Happy Birthday! Google Scholar Turns Ten

ScholarDo you use Google Scholar?  November 18th marked the 10th anniversary of the search engine that boasts that it helps scholars “See Farther Faster”.  The brainchild of Google search engine staff Alex Alex Verstak and Anurag Acharya, Scholar now provides access to over 160 million scholarly articles.

Scholar allows an “everything but the kitchen sink” approach to searching, so that the more terms searched, the better results can be relevancy ranked and presented to users.  Unlike many databases, Scholar searches full text of articles, patents, legal citations, conference papers & posters, and books, as well as other meta-data associated with the item, then relevancy ranks results using an algorithm that weights items cited more often. This presentation of results highlights classic or influential writings on a topic, while a date range feature allows users to refine results to more recent years.

Scholar offers useful features that have been developed over its first ten years:

  • Search all scholarly literature from one convenient place
  • Explore related works, citations, authors, and publications
  • Locate the complete document through your library or on the web
  • Keep up with recent developments in any area of research
  • Download citations to citation management tools, such as Bibtex or EndNote
  • Check who’s citing your publications, create a public author profile

While Scholar can be a powerful tool for discovering the literature by an author or on a topic, it should be only one stop in the researcher’s journey.  Scholar is not without pitfalls.  Predatory journal expert Jeffrey Beall recently warned that Scholar is opening the doors to “junk science” by failing to be selective enough in its inclusion criteria. Beall proposes that, “To remain relevant and valuable. Google Scholar needs to limit the database to articles from authentic and respected scholarly publications. . .”

Using Scholar in conjunction with resources such as PubMed, EMBASE or Web of Science, as well as common sense, good critical appraisal skills, and knowledge of the literature of a field can mitigate the effects of Scholar’s lack of selectivity.

The last ten years have been a period of tremendous change in the world of online research.  Google Scholar has been there every step of the way innovating and evolving.  Scholar should continue to remain relevant and useful to researchers, providing one valuable tool in a large toolbox of literature search tools.


[Lynne M. Fox, Education Librarian]