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Effective Searches

Search Engines vs. Library Databases - A Comparison

“Google can bring you back 100,000 answers.   A librarian can bring you back the right one.” ― Neil GaimanSearch engines, such as Google, look throughout the World Wide Web for information most of which can be freely viewed by anyone with a connection to the internet. Governments, universities, various organizations both non-profit and for profit all post information on their web sites. Along with these types of web sites you can also find a wide variety of other pages such as commercial web sites, personal blogs, and discussion groups all adding clutter to the information available on the “free” web.  Most scholarly information is NOT free on the web and even Google Scholar does not link to all of the articles in the library’s online databases. To find reliable scholarly materials make sure to use a database at the CORE Library.

There is not necessarily anything WRONG with using Google, and it can be a great place to start your research, but should not be your only stop. Google is in essence a “popularity contest”. Google search results are returned in order based on the number of hits a website receives, so it is very easy (although essentially cheating) to manipulate Google in order to have a website come out at the top of the results list.  In 2011, retailer JC Penney was caught doctoring its Google search results by using what is known as "black hat" essence, gaming the system so that JC Penney floated to the top in hundreds of unrelated searches. This is one example of how Google is not the most reliable and trustworthy place to find research.

Authority and Reliability


  Information found using Google, Wikipedia, Bing, or other general search engines is problematic because:

  1. Information is not always evaluated for accuracy and / or reliability
  2. There are no standards in place; ANYONE can publish their opinions or ideas on the internet
  3. Websites may not be reviewed or updated on a regular basis, meaning information can be years out of date


   Library Databases: Information found in library databases is preferred because:

  1. Information is written and submitted by experts in their respective fields (citations available for all information)
  2. Information is evaluated for accuracy and reliability by teams of subject experts and publishers (Peer reviewed and scholarly journals noted in databases)
  3. Content is reviewed and recommended by librarians and faculty


Number of Results Returned and Relevance


  Search engines:

  1. Lack of subject tagging means you may get results that have little to nothing to do with your request.  
  2. Google lacks filters and relevancy ranking...meaning you will likely have to wade through thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of results to find any that are relevant to your search. 
  3. Ranking can be purchased or forged giving false relevance to web pages.


 Library Databases:

  1. Are organized and often grouped by subjects (such as English, History, or Psychology) making it easier to find an appropriate database for your search
  2. You have more control over your results by applying filters for full text, date ranges, and peer-review to your searches...meaning fewer results that are more relevant to your topic  



  Search engines such as Google and Bing:

  1. Are free, and can be accessed from anywhere you have an internet connection.
  2. Sometimes retrieve content that is proprietary, meaning you may have to register and / or pay for access.


Library Databases:

  1. Must be accessed through the library website with your username and password, meaning that only authenticated users (students, faculty) can use the databases.
  2. Contain subscription-based content that is paid for by the Library in part through student tuition and fees.

Stability and Permanence


   Search engines and websites:

  1. Include content that can often change or disappear entirely with no notice. 
  2. Provide information that may not be archived or accessible for later use, making it impossible for other scholars to verify your research.


Library Databases:

  1. Provide *published* material and content which does not change over time.
  2. Information remains in the databases, if not permanently, then for a significant amount of time; information is also accessible through multiple channels making it easy for scholars to verify your research.


Google Scholar ( is a web search engine that searches specifically for scholarly literature and academic resources from publishers, professional societies, online repositories, universities and other web sites. Google Scholar returns not only scholarly journal articles but also research reports, dissertations and theses, preprints, technical reports, patents, working papers, books, court opinions as well as things such as power point presentations, web pages and many other document types it deems scholarly using a built-in algorithm.

Google Scholar is NOT Google.

While Google searches the entire public Web, Google Scholar searches a smaller portion of the Web, similar to searching in the Library's catalog and databases.  There is a more scholarly, authoritative focus with Google Scholar that distinguishes it from Google. Google Scholar is like a federated search allowing you to search in many places at once.   Think of it as a starting place for more precise searching, more search features, and more content use the library's databases.

Learn more about how to search Google Scholar.

Google Scholar Search

Why Can't I Just Google?

How Searching a Database is Different Than Google

What do your search terms match up against? How will knowing that affect the strategy you use when searching a database as opposed to Google?