IEEE Xplore and the Google Box: What’s in the function machine?

I’m a huge fan of Google Scholar. It’s a fantastic tool for finding papers when you have the citation. Much faster than using using the OPAC or some other databases when you know exactly what you’re looking for. The problem is that Google is very opaque with how it works. I liken it to a function machine: you input something and hope the output is what you want. Usually that’s the case, but what to do when the function changes and the output shifts?

IEEE Xplore just found out about that the hard way. From a recent email they sent to subscribers:

We learned that the majority of IEEE Xplore article metadata records had been eliminated from Google search results. This means that anyone attempting to search for IEEE articles by using Google or Google Scholar would be less likely to find IEEE content. Because half of all IEEE Xplore traffic comes through Google searches, particularly among our corporate customers, this could result in a significant drop in your IEEE Xplore usage.

In investigating the current issue, we learned that Google had changed its indexing policy regarding IEEE Xplore. In April 2010, Google decided to discard their previous IEEE Xplore metadata index and completely rebuild an index of over 2.5 million IEEE Xplore metadata records.

How long had this been an issue before IEEE or its subscribers figured it out? How many people were using Google or Google Scholar after being told it’s OK, only to be disappointed or confused by not finding what they need? I hope Google re-indexes things quickly, and as the SLA Gov Info blog points out, searching IEEE Xplore directly is the still the best way to access the material, I know most people will still just try Google first off. The question is, will they then try Xplore or just give up?

What’s wrong with people who Google?

Absolutely nothing.

LIS News linked to a story on ZD Net called, I love Google… don’t tell the librarian!.

I don’t think that her librarian is alone in her dislike of Google. Unfortunately, despite its outstanding search algorithms and wide variety of free, value-added resources, it gets a bad name with library scientists since so many students use it to the exclusion of other print and electronic materials. Wikipedia is much the same; when used as a starting point for research, questions, and discussion, it’s an incredible tool. When used to cut and paste into a paper without any learning involved (as the first few hits of any Google search invariably are), then it loses any value as an educational tool.

The other resources (whether in print, online, or as local data stores) that librarians can provide for students are incredible as well, but Google and the like are accessible anytime, anywhere. Teachers, library scientists, parents, and anyone else with influence in students’ lives need to educate young people in how to exploit everything that Google (and the rest of the Web) has to offer, instead of populating plagiarized papers with superficial bits of meaningless information.

I don’t think I know any librarians personally who really dislike Google. It’s a great tool. Sometimes when people are looking for specific facts or data, a quick Google search will satisfy their information need just as much as a trip to the library. There was a bit of Google panic five years ago, but it seems that most libraries have worked on incorporating tools like Google in their arsenal. That’s progress.

Christopher Dawson is right though- students need to learn how best to use Google. Many times a simple Google search will yield too many results and overwhelm the researcher. Wikipedia is a good starting point as well to get a rough idea of a topic, but neither Google nor Wikipedia should be the ending place. I think most people know that or are starting to figure it out, so there’s no need to panic. I often do outreach to different student groups about my library and I’m surprised by how sheepish they act when I ask if they use Google Scholar like it’s a four-letter word. That’s sad to me. I don’t know if they feel that way because some bun-head has chastised them for using it or if they worry they’re going to put librarians out of a job. Whatever it is, often it’s clear to me that these students don’t make the connection that the only reason Google Scholar is a powerful tool for them, giving them instant access to many full-text articles, is because their library pays for the licensing for electronic access.