One of the most interesting things about a job like mine is seeing how the way that students access information changes over time. When I started working at the College we had about 8 resources available through Athens; now there are 30. It was also true that most of those services focussed exclusively on online journals, whereas now we can also offer our users access to market research, official reports, case studies, statistics, ebooks and much more.
All of which brings us to Google Scholar; this service has been up and running for over 2 years, but recently quite a number of students have been making enquiries about what it is, how it works etc. Basically, Google Scholar is much like one of our Athens services, in that it searches through a mass of 'scholarly' documents and finds items that it thinks you might be interested in. A typical search will tend to return thousands of results, leading some users to question why they still need to bother with online resources provided by the College.
It's true that Google Scholar can sometimes point you towards useful documents for your research. However, a number of points should be kept in mind before giving it a try:
- Google Scholar very rarely offers full text access to documents, and those that are available tend to be relatively old. You will often find that articles you uncover using the service are actually freely available to you if you choose an Athens service and access them from there.
- Google has never defined what it means by a 'scholarly' document; in other words, you can't always be sure that what you find would be acceptable for inclusion in an academic database
- There's no list of titles available to show which journals are indexed by Google Scholar, so you don't know which titles you've already searched through and which ones you still need to check
- Even when using the advanced options, the ways in which you can narrow your search are relatively limited compared to most of our Athens services
What's the moral of all this? There is probably a place for Google Scholar alongside the online services that the College provides, but it needs to be used with caution. I tend to use it only for finding information when I've exhausted all other possibilities, but perhaps some of you have had different experiences? Feel free to leave a comment on this post and share your observations...