31 August 2004. Lawyer X walks into the client meeting, which is already underway. Having invited him a few minutes ago, the partner welcomes him. She needs a good researcher, if what she suspects is true.
Addressing the client, Partner Muse says, "I'd like X to hear this from the beginning. Would you mind repeating what you just told me?"
The client, the owner of a small automotive business that services cars and sells parts, explains that a woman, who alleges she was abducted while waiting for service, has sued the company.
"She said she didn't see her abductor. He took her to an abandoned building," the client continues. "But she doesn't remember the location. She described it as a large abandoned warehouse.
"She said he hit her over the head, and when she woke up she was alone in a semi-dark room. She tried to find her way out of the building, but all the doors were locked and the windows barred. She began searching for something to jimmy the lock, but instead found a long string lying near the area where she awoke. She followed it through a maze of rooms until she found a partly opened window in a remote part of the building.
"That is how she made her escape," he concludes the bizarre tale.
Before the client can launch into his concerns about the lawsuit, Partner Muse asks Lawyer X, "What do make of this kidnapping?"
"I suppose it could happen," X begins, "But it sounds like fiction. She didn't see her abductor and doesn't remember where he took her. She escaped by following a piece of string. Weird."
Agreeing, Muse asks, "Is searching fiction possible? Do you think we could find a crime novel with a scene like this?"
Finding the contents of a book online
generally presents more of a challenge than locating other full-text
documents. Traditional databases such as
which are available independently on the Web or through aggregators
such as Dialog and Westlaw, provide mostly bibliographic information
about books and book chapters.
Other specialty databases, such as Chisum on Patents (CHISUM on Lexis) or the Manual on Employment Discrimination and Civil Rights Actions in the Federal Courts (MEDCRA on Westlaw) contain the text of specific books. However, while increasingly more available, these databases are not yet common.
researchers depended on library card catalogs to help them find a
book. In recent years, these finding aids migrated to the Web,
making them accessible even to communities beyond the library's
service boundaries. While they are helpful, they don't enable
searching the full-text of a book.
IndexMaster goes a step beyond the concept of a library catalog
by providing book indices and tables of contents. Search the
keyword, "viatical," for example, to find books on estate planning
and securities law, which cover this kind of investment.
The National Academy
of Sciences and the reference service, xrefer, represent two
different resources in a growing category of specialty book search
engines. The National Academy of Sciences' Discovery Engine queries
the text of National Academies Press publications in addition to its
Web documents. Enter one or more words without connectors--"chemical
weapons," for example--to find matching reports and other
publications. The results let you display the page or pages on which
your keywords appear.
an online reference service for libraries, enables searching about
150 general and topical encyclopedias and dictionaries. It's useful
for finding facts as well as general information about a variety of
More recently, word leaked that
Google is experimenting with
indexing excerpts of books. The excerpts come from the inside
cover, reviews on the book jacket, author biographies or the
introduction. Google provides matches from book excerpts in regular
search results. In other words, you cannot search books separately.
Is there an electronic source that will help Lawyer X find a crime
depicted in a novel? Possibly the most significant development in
searching book content was Amazon.com's recent announcement of its
"Search Inside This Book" feature. The search engine finds your
keywords within the pages of a book. However, like any database
containing massive amounts of information, it returns more
meaningful results when you enter a specific query.
To illustrate, suppose you want information about the role of
genetics in brain cancer. If you enter the query "genetics brain
cancer" (without quotations) in the book search box, you will
retrieve more than 14,000 results. Astrocytomas account for about
60% of all primary brain tumors. Using the more specific term,
"genetics astrocytoma," reduces the number of results to a little
more than 350.
A little-known advanced search
feature at Amazon.com, called
Power Search, provides more options for constructing a precise
query. It enables searching certain segments of a book. For example,
in reviewing the results of the previous query, you discover that
Amazon.com indexes many of the books you find useful in the
"oncology" subject category. Thus, the query, "keywords: (genetics
and astrocytoma) and subject: oncology," further whittles the list
of matching books down to fewer than 60.
also discover that books on this topic written for medical
professionals appear in the "pharmacology" category. Modifying the
search so that you now run "keywords: (astrocytoma and genetics) and
subject: (pharmacology or oncology)," retrieves a little more than
How does "Search Inside This Book"
help Lawyer X in finding a fictional crime? He could enter one or
more keywords that describe the crime, but in this case, one of the
key elements of the victim's story involves a piece of string. While
he understands that the victim means a thread or thin length of
cord, the search engine does not. It might interpret multiple
meanings for the word, even when used in conjunction with other
relevant concepts, as in a string of abductions.
After a couple of trial and error queries, X discovers that books
likely to contain such a scene are categorized as "mystery" novels.
He enters the query, "subject: (mystery) and keywords: ((kidnapping
or abduction) and string and maze)," which returns more than 300
books. While it's a lot to wade through, it's a start.
The top-ranking book is titled "The Maze." He clicks the title and
finds a second search option that lets him query the pages of this
specific book. A search for the word, "string," produces several
references to a String Killer as well as a snippet that sounds like
the story the client related. Page 91 of the paperback edition
describes how the serial killer knocks his victims on the head,
takes them to a deserted building and then teases them with a string
that leads to their death.
"This is brilliant, X!"
exclaims the partner. "How in the world did you find it?"
X dodges what he imagines is a rhetorical question. "It wasn't
easy." Then he adds, "But it could have been worse."
Partner Muse just shakes her head. "Well, then, I guess you should
start a background investigation on the plaintiff."
Lawyer X agrees, reminding himself that no good deed goes