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Making Research Fun With Bookshare – Part Two

A guest post, the second in a three-part series, by Deborah Armstrong, the alternate media specialist at De Anza Community College in Cupertino CA.

Now that you can navigate through an accessible book and record notes and relevant information, it is time to search Bookshare and find books on a topic you enjoy or one that makes you curious.

Keep your topic broad, but not too broad.  If your subject is Animals, you will have too many books in your search results making it hard to select one.  If your subject is poodles, you might not find enough.  If your subject is Dogs, you may have a reasonable number of books to consider.  Let’s try an exercise and delve into a search on Benjamin Franklin;  he invented electricity by flying a kite.

Search Terms and Results – How Do You Choose?

I searched on “Ben Franklin” in the Bookshare search box and 13,373 results came up.  Whoa! Too many results, you say… But then after review,  some books just mention Ben and are children’s fiction like “Ben and Me: A New and Astonishing Life of Benjamin Franklin As Written by His Good Mouse Amos. Unless you are writing a book about how Ben is portrayed in children’s literature, you probably do not want this title.  So, in this investigation, we learned that most books you want are likely near the top if your search terms are more defined.  I searched on “Ben Franklin,” but it would have been better to search on “Benjamin Franklin,” which resulted in more adult biographies and less children’s literature.

Skim Search Results 

Every Bookshare search result displays a brief synopsis, followed by a few phrases that contain your search term.  Skim over the text to select and download books that look interesting. Remember to download all books to the same folder on your computer, so it will be easy to find them later and to sort, select, and move them.

Saving and Renaming Files

You might even want to create a special folder, naming it Ben Franklin with a date, to hold all the titles you download. (BenFranklin-June2011)

It’s perfectly OK to rename the folder for each book you download. The books will read fine if you change the folder name to something you can better remember.  This is true whether the folder is still a zip file, or it is the folder holding the book unzipped.  Do not, however, change or rename the file extension of the individual book’s (.XML, .NCX, .OPF or .SML files).

It may be helpful to make a note of the title of each book, so you will know what you have and what you still need to get. If you download many books, you may run across titles you want to read, but do not need for your research.  For example, a history buff might find interesting reading on Thomas Jefferson or a child might want to know what Ben’s mouse was like.  Go ahead and download these titles too, but take it from me, save them to another folder.  Create a folder that is called… “Other Bookshare downloads” so you will not get them mixed up with your research topic.

If this is your first time experimenting, don’t go overboard and get discouraged.  If you have fifty books to read and you know you don’t have time to read that many books…delete or move them to another folder for safekeeping.

Advanced Search Query

If you need lots of material for your research, the advanced search can be a true adventure.  For a specific book you can enter title, author, publisher and ISBN, but if you are looking for specific types of books, you’ll have to be more creative. You can search the synopsis and/or the full text of the book. For example, try “Benjamin Franklin” in the synopsis and “Declaration of Independence” for the full text.

Try to narrow your search by grade level, book quality and language.  You can also check boxes to filter your search by categories, but note that categories are often created by the person who originally submitted the book.  I find it only useful to filter by category if my search is returning too many results.

Filtering Out Fiction

Unfortunately, it’s not as easy to filter out fiction in your search, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes, it’s creative to discuss how a topic is portrayed in fiction, and that extra bit of ingenuity might give your paper a higher grade.  When studying a historical period, I find it fun to read historical novels set in the same period.  If I want to write about that period, reading the novel helps me get more involved.  I get into “character” and then delve into my research topic.

Have you tried the search field titled “Books to Search” under Advanced Search?  You can set this field to be “Books Available Worldwide” and this may be helpful if you live outside the U.S.

If you are looking for specific K-12 textbooks, you can exclusively search for NIMAC books.

“Freely Available Books” is mostly for nonmembers. I typically keep that drop-down list set to its default of “All Books.”

You can search by grade level, but don’t take the grade level too seriously. If you have trouble reading or know nothing about a subject, pick a lower grade level.  I know nothing about football, so I prefer to read a children’s book first. And the reverse is true…a child who is an expert on dinosaurs will find a children’s dinosaur book boring, so don’t be afraid to search for a book for that child on paleontology.

Narrow the Books You Want to Read and Research

Let’s suppose you have determined a subject you enjoy, like asteroids and you know what note-taking strategies are best for you.  You’ve experimented with many Bookshare search options and downloaded books.  How do you choose which books to focus your research on?

Remember if you were in a brick and mortar library, surrounded by piles of hardcovers, you wouldn’t read every word in every book. So, your next task is to decide which books are important and which you can remove.  imagine the power you have to delete.  Best of all, you can zap (delete) books from your list, but they remain in Bookshare and you can get them again.

Now, open the book and check out the table of contents.  Read the introduction.  Skip to random pages and read a page or two. Is the material interesting? Is it too easy or too difficult? Are you asking yourself questions about what you are reading?  If the book isn’t right, close your reader and delete it. You don’t need extra clutter on your hard disk.

I sometimes add notes to a file on why I selected a book.  Last semester, I wrote a note… “Paris 1918 …this  book has interesting material on Woodrow Wilson’s wife, Edith. She changed the direction of peace talks.”

Here’s where will end part two of this blog post.  Are you still with me?  Have you tackled a topic, wrestled with search options, determined your best note-taking strategies, skimmed intros and made choices on what books to read?  You can do it!


One Comment

  1. I like your suggestion about creating separate folders for research topics. Last semester, I was guilty of putting my research books in the same folder as all my other school books which made them hard to find. I also like your suggestion of deleting books since I, and I’m sure other students too, are guilty of sticking with a book too long when they aren’t finding good information in it. If you change your mind, you can always download it again and if you don’t remember what the title was off the top of your head, you don’t have to search for it again. You can just go to your download history page.

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