Google Scholaring

The book on Collecting in the IT era, is coming on; we now have rough drafts for all the chapters. So, over the last couple of months I’ve been doing a literature survey – and discovered that things are a bit different from when I last did something like this about 40 years ago. If I remember rightly, I got the corporate library to interrogate some online databases for me, selected various items from the resulting printouts, and requested the papers and books that I wanted through the inter-library loan system.

These days it’s a little simpler: you do a search of Google Scholar which produces loads of hits presented as a series of abstracts. You click on the items you’re interested in, and, if you’re lucky, the paper will appear either in your PDF reader or in a web page. If the full version isn’t immediately available, a further search of the net may turn up a copy. Failing that, if you have institutional membership of a publisher’s archive, that may give you access; or else you may be able to pay a fee to get a copy. For books, and for papers which you cannot obtain by any of these options, then it’s back to the inter-library loan system (well that’s what it’s called here in the UK – I assume other countries have similar services). In this case, I found versions of all but 8 papers, on the net; and my co-author was able to obtain 7 of the remainder through his institutional memberships. Of the 22 books I needed, I already had 3, I bought 7 on eBay for less than £5 each (and free postage), and I ordered the remainder through inter-library loans via my local library in Bedford.

Now, I don’t know what percentage of the overall canon of human scientific works is included in Google Scholar’s database; but my initial searches gave me some confidence that it was enough to be very useful. For example, a search for the word ‘Collecting’ in the title, identified 80,900 results. I duly conducted a variety of searches and identified some 270 papers and books, of which about 130 proved useful enough to include in the literature survey. From those items, I identified about a further 15 or 20 papers and books to add to the list.

The process of actually reading and assessing the material, was, of course, hard work; but the mechanics of actually conducting the searches and getting the material was extremely quick and easy – much, much easier than I experienced 40 years ago. And, while Google Scholar may not include everything, it’s likely that any key material missing from Google Scholar will be referenced in the material initially identified. I haven’t spoken to anyone other than my co-author about Google Scholar, so this short overview cannot be considered in any way a thorough assessment. However, for what it’s worth, I think it’s been very effective for my purposes, and I’d certainly use it again.

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