Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Google Scholar

Google recently introduced Google Scholar, a search engine designed to find articles, preprints, books, chapters, gray literature, and other scholarly sources while filtering out those sites we often associate with the dark side of the web: Mrs. Carbunkle’s eighth-grade classroom, photos of your in-laws 2001 Alaskan vacation, a live web-cam of someone named Candee…

We have been reading a lot of spin about Google Scholar—both the pros and the cons—and have concluded that it is OK for rudimentary research but inappropriate for higher-level scholarship.

Here is a quick rundown of the pros and cons of Google Scholar as well as a few pointers on how to use it effectively.

What’s good:

• It’s easy and convenient. Google has applied its famous search mechanism that sorts results based on relevance as opposed to date. This means that the first articles in any search may be seminal.
• It includes prepubs and gray literature. (Students will need guidance on how to read citations and how to determine when such material is acceptable.)
• One of the best features is citation searching: there is a simple link to articles that cite the original! See this entry on Jim Costa (WCU Biology professor) for an example.

What’s not so good:

• It’s Beta. This means that, while not quite ready for prime time, the public is encouraged to use it and make comments in order to improve it. There are contact links on their information pages, so tell them what you think!
• It is not comprehensive.
• The results can include non-scholarly items such as books by Stephen King.
• There are lots of broken links.
• Google won’t say what journals, topics, or publication dates are covered.
• It is geared to expert searchers who can tell a book citation from an article citation from a gray literature citation. However, students will turn in whatever they find because they found it on Google Scholar.
• The basic web search mechanism is unsophisticated: there is no field searching, no date limiters, no controlled vocabularies—in short, none of those features that make library databases so great.

• Keep looking. SPORT Discus, the preeminent database for all aspects of sports, has 1224 citations specifically about soccer injuries. Google Scholar has 3380 citations that mention both “soccer” and “injuries.” Many are outstanding and many are irrelevant. The same is true in other academic fields.
• Don’t pay for anything! WCU students, faculty, and staff can use Hunter Library to obtain research materials. We’re fast, free, and friendly.