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Let’s face it: the combined ease and habit of Googling for information affects just about everyone in academia: undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, and librarians. There are a number of reasons for, and consequences of, the seeming stronghold that search engine utilization has on information search and retrieval – some of them good, some of them not-so-good. But all of them are inherently valuable in that the more we know about patterns and tendencies in information-seeking strategies, the more we can understand:

  • What needs are initially being met there;
  • How to gently re-route those actions along whatever path we’d prefer they follow; and
  • How to meet any current Googlers right where they are, in their moments of need.

The Backstory

chrome extension - civil war exampleIn early 2015, ACI unveiled the ACI Google Search Chrome Extension, which automatically displays the top 3 most relevant scholarly blogs from ACI’s editorially-curated collection each time a user runs a Google search. Available in the Google Chrome Webstore, the ACI extension injects credentialed blog links from the ACI Scholarly Blog Index directly into the Google search results page, which display seamlessly as the first 3 results on the page.

“The idea is that universities and other institutions can have this automatically installed in user’s Google Chrome via the ‘Chrome for Work’ functionality,” explains Christopher Moyer, Vice President of Technology at ACI Information Group. “Students could automatically have this plugin installed for them by their library, and individual ACI users can also install the plugin on their own computers.”

So why an ACI Google Search extension? What user needs does it meet, and why on earth do the faculty, staff, and students at your institution stand to benefit from it? In this article, we’ll take a look at the observations and ideas related to the prevalence of search engine use as it relates to academia that made ACI take pause and ask ourselves two crucial questions:

  • Given these observations, how can we help to address, shape or re-route the not-so-good usage of Google in information-seeking behavior?
  • Given these observations, how can we support and enhance the good usage of Google in information-seeking behavior?

“Google has everything I need.”

Ouch. For better or worse, some people will begin their academic research on a search engine without any intention of exploring any other options. This is something that is bemoaned by faculty and librarians the world over; the databases and collections they work so hard to teach and promote are – by this group – entirely left by the wayside for as long as those users can stand it.

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Those dedicated in academia experience real issues with this, and know full well that those students who do that will not be able to fully reap the rewards of a fulfilling education. And it’s not always an easy deficit to identify, either; some students who haven’t yet experienced the exhilaration that research in a credentialed collection can yield may go to any lengths – such as Googling for the abstracts they’ll pull from for their pristine bibliographies – before succumbing to the library’s valued collection of resources. Of course, we all want them to utilize the library’s information collections, and the idea (or hope) is that, eventually, they will – but the trick is getting to those that are – right now – still determined to “Google” it.

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ACI’s Chris Moyer expanded on the need to address this. “We were researching how to get students to stop “just googling” every time they were doing any sort of research,” he says. After exploring the possibilities and working to configure the plugins that could inject the code into a user’s Google search results page, Chris found that the results of those efforts led to something that, ultimately, proved to be as navigation-friendly as it was meaningful to the searcher.

“It was a simple task that took a few days to get content from our APIs into a Google search page if you have the extension installed, and it’s something that fits right in with the workflow users are already doing,” he explains. “If the search results are right there, unified into their existing google results, there’s no reason not to use ACI when you’re researching.”

Google as a short-term goal.

botanySome people will begin their academic research on a search engine, with the goal of moving onto peer-reviewed journals and other scholarly resources once some initial informational baseline is established. In some cases, the goal is for identifying potential keywords or subject-specific phrases that may be more effective in that later scholarly-based search. For those with this goal in mind, such search-and-identify might prove helpful to those unfamiliar enough with the topic at hand that going straight into a database search (in some databases, at least) at that stage of unfamiliarity may be overwhelming at best or entirely unsuccessful at worst.

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In other cases, the goal is less focused on potential search strings and more focused on a sort of preliminary investigation of the topic itself. In those situations, users may be aiming for a birds-eye, “for dummies” view of the broad definition or significance of a given concept. For example, an undergraduate taking an introductory economics course might pore over the definitions of austerity in his or her textbook, or creatively probe the instructor for an a-ha-moment something-or-other that finally lets them understand a concept that they know must be simple (or, at least, comprehensible)… but isn’t just yet.

