I’ve heard negative comments about Google before and I’ve not commented on it but I’m in a fightin’ mood today so I’m going to say something this time.
Yesterday a presenter from an academic library made an off handed comments about how she "doesn’t let" her students use Google. When questioned why not, she went on to explain that Google is "unreliable" and "doesn’t use boolean" though it is "sort of built in." (I believe she was attempting to point out that boolean operators are not necessary when searching in Google but are typically necessary in professional databases.) Shortly thereafter she admitted to "sometimes cheating" by using Amazon.com to search for resources on a topic instead using library resources.
Anyone but me got a problem with that? Where to begin?
Well, let’s see. Google is just another tool in a searcher’s arsenal. Nothing more. Nothing less. For some things is may be exactly what the searcher needs to use. Sometimes, not. But to dismiss it out of hand because it doesn’t require the use of boolean operators and that not all of the resources it finds are 100% reliable is intellectual arrogance to the n<sup>th</sup> degree.
If you’ve got a problem with the results that Google finds, teach your students to be skeptical and good information evaluators. Don’t refuse to let them use the tool.
If you’re upset that your students are using the resources we’ve paid tens of thousands of dollars for, you’ve got a marketing problem. That’s not Google’s fault, it’s ours.
If, after the students are completely aware of the paid-for library resources and then still prefer to go to Google (or Amazon.com) first, then I’d blame the interfaces in those databases before I’d blame Google. People like simple. Google is simple. "Professional" databases are not.
If you don’t like the fact that Google doesn’t require a knowledge of boolean operators that’s not Google’s fault either. Google doesn’t require them because <em>it works differently</em> than professional databases. Professional databases index things like title, author, abstract, article content, and a <em>controlled vocabulary</em>. Google does index content but it’s hardly controlled and the relevance algorithm is centers around the number of links to that resource. Ok, it may be a popularity contest and you may not like that it is, but that’s what seems to be working.
I’m not trying to say that boolean shouldn’t be taught. I’m not saying that Google has all the answers. I’m not even saying that Google is always an appropriate tool for research. But none of that means that you should refuse to let someone use it. Really, when you’re dealing with young people, isn’t forbidding them from something just going to make them want to use it more?