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Please Don’t Use Google To Research References

I’m a huge fan of Information Wants To Be Free, a wonderful blog for librarians by Meridith Wolfwater. I’ll be writing more about her blog later, but I wanted to point out a great article called Whatever you do, don’t use Google.

After we teach our students how to distinguish between authoritative and unauthoritative resources, we need to actually show them how to find such authoritative resources. While our databases are great, they sometimes aren’t the most user-friendly things to search (LexisNexis anyone?). And frankly, these students won’t have access to the databases once they graduate and yet they may still have to do research in their subject area. So it’s nice to show students that there are some great resources in their subject that are freely available on the Web.

There are a ton of great searchable resources on the web that aren’t Google or Google related. Meredith offers a wide variety of great resource to search in her article, but it got me thinking about the issue of everyone going Google or Yahoo! for their searches. It certainly does leave out a lot of great stuff that is out there, just waiting to be explored.

It also leaves out a good process of validation of information. Not everything you find on Google is the truth, nor is it often even close to accurate. It is often conjecture, assumption, and usually opinion rather than fact. Searching for facts often means searching outside of the normal search engines.

I’m very worried about the next generations – hey, even this generation – growing up with an expectation of accuracy on the Internet. It used to be “if it is published in the news, it’s the truth”. While you would think this myth was dispelled, trash papers like the Enquirer, The Star, and Weekly World News are still among the best selling “newspapers”. Now, the motto is “if it’s published on the net, it must be truth”, and while this is so far from any possibility of truth, I hear people quote “facts” from the web all the time. I recently had several friends who are over-educated and wise tell me about “expert” information forwarded to their email from otherwise trustworthy friends – totally bunk information from people on both ends of the email who should know better. If it is on the net or in your email, trust me, it’s likely not true. Check before you spread the rumors and hoaxes around.

Want to know the truth about a rumor you heard? You can explore popular urban legends with Snopes, the Urban Legends Reference Pages.

For more serious research, Refdesk.com is a great online “reference desk” with a ton of resources, news and information, and there is still the traditional Encyclopædia Britannica, a resource many of us turned to long before computers entered our libraries and homes.

For poetry, quotes, sayings, and more reference material, there is the old fashioned dictionary and reference resouce, Bartlebys, home of a wide variety of online and historical encyclopedias and reference books, as well as dictionaries, thesaurus, poetry and verse, quotes, and a wide variety of anthologies and collections online of fiction and non-fiction books.

Meredith mentions ResourceShelf, a fabulous place for online references, and don’t forget that your local library may allow you online access to their library network from home, giving you access to ProQuest Information and Learning educational and reference database, and HeritageQuest, a vast educational and historical genealogy data research site, along with access to online newspapers and other online databases and research.

I’ve talked about trying other methods of searching without using Google, and I’d like to know if you reach outside of the search engine box to search and what you use for online resources, references, and search engines or directories besides Google and Yahoo!. So where do you go when you are looking for good references?

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11 Comments

  1. Posted November 30, 2006 at 3:42 am | Permalink

    I personally think it’s not completely appropriate to say “Dont use Google” for these purposes; Google can be very powerful in searching academic references. One just need to know the reliability of the sources/websites.

    Besides that, there are Google Scholar and Windows Live Academic. You can have a look at a quick review here:http://techgurls.blorc.com/2006/04/17/google-scholar-and-windows-live-academic-a-short-review/

  2. Posted November 30, 2006 at 6:47 am | Permalink

    I study and work in a scientific arena and one thing that we’ve learnt over the years is that Google (especially Google Scholar) while good in helping you narrow down your search words is absolutely useless in finding the right kind of papers you want.

    The funniest thing is when people start referencing Google or worse, source Wikipedia in their References. Not only is that unprofessional, it’s downright embarrassing in the scientific world.

    What I do recommend is to head on to your University library and ask them if they can teach you the proper way of operating their library search because most university libraries would have detailed access to the journals that usually require payment, journals which Google cannot obtain on its own. The search engines for Journals like Oxid or Proquest (in this case relating to Medical Science/Biotechnology) are quite in depth and much more accurate if you took time to learn how it works.

