Saturday, September 20, 2008

Web of Science v. Google Scholar

I recently embarked upon the characteristically academic task of doing a citation analysis on a few articles I’m using for a research project. Google Scholar and ISI’s Web of Science were the two search engines/databases that I used. Of course, I’ve got some thoughts here…especially as libraries are concerned.

I was particularly struck by the stark differences in results that Google Scholar yielded and the results found when using ISI’s Web of Science. At first glance this may seem like stating the obvious, however this experience with citation analysis crystallized a point that I have been ruminating upon for awhile. Libraries are not disappearing, nor are librarians. They still matter, though they matter differently, and the key features of libraries exist as facilitation to access information and the expertise to curate and consult.

Without the radical juxtaposition of this citation analysis it would be easy to believe that Google results are significant enough and that using a library database is cumbersome and ends with results of similar utility (granted, this belief is largely bound up in perceived ease of usability with the respective databases). Being able to examine the different results and then assess the appropriateness of the sets to academic research sharply delineated the difference between a “social” search engine like Google and an “academic” search database like Web of Science. Of note, there was no overlap in my results and Google yielded two international documents as well as unpublished papers (with no citations to them) available only on faculty websites. ISI’s Web of Science yielded peer-reviewed journal articles with significant citations to each article. I continued to discover that my original article characterized an instance of a citation network whose impact and research context included both peer-reviewed published articles and unpublished scholarly work. In fact, the most recent reference was unpublished with no citations to it. This observation that both searches yield different results supports a potential argument for using Web of Science and Google Scholar in a complementary fashion, just as it supports a claim for criticality when evaluating the results.

Unfortunately, it seems that most searchers, and even researchers, can find themselves viewing these two products as nearly interchangeable. As a caveat though, my particular example might not be typical of the majority of searches when using Google Scholar and Web Science. Even so, the fact that my original article has influence and impact on a wide variety of scholarship and response shows that these tools work best when used in a complementary fashion and with clearly defined research questions. It makes sense to have an awareness of context and what one is looking for, and to consider this when using various search strategies (i.e., subject search, article/citation search and analysis), just as it is rewarding to have a “literacy” about the information tools at one’s disposal.

1 comment:

brownstudy said...

I used Buckland's "What is a document" for my analysis, and found the results split roughly into thirds: ISI, GS, and overlap between the two. The GS search was good for finding books that cited the article and a few journals off the beaten path (one called "Social Epistemology"). I think it's interesting that it's cited as often in info-retrieval, engineering-type articles as it is in more philosophically questioning articles.

Of course, my analysis wasn't complete. GS found 138 references and ISI only 30, and I only captured the first 30 GS hits. Don't know whether GS would have included the remaining ISI articles.