Recently, Google Scholar was unveiled, followed by numerous blog posts about it. The majority of the ones I read were positive and loved the idea, outside of some library related ones. There seemed to be some worry that it destroyed the possibility for federated search at a library. Here is a summary of my opinions.

I’ll begin with the statement that I like it. I wish something like this would have been around in the past when I was writing up some research papers. The killer feature in my mind is the ability to easily see who cites what. I can then easily find the abstracts (at least) and see which papers are relevant and that I should try to acquire. The ability to search the web for related items is also useful, as I may be able to find some background information that might make it easier for me to understand.

There are a few features I would like to see, however. My main beef is access to everything through an API. Being able to integrate this into a library site (without nasty hacks) would be a godsend. It’d also be helpful if the DOI’s were used more often, though with this being an early beta, I can see that improving over time. There’s a couple usability problems, such as when I choose to look at what works cite a resource, it doesn’t tell me what resource I was previously looking at. I have to hit the back button to see where I came from. It’d be nice if it told me whether it was an abstract or not as well, but I realize that wouldn’t be easy. Marking things that have a Creative Commons license would be nice though.

So what about the problems people are talking about. From what I can gather some fear for the viability of federated search. As a user of a library (I am not a Librarian) I can say, I hope federated search happens soon and it is built well. I personally hate using the online indexes that my library provides. As a user I think they are a pain to use, look terrible, and don’t give the relevant results I want. I plan on using Google Scholar to find the article I need and then moving to the indexes and library catalog to find a copy of it. Before I would do web searches and try to find sites that sourced some information or the similar.

I think this is where it becomes apparent of the difference between the students and the professional researcher. The professional researcher probably won’t use Google Scholar as much as a student. (Except maybe to see who cites them.) I think professional researchers are more likely to know the exact terms to search for, what journals/indexes are most relevant and even what other others are prominent. A student is more likely to be walking in blind and this is where the ease of use of Google comes in handy. There are many traps that a student could fall into using Google Scholar as their sole source of research information. There are plenty of students I think fall into the trap of using generic websites because they either don’t know of the resources available to them or they just can’t figure out how to use them.

If anything good comes from this I hope it gives libraries and academic institutions the motivation to educate their users how to judge the credibility of information and what resources are available to them. I’ve worked as a student at my library and I still have no idea about what all is available to me. Some of this is due to difficulty finding the exact information I need on the site and also due to me not having a reason to use certain resources. I went ahead and mocked up an example of how a library could use an informational site to show how to use Google Scholar WITH library resources. I used the library I use as an example, so all links, etc. will go to them. A side note, I found a few resources I didn’t know about while making it.

Using Google Scholar In Your Library