    At the end of it, it will be much more reliable and you get proper journals you need to write papers you need to write. Much better for referencing.

  3. Posted November 30, 2006 at 7:04 am | Permalink

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. While your at it, not Wikipedia either. Do you recall the news story about the morons that published research that was done entirely out of wiki only to discover that it had inaccuracies.
    Wikiality

  4. Posted November 30, 2006 at 7:32 am | Permalink

    I forgot to add that I am a user and supporter of Google, and have written many articles about the various Google search features, including:

    Genealogy Research With Google Book Search
    Genealogy Research on the Google Directory
    Google Offers Historical Newspaper and Archive Searches

    I’m not saying “ban Google search”. I’m saying remember there are a lot of other options, and many of them are not based upon a popularity contest but upon facts and figures, so you are more likely to find truth rather than conjecture, at least more easily as some of the other resources won’t allow conjecture.

    Like broadening the mind, broaden your search options. ;-)

    And honestly, if you are seriously researching a scientific or educational project, like Edrei says, citing such references doesn’t say much for your professional standards.

  5. Posted November 30, 2006 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    Wikipedia gets quoted all the time, but it’s actually quite a bad source because it’s constantly changing.

  6. Posted November 30, 2006 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    I use Google quite regularly, and it can be used effectively. When searching for vetted statistics (on public education, for example), I will often restrict my search to “site:.gov OR site:.edu”.

    Knowing how to use advanced techniques on any search engine is invaluable.

  7. me
    Posted November 30, 2006 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

    Google is a tool. Ditch screwdrivers because people use them to open paint cans, chisel things, or murder with them besides turning screws?

    The issues relate to critical thinking and access.

    Not everyone has online access to libraries collections. If they do great! Use the library’s online sources. If not then they need the skills to approach free online info with healthy skepticism.

    Here’s a good example of how to help people understand how to vet a website/source

    http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/healthywebsurfing.html

    There’s plenty of great, free, non-commercial (and some commercial) information and databases. If Google helps people access it efficiently then USE Google.

    You asked for some good sources, so why not take a look at Internet Public Library http://www.ipl.org/

  8. Posted December 3, 2006 at 12:27 am | Permalink

    My two favorite sources are http://www.firstgov.gov which has a great search engine for all types of government sites and http://www.lii.org, which I use a lot more often than ipl.org (which seems to have more outdated links). I use google/yahoo/etc. every day, but then I’m a librarian. The worst situation for me was trying to educate a younger teacher who just let his kids search willy-nilly with no effort given to teach advanced searching or evaluation. Evaluation is the key, but school librarians are a dying breed as we are generally considered too expensive and unnecessary.

  9. Geoff Dodd
    Posted February 17, 2007 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

    Lorelle,

    Google Scholar has worked for me on the rare occasions I’ve needed such info. The trick is to put specifics into your search string that land you a tiny number of specific pages. Dates, names, key concepts. Thanks again Lorelle for your fine blog.

  10. Posted April 23, 2008 at 10:54 pm | Permalink

    yes, I think Google very powerfull search engine in all aspects, especially to research any objects..

  11. albachtimi
    Posted May 13, 2008 at 11:22 pm | Permalink

    May be You use Contradictive Theory, because when most people use Google to search related content with their needs… And You have an opinion that suggest people don’t use Google to research…

    It’s good article, and make us as internet lovers gives any reaction to this post.


One Trackback/Pingback

  1. [...] Lorelle posted an article recently called Please Don’t Use Google To Research References, and I agree with most of what she says. I especially like that she sends people to Snopes to debunk e-mail rumors. I’m a fan of replaying to forwards about how Bill Gates is going to pay everyone to forward this message with links to that site, which is probably why I don’t get those anymore. Mission accomplished! But I think Lorelle (and her commenters) miss the usefulness of Wikipedia. [...]

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