November 22, 2004

Google Scholar

It had to happen. I've touched on it before in postings on the way Google was sucking up metadata from various publishers. I expected it. Google, as we all know by now, has entered the bibliographic database industry with a new beta test product. Google Scholar it's called and it's pretty interesting. A few sample searches indicate that most of the content there is links to actual journal content rather than the random signal/noise ratio usually associated with search engines. I urge everyone to read their About file very carefully. I think that they understand scholarly content, are serious about making sure that their product is mostly about high quality scholarly resources. They obviously want as many publishers as possible to contribute. This is potentially THE significant development in the academic library/scholarly publishing field of the last year or so. Winners & losers:

  • Loser: the A&I industry. Big time. Google Scholar is free, their products are definately not. Can they add enough value to the data they have to make it worth our (ie. libraries) while to subscribe to their services? No one's cancelling all those indexes this year, or even next, but what about five years from now? The key here is adding value. Google's product will be one-size-fits-all, always a bit overwhelming. Also, it will be probably be limiting itself to stuff online-only. Will Google get the metadata for journal backruns that aren't online and refer users to their local academic library?
  • Winner: students. Big time. Students want to use simple interfaces, easy searches with highly relevant results. If Google can deliver that with this product like with their regular search engine, this will be a hugely popular tool amongst students.
  • Loser: non-OA journals. More and more, if a journal's content is not online for free, it will not exist for the new generation of scholars. Why use journal A behind some weird pay-money-or-else screen when journal B has their articles right here. I know that you can get to A via your friendly neighbourhood proxy server/academic library, but really, at 3 am with the paper due tomorrow and the student doesn't even know where the library is on campus, that's not going to happen. Also, anyone not afiliated with a subscribing institution will automatically choose B. It's only a matter of time before Google puts a "Free full text only" check box on the screen. Open Access will mean survival for journals in the Google world. Not this year, not next year, but maybe in five or ten.
  • Winner: academic libraries & librarians. Yes. We're winners. Think of what this could do for our budgets! Finally we can demo tools in the classroom that the students will think are relevant! No more blank stares & sneers! But seriously, the advantages of basically using one interface are huge in terms of teaching students how to get the most out of their search experience. Google will continue to be overwhelming for many and confusing to some, so we will still have the role of helping students navigate. Oh yeah, we'll actually be able to spend more time on concepts like critical thinking, scholarly communication and all those information literacy standards we talk about but rarely have time to actually teach.
  • Loser: vendors of federated searching products. One search is here. This is it. The real challenge, of course, will be figuring out how to get link resolver products like SFX to work with Google Academic. Also, for us Ontario universities, all our content is on a central server. How do we get our students using Google Scholar to find the content on our platform rather than automatically going to the publisher's site. An interesting challenge.
  • Winner: the general public all over the world. Obviously, this will bring together a lot of information and make it accessible to everyone. As more and more stuff becomes OA, more and more scholarly content will become easily accessible to everyone. This is a good thing.

I'm sure I'll be posting more on this as time goes by. Let's start a thread here with your comments -- what we really think about this. It's good to be back.

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