Databases have been my dependable (and admittedly sometimes bewildering) colleagues for years. In my profession it is extremely important to have reliable information resources available, and databases provide this service by reviewing, selecting and organising information for their users. However, it seems that Google Scholar is becoming more popular, and having been somewhat ignorant of what it has to offer, I wanted to know more about it.
Google Scholar states that you can “Search all scholarly literature from one convenient place”. To me that seems like a tall order. Having spent my professional career using various databases to get a comprehensive view on a given topic, the idea that now I only need to use one is both intriguing and almost unbelievable. Could it really be that simple? Does Google Scholar really cover everything?
Checking Google Scholar’s Help-pages does not really give you a clear answer as to what publishers or journals Google Scholar covers. As Google Scholar is not a database but a search engine, it indexes articles available on various websites. This apparently does include most (but not all?) academic publishers but also articles from “anywhere across the web”. How reliable this indexing is in terms of quality and scope is hard to determine.
My scepticism with Google Scholar stems from the fact that Google is not really disclosing what is included, how the results are presented and how scientific the material in question is. Much remains a mystery and this lack of transparency is quite worrying.
On the other hand, some studies have shown that although not as precise as traditional databases, Google Scholar can offer good coverage for specific topics and disciplines. Google Scholar is also fairly easy to use and for students it will probably seem much more accessible than the list of databases the library would recommend.
My question is, is that enough? Should we keep encouraging students to use different databases where certain amount of selection and evaluation has been done for them? Or, is it enough to search quickly even though perhaps not as thoroughly? Google Scholar might be an excellent tool when students need to find a few research articles, but is it enough for thesis-level research? Perhaps it can be used as one of many resources available but is it enough on its own? Any comments are welcome!