Science Intelligence and InfoPros

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Google Scholar Vs Web of Science: McDonalds Vs a Gourmet restaurant?!

with 3 comments

The study below is probably the best I ever read (and I have read some!) about Google Scholar compared to paid services…

Hightower, Christy & Caldwell, Christy. Shifting Sands: Science Researchers on Google Scholar, Web of Science, and PubMed, with Implications for Library Collections Budgets. Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship, Fall 2010. Online :

The goal was to discover which article databases science researchers prefer and why, how much Google Scholar and other free article databases are being used, how use and preferences for Google Scholar compare to those for Web of Science (one big costly competitor to Google Scholar) and how researchers would react to being given a choice between spending scarce library resources on keeping article databases or on keeping more journal subscriptions.

While Google Scholar is favored for its ease of use and speed, those who prefer Web of Science feel more confident about the quality of their results than do those who prefer Google Scholar. When asked to choose between paying for article database access or paying for journal subscriptions, 66% of researchers chose to keep journal subscriptions, while 34% chose to keep article databases

Not all traditional fee-based databases (e.g., Web of Science) and not all subject-specific article databases (e.g., PubMed), are in a “death spiral.”.

Google Scholar, while very popular, is used as a secondary database more often than as a primary one.

Researchers value the ease and speed of Google Scholar, but may also perceive its quality and precision limitations.

Google Scholar is a significant database in science and should not be discounted, but it is not likely to replace Web of Science in either the researcher or the librarian’s estimation until its quality improves

In the area of collections, librarians have many opinions regarding the importance of continuing to pay for articles versus the importance of keeping the tools used to find those articles (such as article databases). One of the assertions stated by librarians and faculty alike is that, “all researchers use Google Scholar,” and that, “soon they won’t use licensed databases.”

Ben Wagner, a librarian at the University of Buffalo, made a statement that rings true: “We are running a gourmet restaurant, but all our patrons are flocking to McDonalds.” If so, libraries could cancel some of their “gourmet” databases in order to save some journal subscriptions.

Online survey to University of California Santa Cruz in 2009, students and staff. 220 responses.


  • Science researchers are still using article databases heavily. More than half of the researchers used them daily (52.3%) and another third used them every week (33.2%).
  • The survey showed that researchers used an average of 2.55 databases each.
  • When asked to choose the type of database they used the most, multidisciplinary databases were preferred (59.9%)
  • As predicted, Web of Science and Google Scholar tied for first place as most often mentioned in the “used routinely” category (with 66.8% and 64.4% of researchers voting for each respectively).
  • PubMed (used by 33.7% of all researchers) emerged as the only subject-specific database in this group to rival the two multidisciplinary databases in popularity.
  • Biologists in the study chose PubMed (38.6%) and Web of Science (35.2%) about equally as their single most used database, with Google Scholar coming in second place (18.2%).
  • Everyone Uses Google Scholar” Librarians and faculty alike often assert that “all researchers use Google Scholar.” Based on this study, this is essentially correct. 83% of researchers had used Google Scholar and an additional 13% had not used it but would like to try it.
  • Of those who had used Google Scholar, almost three quarters of them (73%) found it useful.
  • It’s apparent that a large proportion of the study’s Google Scholar users are using it as a secondary source rather than as their primary one
  • When asked to choose between Web of Science and Google Scholar, 47.5% said they preferred Web of Science and only 31.1% preferred Google Scholar
  • Google Scholar had a larger percentage of researchers preferring it because “it’s easier to use” and “it’s faster.”
  • No significant difference in the perceived value of times cited data was expected between researchers who use Web of Science most and those who use Google Scholar most. Surprisingly, the perceived value of times cited information in general was not as high as predicted
  • The availability of alerts does not appear to be a strong factor in database choice between Web of Science and Google Scholar


Written by hbasset

December 7, 2010 at 9:28 pm

3 Responses

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  1. Shouldn’t WOS be subsidized so that all could search and then buy subscriptions? Isn’t searching like browsing/searching a retail catalog? Couldn’t journal subscriptions pay for the search database?


    March 5, 2011 at 5:39 am

  2. […] Scholar Vs Web of Science: McDonalds Vs a Gourmet restaurant?!” December 7, 2010. Available from… Like this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

  3. […] Science Intelligence and InfoPros. “Google Scholar Vs Web of Science: McDonalds Vs a Gourmet restaurant?!” December 7, 2010. Available from… […]

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