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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Summer 2006

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Electronic Resources Reviews

Safari Tech Books Online

Linda Whang
Engineering Instructional Services Librarian
University of Washington
Seattle, Washington


Safari Tech Books Online, a joint venture between O'Reilly Media, Inc., and the Pearson Technology Group, is a collection of fully searchable, full-text computer manuals and other technical reference books. The full Safari catalog contains over 3,600 publications from publishers such as O'Reilly and Pearson imprints, Addison-Wesley Professional, Adobe Press, Cisco Press, New Riders, Peachpit Press, Prentice Hall PTR, Sun Microsystems Press, Que, and Sams. O'Reilly is the publisher of the popular "In a Nutshell," "Essentials," and "Definitive Guides" book series, identifiable by the animals on their covers.

ProQuest is the exclusive distributor of Safari Tech Books Online to academic, public, and K-12 libraries. Subscription options are:

The University of Washington has a custom collection which fits our budget and user needs.

Topics covered in the Safari Tech Books Online package are: Applied Science, Business, Certification, Computer Science, Databases, Desktop Applications, Desktop Publishing, E-business, Enterprise Computing, Graphics, Hardware, Human-Computer Interaction, Internet/Online, IT Management, Markup Languages, Multimedia, Networking, Operating Systems, Programming, Security, and Software Engineering. Titles range from 1996 to the present and approximately 50-60 new books are added every month. In some cases, books are available online before they appear in print.

Search Interfaces

Safari Tech Books Online offers two main search options: Quick Search and Advanced Search. It is also possible to browse the collection by category or by chapters within books.

Quick Search:

The Quick Search box is located on the left side of the Safari Tech Books Online Home Page (see Figure 1) and on every other screen in the product. A Quick Search will search the full text of all the books in your collection. Quick Search supports the Boolean operators AND, OR, and NEAR (finds book sections where one term appears within 30 words of another term -- e.g., java NEAR bean), and quotation marks can be used to search for exact phrases (e.g., "java beans"). Phrases entered without quotation marks will be treated as an AND search. There is no wildcard or truncation character, but a new feature that has recently been added to Safari Tech Books Online is stemming, which expands a search to include other terms that share the root of the search term (e.g., a search for the word "network" will show results that include "networks," "networking," etc. as well as "network"). As of this writing, there is no way to disable stemming.

A notable feature of Quick Search is the ability to limit a search to "Code Fragments only" -- this will search only examples of code fragments rather than the regular text of the books. For example, searching for "select" in Code Fragments will return examples of code containing the "select" command. Limiting searches to "Code Fragments only" is also available on the Advanced Search screen, which allows combining a code fragment search with other terms to narrow the search (e.g., "select" in code fragments and "SQL" in book title).

Quick Search also allows searching for terms in specific fields, but this requires knowledge of search field syntax. It is recommended that searches for terms in specific fields (such as author, title, or publisher) be constructed using the Advanced Search screen instead.

Figure 1. Safari Tech Books Online Home Page

Advanced Search

Advanced Search is available via a link below the Quick Search box. Advanced Search allows one to specify "with all of these words," "with exactly these words," or "with at least one of these words." The searcher can also specify that the search term(s) appear in the full text, code fragments, section title words, or tips and how-tos only. Separate fields are also available to allow searching for words in book titles, author, ISBN, or publication year (can specify a range of years), and drop-down menus are available to limit by primary category (e.g., Programming) and by publisher (can limit to more than one publisher by holding down the control key -- e.g., can limit to O'Reilly and Que, for example). Using Advanced Search, one can search for "firewall" and limit the search to books about operating systems published by O'Reilly (see Figure 2).

Figure 2. Safari Tech Books Online Advanced Search screen

Displaying Results

Search results for both Quick Search and Advanced Search are presented as a list of books, with a thumbnail image of each book cover, ranked by relevance, with links to relevant sections of the book containing the search term(s) (see Figure 3). The publisher and publication date are also presented in the search results, which can help the searcher determine where the information comes from and which book has the most up-to-date information. Search results can be sorted by Title, Rank, or Publication Date. An alternate display, View by Section, is also available, which has a separate listing for each chapter or section containing the search term(s) along with a brief keyword-in-context phrase from that section. In either view, one can click on the relevant section or chapter link and go directly to the part of the book that contains the search term(s), with the term(s) highlighted. Or one can click on the link to the book itself and browse its contents by its hyperlinked table of contents.

