, etc.). This is quite a practical site for those who use Books-Out-of-Print regularly, and performs quite well. I would welcome the convenience and availability of this tool as a front-end for Books-in-Print.

The final tool of this type that I looked at was the Web-based catalogue of the Library of Congress, with a Z3950 front-end. Having searched this catalogue several years ago, prior to the popularity of WWW technology, the new version is a joy to use. It has a very simple introductory page (which would have very little on it, if it weren't for a banner announcing it as a Z3950 gateway), that quite simply provides the option of searching title and personal name, or a more complex combination. Once again, a form page appears and allows us to type in either a combination of terms from titles and names (in the simple search), or a more complex combination of elements. Having filled in the blanks, and chosen from "ands" and "ors", a search is performed on the huge collection of items in the library. I have used the Library of Congress many times to verify a title, and this front-end will make the job quick and simple.

Choosing between these Web-based tools will be based mostly on the purpose of one's search. The on-line book stores are certainly cosmetically appealing, offer extras such as best-seller lists (which could be useful

for collection development purposes), provide the direct source of the items found, and will quite simply be fun to use. Books-Out-of Print and large library catalogues will be used much more for the quick visit to verify a title, publisher, or other such information, and allow for more flexibility of searching. Over the long run, the practical, results-oriented sources may be visited more often, but as with all Web sites, I will want to go back to the commercial sites for the fun of the visit and to see what's new.

Doug Horne
McLaughlin Library
University of Guelph

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