Google Book Search API

So Google has announced a much-awaited api for pre-checking availability of full text in Google Books. Here is one post with more detail than other announcements I’ve found.

I note that the API is described as a javascript api, and examples are provided where the request to the API is made on the client-side with javascript.

However, there’s no technical reason why you couldn’t do this server-side as well. It’s just an HTTP GET request with certain query parameters which returns JSON. I can certainly parse JSON server-side.

It makes a big difference to me whether I can do this server-side or not. Why? One example is because my software wants to query multiple sources of digital text (including our own licensed e-text from our catalog), and do something different depending on whether there is any available text or none. In some contexts, the user may even get an entirely different page depending on the answer to that. It’s difficult or impossible to implement that kind of logic only on the client-side (plus it would only work for those with javascript).

So there’s no technical reason I can’t do it server-side. But Google may certainly stop me with policy. They could rate-limit requests to the API from any given IP (and it sounds like they DO: “Because developers often issue an atypical quantity of requests, you may accidentially tip the security precautions found in Google Book Search.” ). Google certainly has it’s own business reasons to want to aggregate as much individual data as possible, not let my application be an intermediate proxy. (Google is in fact in the business of collecting usage data, not of providing search. Think about how they make their money). So hmm, time will tell.

Interestingly, a couple of the examples on the announcement are Google Books pre-check integrated into sfx! It sounds as if this was done by Ex Libris, not by the individual customer. And when I attempt to reverse-engineer the HTML to see what’s going on–it looks to me like SFX is indeed making a server-side pre-check, not doing it in javascript on the client side. Which would be encouraging. Unless Ex Libris somehow has special permission. Hmm.

Eagerly awaiting more information about this. Not quite sure how to get it.

updates (14 Mar):


Got a reply from Google:

You can do something similar to this on the client side, just add some logic
in the JavaScript on whether or not to show the div with the books dependent
on the viewability information.

Unfortunately, we don’t support server side querying of the API, because
viewability is based on local rights limitations (different countries
consider different books to be public domain), and we think it hurts theuser experience to provide incorrect viewability information.

Doh! This doesn’t really answer my concern I’m afraid, I really can’t do what I need to do client side, at least not without extreme difficulty or loss of functionality. But I guess that’s how it’ll be!


Had the idea of asking the ksu SFX example for an XML response, to see what that tells us. Of course everything in the XML response is neccesarily generated server side. The Google Books section looks like this:

<target_public_name>Google Book Search</target_public_name>


Hmm. It’s hard to say. The XML response does not include what’s in the HTML response telling you for sure what kind of access is available. But it does include a google books URL that sure looks like it required talking to Google on the server-side to generate–it doesnt’ have an ISSN in it, it has a Google unique ID. How would SFX know that Google unique ID without talking to Google on the server-side? Which Google tells me they don’t allow. Hmm. Curioser.

Another update: If I turn off javascript and look at the ksu SFX page, I still get the Google Books link. It would definitely appear to be server side. Is Ex Libris SFX allowed to do something that I am not?


3 thoughts on “Google Book Search API

  1. You bet SFX is doing server side API access. I don’t think they have even asked themselves wether Google allows this.
    My Proxypass thing also means server side access. As soon as you present the final link to Google to the user, it is directed to Google immediately client side !! So Google can still decide on what they will show the user. So I would say there is no objection to do server side access to the API as long as you provide a link to Google that will bring the user there directly !!

  2. Actually, while the ‘beta’ SFX’s I examined did server-side access, the actual release Google Books SFX code seems to do client-side, according to the SFX Target Service documentation. Perhaps they made this change when they realized this issue. It is definitely _much_ more cumbersome to do it client side, it means the Google Books stuff is no longer available for SFX “display logic” rules—you can’t make rules that are effected by Google Books results, and I’m not sure if you can make rules that _effect_ Google Books results.

    Server side access is really neccesary to _integrate_ results from multiple services (Google books being just one) without jumping through crazy hoops. Unless your application already has a significant client-side component where it does this integration. Most applications do not, they do it on the server side, which is usually the right technical choice in m opinion for a variety of reasons.

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