Below the list of books containing the search term(s), there are two features that Safari has recently added: Related Articles and Safari Guides (see Figure 4). Related Articles (currently in Beta release) are articles that "offer targeted treatments of technology topics that complement our existing library of more than 3,000 books." Articles are written by experts in their fields and come from "trusted sources" -- currently O'Reilly Network and IBM developerWorks. Safari Guides deliver "notes, tips, warning and tricks in a variety of key topical areas." They are compiled by Safari editors who briefly outline a topic (e.g., working with layers in Photoshop) and then present links to specific sections of books within the Safari Tech Books Online collection that detail the process step-by-step. Safari currently offers 250 guides in 23 different categories such as SQL, web authoring, web development, and Photoshop. Note: Some Guides may link to content that is not part of your institution's Safari subscription.

Figure 3. Search Results

Figure 4. Related Articles and Safari Guides


Safari Tech Books Online offers several options for browsing books in your institution's Safari collection. "Browse by Category" is available on the main Safari Home Page as well as the Desktop and Bookshelf screens. All 20 categories of topics covered by Safari (i.e. Applied Sciences to Software Engineering) are presented here as hyperlinks. Someone interested in books on Graphics could click on the "Graphics" link to see a list of all Graphics books contained in your institution's Safari collection. Some categories have several sub-categories -- e.g., click on the "+" next to Databases to see the sub-categories Access, MySQL, SQL, and SQL Server.

One can also "Browse by Category" after doing a search for a topic. Instead of all 20 categories, this section now lists categories of books that contain the search term. For example, a search on "xml" gives "Matching Categories": Internet/Online, Programming, Operating Systems, and more, as well as their sub-categories, and the number of books in each category that contain your search term. These numbers reflect books that are actually in your collection.

Viewing a Book

To view a book (see Figure 5), click on the book or the chapter or section on the search results screen, or click on a book on the Desktop or Bookshelf screens. Depending on how your institution's Safari subscription is configured, Desktop and Bookshelf may or may not have the capacity to be personalized. All books contained in Safari Tech Books Online contain all text, charts, graphs, and other images that appear in the book as originally published, ensuring that users have total access to the entire range of content offered in each title.

Each book contains a table of contents with links to each chapter for easy browsing.

Content is presented in HTML format and can be viewed page by page. Pages can also be printed (the built-in print function will format the page for printing, including all images, but excluding banners and sidebars) and e-mailed (note: the e-mail function will e-mail a link to the page, not the actual page itself). One can also bookmark a section for later referral. Please note: depending on how your institution's Safari subscription is configured, Bookmarks may or may not be personalized. For some Safari subscriptions, they will be shared with others at your institution.

One can also search within the book that is being viewed. A "Current Book" box appears above the Quick Search box that enables one to search only the book that is being viewed.

Figure 5. Book View

Technical Requirements

All that is required to access Safari Tech Books Online is a web browser and Internet connection. Safari books are presented in HTML format, so no special reader software is required. Authentication is by IP range.

Added Features/Vendor Support

Usage statistics, account assignments, MARC records, title lists, and book URLs are available to account administrators through Safari's Back Office. Safari also provides regular e-mail notification of new titles added to the collection.

At the University of Washington, we use the e-mail notification of new titles to update our collection when a new edition of a book that we subscribe to becomes available. We also check our usage statistics quarterly and drop low-use titles, see which areas are being used heavily, and add new titles that will be more relevant to our users, as well as titles that have been requested by our user population. To help with determining the appropriate number of simultaneous user seats for our subscription, Safari provides "IP User Loading Statistics" which give information about the number of times the maximum number of user seats have been filled in a specified period of time. All of these statistics can be run by the administrator at any time and for any time period (one week, one month, last six months, etc.).

Comparison with Other Vendors

Other vendors that offer comparable full-text, technical reference content are NetLibrary and Books24x7. Compared to these other vendors, I like Safari Tech Books Online for the flexibility that they offer -- especially the ability to pick and choose titles that are most relevant to our users, and the ability to add and drop books at any time, which helps us keep the collection current. NetLibrary also allows selection of individual titles, but these titles become a permanent part of a library's collection when purchased. Books24x7 only offers large packages of content, at a lower cost-per-book than Safari, but for a library that cannot afford to buy the whole Books24x7 package, Safari is a great alternative. One of the main advantages of Safari Tech Books Online is that they have exclusive rights to distribute the popular and highly regarded O'Reilly books online. The new features that they have added (Related Articles and Safari Guides) also add considerable value and demonstrate a commitment to providing the most up-to-date information available.

Safari Tech Books is a great complement to print computer manuals and to other online packages such as Books24x7 and NetLibrary, which do not offer current O'Reilly content, or as a stand-alone collection.

For More Information:

Safari Product Overview. 2006. [Online]. Available: {} [Accessed April 13, 2006].

Safari Product Tour. 2006. [Online]. Available: { Product Tour.pdf} [Accessed April 13, 2006].

Safari Search Guide. 2006. [Online]. Available: { Search Guide.pdf} [Accessed April 13, 2006].

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