Google Scholar and academic libraries

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Google Scholar is a web-based scholarly search engine, a citation analysis tool and a gateway to materials on the web that are open access. As well as this it connects to library journal subscriptions and book collections. It is a both a "blended" resource[1] for academic libraries as it cannot be categorised as one type of resource and " ad-supported search engine with interesting added capabilities. Neither replaces libraries or intends to".[2] However, Google Scholar does not currently display any advertising.

Since the launch of Google Scholar in 2004, librarians, and those in academic libraries in particular, have had concerns that their role in providing study and research resources could be adversely affected. Google Scholar provides access to citations, abstracts and may link directly to full text articles that the library has purchased from a broad range of academic journals in the familiar Google format. Web users are familiar with how web search engines allow them to access information quickly and easily and so Google Scholar can be a useful tool for librarians to encourage these users into using academic sources. A study commissioned by the British Library and Joint Information Systems Committee and carried out by University College London's Centre for Information Behaviour and the Evaluation of Research highlights a concern that students will use search engines like Google Scholar as a way of accessing abstracts making the expensive journal databases conventionally employed by academic libraries redundant.[3]

Challenges for libraries[edit]

The challenge for academic librarians is that students might bypass the university library and access Google Scholar instead, due to its ease of use and simple, familiar search format. As Google uses retrieval algorithms based on ranking and relevance to the search term, students may feel that it’s a more useful tool for research than a library catalog that often ranks relevant items in chronological order. This ease of use has made Google Scholar popular amongst medical and science academics who were in the past drawn to more traditional resources.[4][5]

Librarians are not the only group feeling at risk due to the technological innovation of tools such as Google Scholar. Many professions are having to re-evaluate their mode of practice and find fresh ways of embracing new technology and maintaining their relevance in an online digital age. However, while many academic library stakeholders are concerned by Google Scholar, there are some who see it as an opportunity.[6]


Google Scholar provides another tool for academic librarians in their own work, giving access to journals beyond those held by their institution and, more importantly perhaps, it could be used as an opportunity to reaffirm the academic library’s position. It is argued that Google Scholar presents a marketing opportunity for academic libraries and their reference librarians by highlighting the vast range of scholarly resources available to information-seeking students: "...Google Scholar provides a range of opportunities for librarians at the front lines and behind the scenes – at the reference desk, in the classroom, and in our web space. In short, here is a great marketing opportunity for libraries".[7] Reference librarians can re-position themselves at the vanguard of this new awareness in information literacy and help students navigate the myriad of materials available in Google Scholar. There is no prospect of students not utilising Google Scholar, so rather than ignore its existence, trained information professionals can see this as an opportunity, embracing Google Scholar and focusing efforts on helping improve information literacy and critical analysis of research tools amongst students and other users of the service.

Many university libraries now offer guidance on using Google Scholar on their websites, including the University of California, Los Angeles [1].

If academic librarians try to do this and incorporate Google Scholar into their existing resources, they would need to be aware of potential problems and accusations often levelled at it by the information profession; the ease of access it provides to resources does not necessarily correlate to the quality of these sources nor does it take into account the level of judicious skill applied by the student in assessing these works.[7]


Several criticisms have been levelled at Google Scholar, these include: unreliability of advanced search functions, lack of controlled vocabulary, issues of secrecy regarding scope of coverage and questionable currency.[8] The 'scholarliness' and consistency of cross-disciplinary coverage of Google Scholar has also been questioned [9] However this study concluded that Google Scholar was as good, if not better than library databases and was simply a useful tool for accessing the content in academic library databases. One advantage it is seen to have over traditional databases is in accessing 'gray' literature [10]

Google Scholar has been criticised for its lack of transparency in its sources and citations, which is a concern for librarians.[4] Google Scholar’s closest rival, Scirus lists an extensive range of sources from which their search engine crawls for information in the "about us" section of the website. In contrast Google Scholar’s "about" page is quite sparse and does not attempt to disclose its sources. As well as this, it does not reveal the search algorithm it uses for page ranking which it has been criticised for. Google Scholar is not a science expert and their decision to not reveal this has angered those in the field - "we are giving the direction of our science over to a company in which we have no voice as the science community."[11]

A further fault identified is its lack of ability to eliminate duplicate results of the same articles from its search results[12] Criticism has also been made of Google Scholar’s relatively simplistic searching methods. Using PageRank, it does not offer suitable results when, for instance, Boolean search methods are used. In an experiment carried out, it was found that searching for "protein" retrieved 7390000 hits, and the plural, "proteins" retrieved 3790000 hits. However, when "protein OR proteins" was searched, Google Scholar only retrieved 1280000 results. This lack of Boolean compatibility can be seen as detrimental to the various search techniques which can be employed on library and publisher databases.[13] A further issue identified is that the PageRank results lists that Google Scholar offers tend to be very large; however this system has poor filtering ability - many traditional filtering options are not applicable to the records Google Scholar holds [14]

Misspelled author names hinder referencing for the user, potentially leading to misinformation and poor results and this can also cause problems for the authors themselves; Jacso believes the number of wrong author names to be in the hundreds of thousands. This weakness in the ‘cited by’ feature of Google Scholar can lead to authors not being properly accredited for their work.[14]

Unlike the academic library, Google Scholar is a commercial organisation and therefore the question of its impartiality and reliability for scholars has been questioned.[15]

Working with academic libraries and students[edit]

Through the Library Links [2] program, Google offers academic libraries the opportunity to link their resources into the Google Scholar search results. Students and faculty searching on Google Scholar through the university network will be shown a link to the full text of any articles held by on library journal database. Those libraries who store their material on the WorldCat system can have a similar system put in place.