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Google as a tool for after-hours surfing, professional development, or both.

This one will especially apply to faculty, graduate students, and some dedicated senior undergraduates. Why? Because they’re more deeply entrenched in the field(s) they’ve either entered into, or are starting to enter into, for their life’s work. The undergraduate taking Introductory Biology may or may not be interested in identifying and learning about new or exciting concepts in biology, but those for whom biology is a decided lifelong interest will be more likely to find interest – outside of academic or work-related necessity – to want to explore the information that’s out there, identify the thought leaders in their discipline, or connect with like-minded peers or other institutions for collaboration.

There’s also the idea of scholars wanting to tread the environment in other areas, to gain some knowledge or insight that’s outside of their own disciplines. For those scholars, the blogs of other experts are often a great way to explore those outside fields of interest. Dr. Jalees Rehman, an ACI Spotlight author and academic blogger, noted this in the February 2015 ACI InSights Newsletter: “I find that blogging reminds me to think about the significance of my research. Blogging also inspires me because I tend to read journal articles and blogs of colleagues with a broad range of interests, and I sometimes try to apply their concepts in my own research.”

In addition, the idea of professional development is one area where blogs are often utilized as tools because of the weight a credentialed expert in a given field has for recommendations on further reading or explorations of commentary. Because the ACI Chrome Extension shows the top three scholarly blogs for those searches, those faculty (and students) doing some after-hours exploring can access credentialed opinion and academic contributions in those other disciplines right off the bat.

I think there’s a lot of potential here, and we certainly have the ability to expand this functionality down the road (such as adding additional metadata).
Christopher Moyer, Vice President of Technology, ACI Information Group

See how the extension might benefit your institution. Try it for yourself: watch this YouTube video for more information, or visit the ACI Google Search Chrome extension page today and start getting curated academic blog results for your faculty, staff, and students searching on Google.

Quotes from Learning the Ropes: How Freshmen Conduct Course Research Once They Enter College
by Alison J. Head, PhD, Project Information Literacy Research Report
December 5, 2013

… [M]any freshmen, who assumed everything they needed to know was just a Google search away, soon discovered they were unprepared to deal with the enormous amount of information they were expected to find and process for college research assignments.

… [O]f course, not all new college students were “terrified” about getting through their first year; some simply stuck to Google and the other strategies they had used in high school. Others were interested in going beyond these strategies, but were worried about getting mired in the weeds of research. Librarians and faculty could steer these students in the right direction—but this got them only so far.

… [A] large majority said they were challenged by figuring out keywords for unlocking the wealth of academic sources available to them through their campus library’s portal. Some said they used Google in a two-step workaround. In the first step, these students did a Google search to see what keywords popped up, and then they placed some of these terms in a library database’s search engine

Quotes from the Survey Trends Report: Lifelong Learning Study Phase Two: Trends from the Online Survey, “Preliminary Trends about Recent Graduates’ Lifelong Learning Needs and Practices”
by Alison J. Head, PhD, Project Information Literacy Research Summary
February 17, 2015

[On] trends about recent graduates and their lifelong learning information practices…

… [A]bout half (49%) of the graduate sample that frequently visited social networks sites or blogs in their personal lives reported using the same resource in the workplace. Similarly, over two-fifths of the pool of graduates (44%) who used sources like open access or scholarly research databases for workplace purposes, consulted the same sources in their personal lives.

… [O]ver two-fifths of the pool of graduates (44%) who used sources like open access or scholarly research databases for workplace purposes, consulted the same sources in their personal lives.

[I]nstead of jumping online to do a lightning-quick search on Google, we found graduates were more likely to turn to their supervisors (98%), co-workers (97%), or to a lesser extent, their friends (49%) for workplace learning.

Quote from yours truly, referring to public librarian ready reference in a really old Library Journal article.

Given the mental stamina devoted to answering long-winded reference questions the best we can and the long hours we spend staring at words on a page and on a computer screen, we shouldn’t challenge the hard-earned standards of a coworker who googles a company zipcode rather than walking the mere 20 feet to fetch the 100-pound zip code directory from its shelf. To ignore Google’s resourcefulness is to ignore a potentially useful – and thus valuable – resource at our fingertips.