Rare Book Monthly

Articles - September - 2007 Issue

Google Scholar -- One More Book-Related Tool from the Internet Giant

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Paris Hilton, both the heiress and the hotel, are subjects of scholarly discussion


By Michael Stillman

In the past, we have taken a look at some of Google's services that relate to books, whether selling, collecting, or using for research. There is Google Book Search, the program which looks to eventually place every book not protected by an enforced copyright online for all to read. Booksellers and book buyers may be more interested in Google Product Search, successor to Froogle, that lets you post books for sale. Here's another book-related service from the online powerhouse: Google Scholar. If what you want does not show up in Google's standard internet search, nor Google Book Search, here is one more venue to try.

Naturally, Google scholar searches for "scholarly" types of works. You won't find a copy of Paris Hilton: The Naked Truth here, no matter how hard you try. It just isn't there. Nor will you find much of anything from the New York Post or National Enquirer. What you will find is the ever-popular Study of Free and Occluded Particulate Organic Matter in Soils by Solid State. This one comes from everyone's favorite magazine, the Australian Journal of Soil Research.

Now that I've convinced you there is nothing you would ever want to find in Google Scholar, let's hold back on the reins for a moment. Certainly Google's description of the type of material included is not designed to generate excitement: "peer-reviewed papers, theses, books, abstracts and articles, from academic publishers, professional societies, preprint repositories, universities and other scholarly organizations." Nevertheless, there is much more here than occluded particulate organic matter. In fact, the elegant Miss Paris Hilton shows up 390 times in Google Scholar. Well, not quite that many times. Some matches for "Paris Hilton" actually refer to her family's hotel in the capital of France. Nonetheless, she shows up many times, of course in a quite scholarly way. For example, an article from the University of Illinois Law Review concerning First Amendment free speech rights mentions her appearance at the Billboard Music Awards when her co-star (but not any more) Nicole Richie exclaimed "F..." As you might expect, Miss Hilton's famous video comes up in scholarly articles about subjects such as the internet and peer-to-peer networks. My favorite is a comment from a George Mason University School of Law research paper that cites Miss Hilton to disprove the old saw that "you can never be too rich." So you see, Miss Hilton is the topic of much intellectual discussion. You no longer have to feel guilty about following her "career."

You will also find much of the more traditional scholarly topics covered in Google Scholar, from the latest in scientific discoveries to the oldest of historical accounts. I did a search for "Richard Mentor Johnson," the obscure American Vice-President who served under the not-so-famous himself President, Martin Van Buren, from 1837-41. Johnson supposedly killed the great Indian Chief Tecumseh in battle, which was enough to get him elected Veep 30 years later. Johnson was an oddball. He had two children with his slave, acceptable enough in the day, but then treated her respectfully and the children as legitimate, not so acceptable. He was dumped from the ticket in 1840, no great loss to him since Van Buren was defeated anyway. A search for Johnson finds 30 matches. Among them is a 2002 doctoral thesis from the University of Massachusetts, which studies miscegenation at the time, and Johnson's breaking all of the rules and customs by living openly with his family. Where else can you find this in depth look at Johnson and his times? Probably nowhere. Google Scholar opens the doors to a new level of information virtually unobtainable before.

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