Google Scholar provides guidance specifically targeted at academic library users, reminding them that their library may hold the full text of an article they see cited or in abstract on Google Scholar. It also offers guidance for students at universities who are in the Library Links scheme advising the links to their own institution's databases they access on campus or off-campus if they set up preferences.

In 2006 Google Scholar was integrated into the virtual learning environment Blackboard used by many higher education institutions. This has been noted as being potentially beneficial in bringing the resources to where the users are, but also having the potential to exclude the academic institution’s library as the provider of coursework materials.[16] It is also noted that students accessing articles through Google Scholar from a VLE rather than their library could end up paying twice for an article in a journal that would be free through their library but not realising this as the VLE may bypass that library access.[16]

Many academic libraries acknowledge the widespread use of Google Scholar and provide instructional pages on their library websites.[17] The University of Nevada, Las Vegas [3] (2009) provides a substantial account of what Google Scholar is, how it works, the sources it provides and its disadvantages. It highlights to students that not all articles will be accessed through Google Scholar and that they may not always have full text availability, meaning they have to still use their academic library to gain access to some resources. This guide also provides a section on how to set Google Scholar to their specific preference, meaning it would only search that universities subscription database, ensuring that all sources found by Google Scholar would be available through the universities subscription package. However, searching through Google Scholar would facilitate the students using an interface which is more familiar to them.

Other universities offering similar guidance and who are part of the Library Links scheme include: Georgia State University [4], the University of Wisconsin [5], The Open University [6] and Leeds University [7].

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Mullen, L.B.; Hartman, K.A. (2008). "Google Scholar and academic libraries: an update". New Library World 109 (5/6): 211–222. 
  2. ^ Crawford, W. (2006). Cites & Insights. Available from: [Accessed 26 Mar 2010]
  3. ^ Gill, J. (2008) "Researchers' web use could make libraries redundant" Times Higher Education, 17 January Available: Last accessed 01/04/10.
  4. ^ a b Vine, R (January 2006). "Google Scholar". J Med Libr Assoc 94 (1): 97–99. PMC 1324783. 
  5. ^ BBC NEWS. (2009) Science enters the age of Web 2.0. 26 October Available Last accessed 17/3/10
  6. ^ Banks, M.A. (2005). The excitement of Google Scholar, the worry of Google Print. Biomedical Digital Libraries, 2 (2). Available from:
  7. ^ a b Kesselman, M (2005) ‘Google Scholar and libraries: point/counterpoint’ Reference Services Review Vol.33, No.4, pp 380-387 Available: Emerald database (Last accessed: 15/03/10)
  8. ^ Schulz, M (October 2007). "Comparing test searches in PubMed and Google Scholar". J Med Libr Assoc 95 (4): 442–445. doi:10.3163/1536-5050.95.4.442. PMC 2000776. PMID 17971893. 
  9. ^ Howland, J L et al (2008) How Scholarly is Google Scholar? A Comparison to Library Databases. Presented 30 June 2008 at the American Library Association’s Annual Conference in Anaheim, CA. Available: Last accessed 14/4/10.
  10. ^ Kesselman, M (2005) ‘Google Scholar and libraries: point/counterpoint’ Reference Services Review Vol.33, No.4, pp 380-387 Available: Emerald database
  11. ^ Nestor, M, 2009. ‘Google versus science? Or: should we outsource our open source to closed source?’, weblog post, 1 April 2010. Available from:
  12. ^ Banks, MA (2005). "The excitement of Google Scholar, the worry of Google Print". Biomed Digit Libr 2: 2. doi:10.1186/1742-5581-2-2. PMC 1079792. PMID 15784147. 
  13. ^ Gale – Cengage Learning (Date Unknown). Péter's Digital Reference Shelf – June Google Scholar (Redux). Available:
  14. ^ a b Jacso, P. (2008) SAVVY SEARCHING: Google Scholar revisited. Online Information Review. 32(1) pp. 102-114
  15. ^ Waller, V. (2009) The Relationship between Public Libraries and Google: Too Much Information. First Monday. Vol. 14, no. 9.
  16. ^ a b StevenB, (2006). ‘Where’s The Library In This Partnership’ ARCLog, weblog post, 13 November. Available from:
  17. ^ "Find It @ Drexel and Google Scholar". Retrieved 10 December 2012. 

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