The Googleable library – helping users where they are

The other day a faculty member asked me why he couldn’t access his favorite medical journal directly from the publisher’s site – and I didn’t have a good answer.  This leads me to ask: with scholars increasingly starting their research on the open web1, shouldn’t libraries be focusing more on ubiquitous access, and less on discovery?   Shouldn’t we prioritize giving patrons access to library resources wherever they find them?

Where college students begin their search

OCLC Perceptions of Libraries, 2010

Here are 5 ways libraries can become more “Googleable”:

1)  Search engine friendly library catalogs

Our users should be able to find library resources from a search engine.   But this remains a challenge for libraries, as search engine harvesting of vendor catalogs is often poor or non-existent. There are some notable exceptions: OCLC’s WorldCat has been successful at search engine exposure, and libraries at Stanford University and the University of Virginia have built search engine optimized catalogs.  

Try these Google searches to see library catalog results on the first page:

  • schmidt collection of lute and viol music [returns catalog records from Stanford library (Searchworks) and WorldCat]
  • the landscapes of the sublime 1700-1830 [returns catalog record from Villanova University library]
  • overland in 1846 [returns catalog record from University of Virginia]

2)  Google Scholar library link resolver integration

Google Scholar’s Library Links allow researchers to access full-text directly from Google Scholar searches, and has been widely implemented by libraries.  But library links settings are not easy to find on the Google Scholar search page, and many Google Scholar users remain unaware that they can access full-text from off-campus.  North Dakota State University has a good informational page on how to set your library links preferences in Google Scholar.

Google Scholar library links

Setting up linking to library resources in Google Scholar

3)   Shibboleth – direct access to licensed resources from publisher sites

By leveraging open source single sign-on (SSO) authentication services2 such as Shibboleth, libraries can enable access to licensed library resources directly from participating vendor sites:

Shibboleth login

Example of Shibboleth login

4)  LibX – accessing resources from publishers, booksellers, and more

Libraries can implement LibX, a browser extension that gives users the ability to link to library resources from ISSNs, ISBNS, and other standard numbers found on the open web.  Here’s a screenshot showing an Amazon ISBN linking to the library catalog:  

Amazon ISBN linking to library catalog

Amazon ISBN linking to library catalog

And here is an example of a PubMed ISSN linking to full-text via the library’s link resolver:

PubMed LibX linking

Linking to full-text from PubMed

5)  Search engine optimization (SEO) – Finding library services from the web

When library web pages are crawlable by search engines, users can easily find information about library services from the open web.  Libraries can ensure their services pages are Googleable by following Google’s guide to SEO.

Try these examples of library service searches:

  • harvard library hours
  • course reserves u of michigan
  • how long can I check out a book from the library chicago


1. OCLC’s 2010 Perceptions of libraries report found that 83% of college students begin their research in Google, while only 27% ended up at the library’s website.  Faculty use of library discovery tools is also decreasing, as reported by Ithaka S&R’s 2012 US Faculty Survey.

2. Ann Cary’s 2012 paper provides a good summary of library authentication systems, including Shibboleth.

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