Using Google, Google Scholar, and Other Web Search Engines

The Internet is an incredible source of a wide variety of information, and there are some excellent search engines available to help us find this information. Google is one of the most popular and effective, yet professors don't seem to want you to use it. Where do these search engines fit into the research process?

There's a difference between websites and published scholarly articles. Websites can be anything: a sales tool, a personal blog, promotion of a cause, etc. Google was designed to find websites. Lots of websites provide valuable information. Very few websites provide access to scholarly research.

  • If you're looking for general information online, Google is a great place to start.
  • See our tutorial on Evaluating Websites for help with using websites.

But Google's ability to provide the scholarly articles you need for University research is limited.   

To understand when to use Google, it's helpful to understand the relationship between scholarly publishing and the Internet.

Publishers, Online Journals, and Authentication

Scholarly publishing has existed in print for decades. It's easy to understand who has access to printed journals because a copy of each journal issue is delivered to your door - even if your door is a library door. It makes sense that to get them delivered, you must subscribe to them. Many of these subscriptions cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars a year.

Publishers can also create online versions of their journals. There are advantages and disadvantages to this "digitization" of print materials. Although costs associated with physically delivering these journals to customers are saved, it is expensive to mount the documents on servers and maintain programs that provide access. And since publishers still need to be reimbursed for the cost of producing journals, they charge for access. Authentication is used to ensure that only those who have paid for access get access to these journal sites. Subscriptions are required, and when an institution subscribes to a journal, it provides a list of IP addresses of all the computers on campus. The providers ensure that only those computers can access the journals. (This is why you need to use a proxy server for access to our online journals from home.)

Most often, online publications are a duplication of what has been published in print. To publishers and the scholars who use the information, the web is simply the delivery method.

There are publishers and scholars who believe that regardless of the cost of publication, the information should be available free to anyone. These journals (and other publications) are often known as open-access and they're freely available online. Although there are many of these free journals, they are still rare among publishers. In some cases, older volumes of the journal are freely available, but not recent ones. Newer issues are "embargoed" (unavailable for a time period) without a subscription.

Keep in mind that any individual can publish on the web, and these individuals may or may not be scholars.

  • If an online article is not part of an official scholarly publication, you need to use your own judgment to decide if what they've published is legitimate and scholarly.
  • See our webpages tutorials on Evaluating Websites and Scholarly Resources for help with this.

Internet Search Engines

Internet search engines find out what's available on the web by sending out "crawlers". Like little insects, they crawl all over the web looking for new information and websites. They gather what information they can about these sites and send the data back to their home base. They don't have the ability to consider the information or to appraise its value - they only gather and send.

If access to a website is restricted, these crawlers can't get in to find out what's there. Since most scholarly sites have restricted access, these crawlers can only get in if they're given permission. Even if they get permission to have a peek inside and report back, they still can't grant you permission to access what they found. The authentication process prevents access to anyone who doesn't have a paid subscription.

This is why Google can't always find or provide access to the scholarly publications that your Library can.

Google Scholar

Google created Google Scholar to locate scholarly information on the web. To do this, they receive permission from some scholarly publishers to allow their crawlers into databases, to gather information. The crawlers report back on what they've found and provide citation information. Google doesn't tell you which publishers it searches or what is left out, so you don't know where you're searching.

Link to Google Scholar.

  • Always use a link from our website to search Google Scholar, if you want it to recognize you and connect you to our resources.
  • Find a link in Databases A-Z, from the homepage.

Play a video on using Google Scholar effectively See a 7 minute video on Using Google Scholar effectively.

Play a video on using Google Scholar effectively See a longer video created by Google on Using Google Scholar.

As a Google Scholar user, you can search the site, read the citations and click on the links to articles.  

  • If Trent has purchased access to the article, and the provider recognizes you as a Trent person, you will be able to access the document.If the document is publicly available for free, you will be permitted to access it.
    • If not, you will be denied access to the article.
  • Don't pay for articles you find on Google Scholar.  You should be able to obtain them for free through the Trent Library, either through our existing subscriptions or Interlibrary Loan
  • Use the instructions below to authenticate yourself when you're working from off-campus.

Google Scholar does exactly what the library's indexes do: it provides citations to articles that it can find. It hopes to do what students keep asking us to - provide one place to search the entire world of scholarly publications. At the moment, it doesn't do that because only some publishers have allowed their crawlers in. Over time, the number of publishers will increase, and more information will be available, but access to its findings will continue to be restricted to paying customers.

