Google Offers Journal Searches

Google’s blindingly fast web search changed the way internet users find information, becoming a household word and earning a massive IPO. Now, the company has its sights set on a tough set of niche consumers: academics.

Google last week released “Google Scholar,” a search engine that allows users to search millions of papers, theses and other academic resources, with the same relevance ranking technology that made the original search engine so popular.

Visitors to scholar.google.com are greeted with Isaac Newton’s famous words, “Stand on the shoulder of giants,” a slogan aimed to reflect the search engine’s reliance on previously published material to generate search results, according to the press release. Instead of searching webpages all over the internet, Scholar analyzes papers, theses, technical reports and abstracts, ranking them according to author, publication, and frequency of citation.

Cheryl M. LaGuardia, head of instructional services for Harvard College libraries and an avid Google user, said that Scholar has the potential for success, but she sees some limitations.

“I don’t think it will replace the resources available in the library,” LaGuardia said. “It’s still got a long way to go, but there’s promise.”

In addition to retrieving resources on the web, the search engine also finds offline resources like books and journals.

For example, a search for “Thomas Jefferson” directs users not only to a library copy of the Declaration of Independence and a citation of a Jefferson biography, but also to unrelated articles from scholars at Thomas Jefferson University.

And not all of the resources are free, an issue that worries some critics.

LaGuardia said current library resources, like JSTOR (a subscription service to which University affiliates are granted access), give users access to a wide range of free articles that users of Google Search have to pay for.

“This is the one thing that concerns me most,” she said. “I think I’m inclined to let people know how they can work with library resources to get over this gap.”

She also said that in her testing of Scholar so far, she has found the interface more cluttered and not as straightforward as the regular Google search. She also noted that she has found science searches more productive than searches for humanities topics.

LaGuardia said she is looking towards a tool called CrossRef to blend the ease of Google with existing library systems. The utility is being developed by Google in conjunction with 29 major academic publishers.

“It will be the nexus between Google and scholarship,” she said.

Despite criticism, the search engine already has followers at Harvard.

Joshua W. Busby, a research fellow at the Kennedy School of Government’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, tried out Google Scholar over the weekend and called it a “decent first effort.”

“It definitely cuts down the search time a bit,” he said. “In my experience, it came up with some very helpful resources.”

Busby said he typically uses JSTOR and Proquest for research, but said that he expects to use Scholar again in the future. He said that the technology could be improved if it allowed the user to search within specific academic fields, like political science.

Professor of Psychology Marc D. Hauser said he briefly used Scholar and was encouraged by what he saw.

“It’s an incredibly useful source because it takes into account a number of sources,” he said.

Repeated calls to Google were not returned yesterday. According to a press release, the search engine will remain in the “beta” testing stage until the company has determined its usefulness and whether it should remain among Google’s array of services.