Google introduced a brand-new concept with Google Scholar [http://scholar.google.com]--specialized search aimed at finding scholarly information on the Web. With an initial focus on research articles from publishers participating in the CrossRef project and several collections of online preprints and other major scholarly sites, Google established a new approach to a broad range of scholarly literature (although its original coverage was stronger in science and technology than in the social sciences). In true Google fashion, the new search tool not only displayed links to individual documents, it also included citation references extracted from other documents using special algorithms developed at Google.
Some librarians decried this poaching of our information space, while Google advocates foresaw Scholar as the first and only source for research information. We have seen this type of rhetoric before. Remember when Google launched Google Answers back in 2002? The ensuing hue and cry bemoaned how this would compete with library reference services. Google Answers continues as a fee service, but it is certainly not a major Google money-maker, nor has it caused the death of library and information services anywhere.
Is Google Scholar destined for a similar fate? Time will tell whether it becomes a major access tool and replaces some of the traditional indexing and abstracting services or ends up as yet another orphaned initiative. In the meantime, it offers certain benefits and uses, as do several other free Web-based scholarly search tools such as Scirus. Unfortunately, none are even close to comprehensive. Each tool covers one segment exclusively or in very different ways.
THE FREE SCHOLARLY TOOLS
Google Scholar is just one of the more recent additions to a long line of academic, scientific, and other scholarly Internet search tools. In the early days of the Web, bibliographic databases such as UnCover and Agricola were available along with many library catalogs. Now many more bibliographic databases exist along with working papers, preprint and e-print collections, free journals, and many other specialized scholarly resources.
Hundreds of free, academic-oriented tools are available; hundreds of commercial ones are available as well. Academic libraries subscribe to a multitude of commercial online bibliographic and full-text resources and create links to many of the free tools. Covering all of these tools is well beyond the scope of this column, so I'll just take a look at two of the broad, multi-disciplinary free Web resources, with some comparison to commercial resources.
One of Google's great advantages is its incredible public relations ability and the general buzz it creates with new announcements such Scholar. If use of Google Scholar rises, it may help lead more users to an institution's subscriptions. Elsevier's Scirus, which has similar coverage to Google Scholar and has been around longer, is a less-well-known scientific search engine covering journal articles and Web sites.
Google Scholar aims to include "peer-reviewed papers, theses, books, preprints, abstracts, and technical reports from ... academic publishers, professional societies, preprint repositories and universities, as well as scholarly articles available across the Web" (see http://scholar.google.com/scholar/about.html). Basically, Google Scholar includes Web pages that either look like an article or other scholarly document.
Even after 6 months, although still in beta, Google will not release a list of sources. However, it's clear that Scholar includes journal articles from various publishers, abstracts from bibliographic databases, and data from e-print servers. Some prominent collections include ACM, Annual Reviews, arXiv, Blackwell, IEEE, Ingenta, Institute of Physics, NASA Astrophysics Data System, PubMed, Nature Publishing Group, RePEc (Research Papers in Economics), Springer, and Wiley Interscience, although not all in their entirety. …