OAIster reaches 10 million records
In the blog, the author Heather Morrison quotes Roy Tennant, the User Services Architect at the California Digital Library, relating his experience comparing the results from searching OAIster to searching using the same terms in Google. OAIster has several advantages over Google type search engines. Google and other search engines crawl web pages and index all the words all the words contained on a page, where as OAIster searches metadata elements in records, such as author, title, subject, etc. OAIster works by tapping into collection of a variety of institutions using the Open Archives Initiative (OAI) Protocol for Metadata Harvesting.
With OAIster having reached 10 million records in 2007 when this blog was posted, I imagine that the results would be even more stark now after an additional 5 years of record harvesting. I decided to conduct my own OAIster harvest and compare the results to a search through the Google bay.
I accessed OAIster at http://oaister.worldcat.org/ and decided to look for something a bit silly first. I have bobtail cats and one of them is cross-eyed, and the fancy medical term for “cross-eyed” is medial strabismus. I wanted to find out whether or not being cross-eyed and bobtailed was a common thing for cats. This first search was a bust for comparisons, because both tools had no results for “bobtail cat” and “medial strabismus.” Though, Google gave me a ton of results that were barely related to my search, including lots of records that contained the word media, whereas OAIster soundly admitted defeat and didn’t give me any worthless records. I simplified my search to “medial strabismus” and cat, and the very first result from Google was titled “Strabismus and Astigmatism in cats” whereas OAIster had no records again. The sixth result on the Google search was a scholarly resource, Neurology for the Small Animal Practitioner,” a book authored by Cheryl L. Chrisman and available in it’s entirety through Google Books. Google was the clear winner when it comes to learning about cross eyes in cats, but one extraordinarily niche topic isn’t enough to count Google as the winner. I decided to give the title to whichever record wrangler gave me the best 2 out of 3 results.
I decided to stick with cats, because with Dr. MacCall being such a dachshund fan, I felt cats needed some metadata love. As anyone who has ever been around a cat knows, it often seems as if they are on drugs, so I wanted to know what actually happened to cats when they are on drugs. I searched “cocaine cat” on OAIster and on Google (not Google scholar). The first three results from OAIster were “Effects of cocaine on the rate of contraction to noradrenaline in the cat spleen strip:mode of action of cocaine.”, “Effects of cocain and antidepressant drugs on the nictitating membrane of the cat,” and “Effects of cocaine or denervation on responses of isolated strips of cat spleen to noradrenaline and isoprenaline.” Those are clearly some scholarly stuff, and I could learn a lot about how cocaine acts in different cat body systems by actually reading the articles provided to me in full text through OAIster. This is the first result on Google:
The second result is more serious and titled “Illicit Drug Exposure in Cats” but it is on a site called “Pet Place” and not a trusted peer reviewed journal. The third result is someone asking “What happens if you give a cat cocaine” on Yahoo Answers. In the fourth result, some truly evil people have videoed what their cat did after they gave it cocaine. So, not only are these results not particularly helpful, but they can raise your blood pressure and get you angry, when all you wanted was some scholarly research! It’s a bit unfair to compare straight google with OAIster when it comes to scholarly resources, so I ran the search through Google Scholar also. The first three results were all from scholarly journals, but the second result was not actually about cocaine results in cats, google had picked up the word “cat” in the phrase “time cat.” Also, because OAIster only searches open archives, all the results you get will lead you to a record that you can read in full text, whereas only one of the three top searches in Google scholar lead to a full text PDF. When it comes to scholarly articles about the result of cocaine on cats, OAIster wins this research round.
Now for the tie breaker. We’ve searched for cross-eyed cats, and coked up cats, how about some crazy cats? I’ve known a few people who have had to give their cats antidepressants, like kitty prozac, because of cat behavioral issues. I decided to search for “antidepressants and cat” in OAIster and Google. The first result in OAIster was related to what I wanted, but the next two results were thrown off because the word “cat” is also located in “CAT scan.” I decided to take advantage of what OAIster has to offer and try an advanced search. I guessed that any articles I wanted would likely have cat in the title, and so put antidepressant and cat through a title search. I was left with a single result, “Effects of cocaine and antidepressant drugs on the nictitating membrane of the cat.” which had been the first result before the advanced search. The first three results on Google were about cats and antidepressants, but one was an article on treatment for urination issues on “Pet Place” and the other two were links to pet forums. Though I had a page full of results related to antidepressants and cats, not a single one was a scholarly source. A search through Google Scholar, however, brought me the exact same article as the number one result I got from OAIster, and half the results on the page were also related, though Google had also included “CAT” scans in their results. The first article was the only one available in a full text PDF, so in terms of actually accessing the scholarly material, this search put OAIster and Google at a tie on this question.
A tie breaker that ends in a tie? I don’t know how many more alliterative cat searches I can come up with! How about “cool cats?” We all know cats are the bees knees, but what happens when they get too cold? I searched “hypothermia and cat” in OAIster and Google. Once again, the first three results in OAIster were scholarly and on point, “The effect of aminosteroid, ORG 6001, on hypothermia induced ventricular fibrillation in the cat.”, “Effects of hypothermia and anoxia on retention of noradrenaline by the cat perfused heart.” and “Electron Microscopy of Cat spinal cord subject to circulatory arrest and deep local hypothermia.” Through a main Google search, the results were related to hypothermia and cats, but were not from scholarly sources. In Google scholar, the results on the first page were mostly about cats and hypothermia, but only two of the articles were full text, and one of those was not about cats but had picked up another use of “CAT.” I think that this leads OAIster to be the winner in this round, but it’s close, as the next few pages in Google scholar do lead to several more full text resources about the effects of hypothermia in cats.
My conclusion from the results of the cross-eyed cat, coked up cat, crazy cat, and cool cat search test lead me to a few conclusions. The first conclusion is that Google (not Google Scholar) is basically useless when it comes to finding a scholarly search on the first page, and probably on the second and third. If you are looking for scholarly resources, going to Google alone is going to lead to a lot of headaches. My second conclusion is that though OAIster was the winner of this search round, Google Scholar is not bad as a close second. Google Scholar also offers an advanced search that you can use to return articles from particular journals, by particular authors, and you can search for words in the title only. There is not an option to limit the results only to what would be freely available (a free full text search), but it looks to me as if Google is pulling from some of the same records that are available to OAIster.