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Google for Research: Troubleshooting Google Scholar

A guide for those using Google and its tools to do research.

The Way Google Scholar Works

Iceberg - Image credit Britannica Image Quest

Iceberg. Photography. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 17 Feb 2016. http://quest.eb.com/search/139_2008623/1/139_2008623/cite

What do Google Scholar and the iceberg shown above have in common? Often, when we talk about search engines versus scholarly databases, we go into a discussion of the visible versus the deep web. The visible web is easily-crawled by the spiders and data harvesters that create massive web indices for Google, Bing, and other search engines. The deep web is not so easy. The deep web contains things that spiders cannot crawl. Unfortunately, the content in the Deep Web often includes our scholarly databases!

What are some of the limits of using algorithms? Google Scholar employs fewer than a dozen people, and it has a search engine index of academic articles so large that no one knows its exact size. By contrast, companies like Thomson Reuters that produce the Web of Science have thousands of employees. Academic endeavors such as MathSciNet, which employs ~100 people, focus on specific disciplines. Even the Astrophysics Data System, which has a small team, networks with librarians and information specialists around the world to crowd-source some aspects of their information platform.

Google Scholar cannot review the integrity or the quality of the data going into its pipeline. As with the rest of the web, you are working with whatever data Google's spiders can glean. Often, that data has errors. Papers will have garbled titles. Some citations that you cannot click through (which Google harvests from bibliographies) are actually just papers that have been incorrectly cited for decades, so Google can't find the full text and the author can't exactly get credit. Authors may be missing. Entire swaths of text may be corrupted or garbled. Google cannot fix any of this, and they leave it up to the web sites providing the erroneous data to make the edits on their own platforms. Any edits take 6-9 months to show in Google Scholar.

So, should I use Google Scholar? Google Scholar isn't a bad tool — everything has its positive and negative sides. Rather, this guide will hopefully give you some of the tools you need to ensure that you can get to the full text.

Google Scholar Troubleshooting Checklist

Search for the journal you want on this page: http://wa4py6yj8t.search.serialssolutions.com/?L=WA4PY6YJ8T&tab=JOURNALS. If the journal isn't there, we probably do not have it electronically. If the journal is there, look at the date information below its title. You can also use the Citation Linker to look up a specific article.

Do we have it in print? We don't have electronic back files for all of our journals. Search in QuickSearch Books+ for the journal title and be patient. If it's an international journal — which often means that the original language of the journal is German or Russian — there may be some interesting transliteration or translation idiosyncrasies in the library catalog. English-language names are often mapped to the original language's publication name.

We recommend enclosing any journal title in quotation marks (e.g., "Journal of Interesting Science") so the catalog searches for the phrase instead of each individual word. You can also search for the journal by its 8-digit ISSN. (But be careful, as some journals have multiple ISSNs for electronic, print, and some legacy versions.) If you spend more than 20 minutes on this, send your subject librarian an email. 

If you have tried all of the above and we do not seem to have it, use Interlibrary Loan or contact your subject specialist. 

If you tried everything, it says we have access, and you appear to not have access, several things could be going wrong. First, if you are off-campus, double check that you are on the VPN. You can easily do that by visiting this page. If you've lost a VPN connection, that page will tell you. If you are on the VPN or if you have recently come back to campus from a non-campus network, it is probably a browser cookie issue. Clear your browser's cookies for the journal/aggregator's web site and try again. If that still doesn't work, contact your subject specialistYour subject specialist may loop in others, such as the e-resources troubleshooting team.

Trouble? Find Your Subject Specialist!

Sometimes, the citation data in Google Scholar will leave you floundering, and you won't be able to troubleshoot your way out of it. That's what your subject specialist is for! Here is a list on the library page of subject specialists in each department. Each subject specialist has an array of knowledge of resources and tools in the disciplines they cover. If you can't find something, talking to an information expert will often get you what you need.

Find Your Subject Specialist