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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.

Read more about Google Scholar on Google Scholar's About web pages.

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.

Googe Scholar Pros

  • Useful when searching for obscure or very new topics.
  • Useful at the beginning of your research to identify important keywords, journals and authors connected to a particular subject.
  • Useful for verifying a citation or finding a known article (i.e. an article for which you have a citation or at least some bibliographic information like the title). 
  • Results can be linked to Trent's library collecting using the Google Scholar setting Library Links.
  • Usefor for finding pre-print articles, open access articles, and grey literature (e.g. conference proceedings, PhD dissertations), which may not appear in a library database.
  • It shows you how many times an article has been cited.

Google Scholar Cons

  • Doesn't tell you which publishers it searches or what is left out, so you don't know where you're searching.
  • Items retrieved are not necessarily peer-reviewed.  It is unclear what Google's definition of "scholarly" is. Sometimes a Google Scholar search will find fake articles or articles from predatory journals.
  • Does not clearly indicate what type of material is in the results list.
  • Lacks search control and has limited search features. It does not permit sorting or filtering by:
    • Title
    • Author
    • Publication type
    • Study type
    • Disciplinary filed or subject headings

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 menu in the upper left corner (sometimes looks like three horizontal lines) to go to "Settings".
  • Select your preferred settings:
    • What do you want to search for: articles, patents, case law?
    • Do you want articles to open in a new window so you don't loose your search page?  Don't selec this if you want to avoid have too many windows/tabs open.
    • Under "Bibliography Manager", select the name of your citation manager to load - if you're using one.  Select "Don't show any citation import links" if you're not using one.
    • Save your changes.

Next, set your library affiliation:

  1. Click on "Library links " in the left menu. 
  2. In the searchbox, enter "Trent University" and search.
  3. On the list of options it finds, select "Find It @ Trent (Omni) - Find It @ TrentU". (Be careful - there's another Trent University in Nottingham, England.)
  4. Save the setting.

The screen looks like this:

Screen image of Google Scholar Settings for Trent

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.

Screen shot of Google Scholar results with Find It @ Trent U link

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 fully exist yet, but we get closer all the time. Omni, the Library's new academic search tool, is getting closer to this. Omni enables one stop searching of all our print and electronic resources including books, book chapters, journal articles, videos, maps, etc. It is also collaborative project involving 14 Ontario university libraries, so you can limit your search to what's available immediately through the Trent Library, or broaden it out to material held at other libraries. You can also expand your results even beyond Trent and the 14 collaborating libraries.  Omni is not quite Google but you can search in it like you would in Google. If we don't have an item found in an expanded search, automated forms help you request material from other libraries. For more information about Omni, see our Omni guide.

Librarians refer to this idea of searching across all of these resources as federated searching. It involves putting several databases together for use with one interface (search engine). You go to the interface, put in your search terms, and a variety of resources are provided to you. 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 are 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.

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, please don't hesitate to contact us at