Google is not the magic research bullet

Go read Dr. Alan Jacobs’s article, Google-Trained Minds Can’t Deal with Terrible Research Database UI, over on the Atlantic for the back story.

I do wish library research databases were simpler to use for our students and faculty. However, I don’t think Dr. Jacobs’s suggestion to put “greater emphasis…to improve the search tools” is the answer.

1. If you want the Google experience applied to research, then go use Google Scholar. Make sure you set the Library Links option (if you attend or work at an Ohio college or university use this link enabled for OhioLINK) in Scholar Preference settings to be able to access subscription based full-text journal articles paid for by your library.

2. The native JSTOR search interface isn’t that bad. Granted, JSTOR’s advanced search syntax isn’t always intuitive. However, taking 5 minutes or less to figure it out will save you a lot of time and provide better results than using Google. 

3. Librarians can encourage EBSCO, Gale, ProQuest, et al to dramatically improve their search interfaces, expose their metadata to Google, or even license Google’s search algorithm. In the end, however, these research database providers have invested to much of their money in developing their underlying database structure and search interfaces to have much incentive to change and be more like Google.  

4. Those “terrible research database” user interfaces allow you to do a much more precise search. Google gives us good enough results. The clunky research database interface allows the student or faculty member to have greater control over the results returned.

5. I have a hard time believing that Dr. Jacobs could not access the article knowing the citation. He doesn’t provide enough information in the article to fully understand why trying to find the article was such a challenge that an ISSN had to be used.

6. Searching the scholarly literature is only part of the research process. Students and faculty still need to apply human intellect before even going to a search box and relying/expecting an algorithm to do the heavy lifting for them.

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