• April 19, 2014

A Librarian Loses Her Way in Google Scholar

To the Editor:

For years now I've been teaching Google Scholar in library-instruction classes for advanced students because it has some features lacking from a lot of very expensive commercial databases (for example, it lists the number of cites per article/book and the "related articles" feature). When I taught Google Scholar to graduate students in education, I would show them the advanced-search features rather than the all-purpose big, ugly search box presented at the Scholar Web site. Features in advanced-search mode included restricting your search to various disciplines so that education students could confine their search to the social sciences and humanities.

Recently, I noticed that the advanced-search feature had disappeared from view completely. For a while, Google hid it under a little gear icon, and then even that disappeared. Now it is part of a pull-down option that appears and disappears annoyingly as you try to fill it from the big, ugly box. Google's geeks have removed the ability to filter by discipline, which was a wonderful feature. When I tried to figure out where I can complain to the Google moguls about this problem, I couldn't find any contact information at all on the help pages or the "Contact Us" page. In fact, trying to contact any real person at Google is impossible. They want to you join some idiot discussion forum rather than send a simple e-mail to someone who actually knows something.

It is too bad that Google does not realize that Google Scholar is a tool for scholars and that most scholars need to do more precision searching than the average high-school student or undergraduate. Taking the advanced-searching functionality out of Scholar (and Google Books, I might add) is a mistake, but good luck trying to tell someone at Google that. I'm now thinking of putting Google Scholar as a research tool on the back burner simply because the computer geek who is putting his or her stamp on the changes to the search engine simply does not know anything at all about how scholars or advanced students actually do their work. We want more, not less, powerful features as options for finding information.

Susan Ariew

Academic Services Librarian for Education and Philosophy

University of South Florida

Tampa, Fla.

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