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Magazines > Information Today > April 2016

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Information Today
Vol. 33 No. 3 — April 2016
Find and Fetch: Completing the Course
By Barbara Quint

In the past year, two of the largest online aggregators serving the academic market—ProQuest and Gale—announced that much of their content will be indexed by Google Scholar. In the case of Gale, the effort may extend to Google’s search engine. Why? A simple statement on Gale’s website makes it clear: “With more than 50 million Google Apps for Education teachers and students worldwide, and an average of over 40,000+ Google search engine queries per second, Google is indisputably the place where people get their answers.”

Plain Old Google?

So it’s the indisputable Google we all knew about (more than 40,000 queries a second-—whew!). But are the searchers who are tapping Google Scholar and finding listings for Gale and ProQuest content really getting answers? Not if the listings themselves do not suffice, unless the searcher comes into Google as an authenticated student or faculty member for a library licensing the content. In the find-and-fetch effort needed for reaching answers, content control by copyright owners or license contracts blocks the fetch function again and again. This kind of limitation is standard practice with library discovery services and linking options from abstracting-and-indexing services. The only expansion beyond campus borders might come from rare alumni outreach programs in which academic institutions offer their alumni or perhaps Friends of the Library access to licensed content. Sadly, such expansion is rare even though it would seem to offer a real way to keep reminding alumni and other potential funding sources of the practical value in staying tight with the universities and colleges from which they came.

Why are there barriers for any interested party to fetch content, even when limited to any interested party who’s willing to pay? Google Scholar has the mechanisms in position. Conduct a search, and you will find listings that link to sites that demand fees. The listings may even include the article’s cost. Why couldn’t libraries that license content charge outsiders who are coming in through Google Scholar a fee for the content? When I asked a colleague who is an expert in licensing all manner of academic marketed content, he replied, “Because our contracts wouldn’t permit it.”

But why won’t they permit it? Why couldn’t clauses preventing such data transfers be removed or rewritten? Whom would it hurt? Whom would it benefit? The grand goal of all information professionals—whether they work in libraries, with vendors, or even at Google itself—is to get the truest, most relevant information to whomever needs or wants it. Even though we work in specific institutional environments with specific clienteles, if we could serve the world without impoverishing our service to those clienteles, we should. Well, Google’s outreach amounts to world service, and connections between it and digital resources shouldn’t impoverish anyone. So that’s one problem solved. Academic institutions have another goal: building their audience, public awareness of their importance, and the quality of their services. Every time a Google Scholar searcher would buy an item from an academic institution, that would promote the institution. It would also provide revenue that could be used to defray the license costs to the institution.

Post-Grad Access

But what about the vendors? At present, one of the greatest threats to long-term vendor success in the academic market is, in my opinion, their failure to provide any access to their content once the student graduates. Most all vendors have made some efforts to reach outside of academe, and some have made strong efforts with some success. But few have been successful enough to warrant major, lasting endeavors. The exception is the legal online market in which the academic efforts are seen as subsidiary to the post-grad sales. But if vendors let libraries and Google Scholar handle the post-grad information issue, this would not stretch their own resources. They could even monitor it to serve as a testing ground for potential future marketing.

In announcing the ProQuest-Google Scholar program, Kurt Sanford, CEO of ProQuest, stated:

These are steps in a larger mission that ProQuest has to support choice for libraries and their patrons. While ProQuest aims to be among the leaders in a movement of vendor cooperation, we are not alone. We applaud all the members of our industry who are taking steps toward the kind of teamwork that breaks down barriers to content, and enables services from different sources to work together.

For many, these are uncharted waters to navigate. Collaborative projects take time, flexibility, and a willingness to look beyond one’s own business models and individual interests. It means respecting the unique structures and technologies of competitors, looking for compromises and innovations that enable content to flourish in new environments. Hard work? Yes, but the pay-off is bigger: we can help to build a far more responsive information universe for libraries and their researchers and patrons.

Sanford also asked for feedback. Consider him fed. Now let’s feed the world of Google Scholar users.

Barbara Quint is senior editor of Online Searcher. Her email address is
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