Google’s launch of the Google Scholar (http://scholar.google.com) service generated a lot of buzz – most of it negative – in the library and academic communities. Journals, listservs, and conferences echoed the cries that a FREE search engine would never equal our more complicated (and expensive) databases in scholarliness or usefulness. Now that 18 months have passed, we can perhaps more objectively evaluate where this service fits for faculty within the arsenal of research tools.
What is Google Scholar?
In its own words, Google Scholar allows you to search “peer-reviewed papers, theses, books, abstracts and articles, from academic publishers, professional societies, preprint repositories, universities and other scholarly organizations.” Essentially, Google Scholar uses indexes, abstracts, and even the full text of items that are freely available on the web. It also includes publishers’ indexes of journals, open repositories of articles, and other sources while eliminating most popular or commercial content. Results may be a book citation, an abstract on a publisher’s website, or a link to a full-text PDF.
The usefulness of Google Scholar depends to some degree on the topics being searched. Scientific and technological information is represented more thoroughly than the Humanities. LIB100 students have been evaluating Google Scholar in class and, not surprisingly, some love it and some are disappointed. They have noted that while it can lead you to good citations, they often have to go into our databases or catalog to find the full-text. Frequently the Google Scholar link leads to the publisher’s site where a fee is charged for the full text. In many of these cases, a quick search on the library’s journal page will deliver the same content for free.
Recently Google added two new features for linking from Google Scholar to licensed content at libraries. The first development is the ability for libraries to set up their OpenURL link resolvers (e.g., WFU Full Text Options) to work with Google Scholar. To take advantage of this feature, you may need to choose “Wake Forest University Libraries” in the “Library links” section of Google Scholar’s preferences page.
The second interesting new feature is the “Library Search” link at the bottom of each book citation in your results. This link connects to OCLC’s Open WorldCat database, a freely available version WorldCat that is indexed in Google. Open WorldCat detects your IP address and gives you library-sensitive links including a Catalog Search, Ask a Librarian, and a link to FirstSearch. For example, the first hit in a search for The Democratization of American Christianity includes a Library Search link that leads you to ZSR’s record for the book.
In summary, Google Scholar can be a powerful tool for locating resources and for linking you to our full-text databases. As with any tool, it is only part of the research picture and should be used with a critical eye and always be supplemented with other research! We caution all our users never to pay for an article you find through Google Scholar without checking with us first for possible free access.