Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Google Scholar and Journal Access

I'm sure others have faced this problem and probably found solutions but I and my colleagues at UW-Eau Claire are struggling with the best way to provide access to journals as we move from print to electronic journals. We are attempting to move most of our subscriptions into electronic format. This is part of the severe budget crisis that public academic libraries in Wisconsin and around the country are facing. We are cutting our subscriptions significantly and in the cases where we are being asked to keep journals that have been little used in print we are changing to digital subscriptions, thinking that at the very least we will save on processing and storage costs. At the same time I worry that our electronic journals will sit unused on virtual library shelves.

Google Scholar may play a larger role as a resource discovery tool in our library as one way of providing access to these electronic subscriptions. (Our current federated search tool is not up to the job. Students have reported using it even after having attended library research instruction sessions where librarians introduce subject specific databases. But that is fodder for another blog posting.) As part of the cancellation process I have been having quite a few conversations by e-mail and face to face with faculty. At one meeting I was surprised to have one faculty member tell me that she was forbidding students from using Google Scholar. Here I was thinking it was our salvation! She was directing students to the databases the library pays a lot of money for so I couldn't fault her for that. So we had a good conversation about how her students did research and how to get students to scholarly journal articles; current scholarly journal articles. She shook my confidence in Google Scholar.

But then, in the afternoon mail I received the current issue of College & Research Libraries. There on page 227 was, "How Scholarly is Google Scholar? A Comparison to Library Databases," by Jared L. Howland, Thomas C. Wright, Rebecca A.
Boughan, and Brian C. Roberts from Brigham Young University. Their research expanded on earlier comparisons by Chris Neuhaus and used an evaluation rubric designed by Jim Kapoun to measure the scholarliness of the articles retrieved. In their research they found that articles found in Google Scholar were 17.6% more scholarly than those found in the library purchased databases. They also found that results were not significantly different across disciplines. They suggest that the same type of study should be carried out with federated search engines.

Finally, they point out that Google Scholar is dependant on cooperation of publishers. And even more significant is that access to the journal articles students using Google Scholar retrieve is dependant on their library subscribing to journal aggregating databases. I wonder if databases, Google Scholar and a good url resolver are becoming more important than actual journal subscriptions. More thoughts on that as we move through this subscription cancellation.

1 comment:

JURN said...

One of the problems with Google Scholar is that, more often than not, users come up against a paywall. One can go for several pages is GS before finding a full-text open access PDF. That's why I recently made JURN, a search-engine that now indexes over 2,500 ejournals in the arts and humanities. It _only_ indexes journals that are free or offer significant free content.