Readers of Library Link have probably noticed a slight bias towards Library Databases over the Google when it comes to locating authoritative information. The reason librarians encourage researchers to go to subscription databases for their research is simply because most scholarly (peer reviewed) articles are under copyright and not available free on the Web.
Nevertheless, Google has a number of useful applications in scholarly research. Perhaps the most common use is locating a noted scholar’s list of publications. Since most scholars maintain personal webpages, Google is often the fastest way to locate bibliographies and curricula vitae. With a bibliography, you can then turn to the Library Catalog to locate the scholar’s books or the Full Text Journal Finder to locate articles.
Another effective use of Google in research is when you have an article title, but no author or publication. Chances are, unless the article is very obscure, that a citation exists somewhere out there on the Web. By searching the title within quotation marks, you can almost always find a correct citation on a webpage. As with the previous example, your next stop should be the Full-Text Journal Finder to link to the database that has the article in full text.
Google Books is increasingly proving to be a useful tool for scholarship. Launched in 2004, and still in beta, GoogleBooks currently contains more than seven million books, but the company says its goal is eventually to scan every book ever published and make the full texts searchable. Although for books in copyright, Google will only display a “snippet” of text, this can be invaluable when you are writing and want to cite a book that you read in the past, but to which you no longer have quick access. Google Books has already impacted the Library’s collection by digitizing books from the Library of American Civilization and Early American Imprints, which the Library owns in microform. Since these books are all in the public domain, Google is free to display the entire texts. Researchers using these collections should increasingly be able to view books online rather than on microform.
Finally a word about Google Scholar, which like Google Books, was launched in 2004 and is also still in beta. GoogleScholar is essentially a metasearch engine, searching across databases, websites, as well as intranets of research institutions (mostly universities). Given the time constraints facing both students and faculty research and the learning curve involved with becoming proficient in a new utility, a question that must be asked of GoogleScholar is “Will it find the information I need, or will it waste my time?” Unfortunately, this is not an easy question to answer. In general, a better way to search across multiple databases is with the Library’s Research Pro, a metasearch tool that allows you to choose the Regent Library databases you wish to search. On the other hand, research authority William Badke writes that “GS can be a good port in the storm when other databases have been less than successful at identifying material that is relevant to a research project.”i For an excellent primer on Google Scholar’s strengths and weaknesses, see Badke’s “Google Scholar and the Researcher.”
Not surprisingly for one of the most innovative companies in business history, Google offers the scholars a number of potentially useful and time-saving tools. It generally cannot provide the full text of scholarly articles or offer the organized indexing that library databases provide. As with database searching, a little practice with the above applications will allow researchers to use Google strategically in academic research.
iBadke, William. “Google Scholar and the Researcher.” Online 33, no. 3 (May 2009): 47-49. Business Source Complete, EBSCOhost.