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“Just Google It” Abstract

In the summer of 2012, we held a survey amongst scholars, inquiring about their online search practices. The results of this survey were presented in September 2012 at the Digital Humanities Congress Sheffield, titled “Mapping the Use of Digital Sources Amongst Humanities Scholars in the Netherlands“. This August, we hope to publish a (first) paper about the results of this survey in the then launching online journal Studies in the Digital Humanities. This journal will be Open Access, additionally we will make the manuscript available Open Access at the Erasmus University Library RePub, and will publish the survey data Open Access at DANS. I’ll provide the links later on the Publications page.
This paper was co-authored with Martijn Kleppe and Stef Scagliola. Below I provide the abstract we submitted, which undergo some modifications before publication.

Just Google It

Digital Research Practices of Humanities Scholars
Abstract

The transition from analog to digital archives and the recent explosion of online content offers researchers novel ways of engaging with data. The crucial question for ensuring a balance between the supply and demand-side of data, is whether this trend connects to existing scholarly practices and to the average search skills of researchers. To gain insight into this process we conducted a survey among nearly three hundred (N= 288) humanities scholars in the Netherlands and Belgium with the aim of finding answers to the following questions: 1) To what extent are digital databases and archives used? 2) What are the preferences in search functionalities 3) Are there differences in search strategies between novices and experts of information retrieval? Our results show that while scholars actively engage in research online they mainly search for text and images. General search systems such as Google and JSTOR are predominant, while large-scale collections such as Europeana are rarely consulted. Searching with keywords is the dominant search strategy and advanced search options are rarely used. When comparing novice and more experienced searchers, the first tend to have a more narrow selection of search engines, and mostly use keywords. Our overall findings indicate that Google is the key player among available search engines. This dominant use illustrates the paradoxical attitude of scholars toward Google: while provenance and context are deemed key academic requirements, the workings of the Google algorithm remain unclear. We conclude that Google introduces a black box into digital scholarly practices, indicating scholars will become increasingly dependent on such black boxed algorithms. This calls for a reconsideration of the academic principles of provenance and context.

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