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Is Google enough? Comparison of an internet search engine with academic library resources

Jan Brophy (Department of Information Science, City University, London, UK)
David Bawden (Department of Information Science, City University, London, UK)

Aslib Proceedings

ISSN: 0001-253X

Article publication date: 1 December 2005




The purpose of the study was to compare an internet search engine, Google, with appropriate library databases and systems, in order to assess the relative value, strengths and weaknesses of the two sorts of system.


A case study approach was used, with detailed analysis and failure checking of results. The performance of the two systems was assessed in terms of coverage, unique records, precision, and quality and accessibility of results. A novel form of relevance assessment, based on the work of Saracevic and others was devised.


Google is superior for coverage and accessibility. Library systems are superior for quality of results. Precision is similar for both systems. Good coverage requires use of both, as both have many unique items. Improving the skills of the searcher is likely to give better results from the library systems, but not from Google.

Research limitations/implications

Only four case studies were included. These were limited to the kind of queries likely to be searched by university students. Library resources were limited to those in two UK academic libraries. Only the basic Google web search functionality was used, and only the top ten records examined.

Practical implications

The results offer guidance for those providing support and training for use of these retrieval systems, and also provide evidence for debates on the “Google phenomenon”.


This is one of the few studies which provide evidence on the relative performance of internet search engines and library databases, and the only one to conduct such in‐depth case studies. The method for the assessment of relevance is novel.



Brophy, J. and Bawden, D. (2005), "Is Google enough? Comparison of an internet search engine with academic library resources", Aslib Proceedings, Vol. 57 No. 6, pp. 498-512.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2005, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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