Settings in Google Scholar

We've arranged to have Trent University added as an institution on the Google Scholar site, so that you can access many articles online through their search engine, whether you are on campus or not.

To activate it:

  • Go to Google Scholar.
  • Click on the gear graphic gear graphic in the upper right corner to go to "Settings".
  • Select your preferred settings:
    • What to search for (articles, patents, legal docs).
    • If articles should open in a new window so you don't loose your search page.
    • Under "Bibliography Manager", choose "Show links to import citations into RefWorks" so you can store your results for later retrieval.
    • Save your changes.

Here's a screen capture of this page:

Screen capture of the Settings page in Google Scholar.

Next, set your library affiliation:

  • Click on "Library links " in the left menu. 
  • In the box, enter "Trent University" and click on "Find Library ". It finds our library.
  • Check off Trent University. (Be careful - there's another Trent in Nottingham, England.)
  • Save the setting.

The screen looks like this:

Screen capture of the Library Links page in Google Scholar.

If you save these settings, they should be there the next time you go to the site, but if not, just do the same again.

 

Now, when you search, your results will include links to Trent resources and to RefWorks. (Note: Users who connect to Google Scholar directly and not through through proxy server may have difficulty importing to RefWorks from off-campus. In order to connect via the proxy server and avoid this issue, it is recommended that you connect via the links provided on the Library's Databases A-Z webpage.)

 

Screen capture of results in Google Scholar after adding the Library Links option.

 

If you're off-campus, you'll be asked to login to identify yourself as a valid Trent user. When you search Google Scholar with the Library Links enabled, you can access any article our library has subscribed to. You will not, however, get free access to articles that our library does not already receive online. Use Interlibrary Loan to request these.

Library Indexes and Databases

The Trent library already subscribes to several services that do what Google Scholar is doing. Our indexes provide citations to articles that may or may not be available online or within our library. Most of the time they provide links to the articles, through our Get it! service, and usually these links are proxied to allow off-campus access ( authentication).

The Library's databases are listed on our Databases A-Z and Subject Guides pages - find a link on our homepage. Some cover a certain topic, some a group of journals published by a particular publisher, and some have other, unique purposes. Our databases contain mostly scholarly material that is appropriate for University-level research.

One Place to Search for Everything?

This just doesn't exist yet. Some services are working in that direction, but until all the various publishers can agree on where, how, and who to accomplish it, it won't happen. When it does happen, we might be so overwhelmed by the results we get that we don't know what to do with them.

Librarians refer to this idea as federated searching. It involves putting several databases together for use with one interface (search engine). You go to the interface, choose which databases you want to search, and put in your search terms. Do we love this idea? Yes, and no. When you put all the databases in one place, you lose the individuality of each database that makes it specific and powerful. For instance, the thesaurus search in PsycINFO only works in the PsycINFO database, and in Historical Abstracts you can search for articles about a certain time period. These features would be lost in a general search engine, where broad keyword searches are the norm. On the other hand, we realize that it simplifies the process for most researchers. It makes it easier to find broad subject matter but more difficult to be specific. It also requires more thought in sifting through the results and evaluating their use for your topic, since the results are more varied.

Scholars Portal Journals is a database run by Ontario Universities that's moving toward this goal. It simultaneously searches millions of articles in thousands of scholarly journals from a variety of publishers. But not all publishers are willing to be part of this. Another product called a "Discovery Layer" is used in some libraries; it allows you to search all available resources at once.

For more information on federated searching, try a Google search on "federated searching", or go to The Truth About Federated Searching.

To Google or Not to Google?

There's no right or wrong answer to this question. Google is an excellent search engine and the web is full of useful information. What's important is your ability to distinguish appropriate sources from inappropriate sources, since the library isn't doing any sorting for you when you're on the web.

For help in evaluating the quality of a website, see our  tutorial on Evaluating Websites.

It's also important that you know how and when to put Google aside and use the scholarly indexes that our library pays hundreds of thousands of dollars for each year. This is where the majority of the best research material can be found, and if you graduate from University without knowing how to use them, you've done yourself a true injustice that will probably cost you down the road.

If you want help understanding these concepts, stop by the Information Desk in the library and ask us for help.