Academia Needs More Google, Ctd

Mar 6 2012 @ 7:37am

A reader writes:

RE: your post about Alan Jacobs' misadventures in searching scholarly databases, Google does in fact support a scholarly journal database: Google Scholar. I have had similar issues with engineering and science databases and have abandoned them for Google Scholar. If Alan had put all that information into Scholar he would have gotten the result he was looking for in the top ten hits. He could have downloaded a citation for major bibliographic software (EndNote, BibTeX, etc.) and at most universities, linked directly to his university's library database and downloaded the PDF. While I'm sure Google and other search engines have a ways to go towards perfecting their search algorithms for scholarly works, I have found using Google Scholar is an easy transition from regular Google searching and a lot less frustrating than your average academic database.

In the comments section, Jacobs recommends a "smart blog post by Margaret Heller on simplifying library database interfaces." Another reader:

I am the Library Director at a small private academic library in Ohio. I also wish that library research databases were simpler to use for our students and faculty. However, I don't think Dr. Jacobs's suggestion to put "greater emphasis…to improve the search tools" is the ultimate or best solution to the current research problem. I know this will sound like being a "bad UI" apologist, but I don't think the solution is as simple as saying "Academia Needs More Google".

1. If you want the Google experience applied to research, then go use Google Scholar. Make sure you set the Library Links option (if you attend or work at an Ohio college or university use OhioLINK) in Scholar Preference settings to be able to access subscription based full-text journal articles paid for by your library.

2. The native JSTOR search interface isn't that bad. Granted, JSTOR's advanced search syntax isn't always intuitive. However, taking five minutes or less to figure it out will save a lot of time and provide better results than using Google.

3. Librarians can encourage EBSCO, Gale, ProQuest, et al to dramatically improve their search interfaces, expose their metadata to Google, or even license Google's search algorithm. However, these research database providers have invested to much of their money in developing their underlying database structure and search interfaces to have much incentive to change and be more like Google. 

4. Those "terrible research database" user interfaces allow you to do a much more precise search. Google gives us good enough results. The clunky research database interface allows the student or faculty member to have greater control over the results returned. 

5. I have a hard time believing that Dr. Jacobs could not access the article knowing the citation. He doesn't provide enough information in the article to fully understand why trying to find the article was such a challenge that an ISSN had to be used.

6. Searching the scholarly literature is only part of the research process. Students and faculty still need to apply human intellect before even going to a search box and relying/expecting an algorithm to do the heavy lifting for them.