Hagendorn and Santelli (2008) just published an interesting article on the comprehensiveness of indexing of academic repositories by Google. This article triggers this me to write up some observations I was intending to make for quite some time already. It addresses the question I got from a colleague of mine, who observed that the deep web apparently doesn’t exist anymore.
Google has made a start to index flash files. Google has made a start to retrieve information that is hidden behind search forms on the web, i.e. started to index information contained in databases. Google and OCLC exchange information on books scanned, and those contained in Worldcat. Google so it seems has indexed the Web comprehensively with 1 trillion indexed webpages. Could there possibly be anything more to be indexed?
The article by Hagendorn and Santelli shows convincingly that Google still has not indexed all information that is contained in OAISTER, the second largest archive of open access article information. Only Scientific Commons is more comprehensive. They tested this with the Google Research API using the University Research Program for Google Search. They only checked whether the URL was present. This approach only partially reveals some information on depth of the Academic Deep Web. But those are staggering figures already. But reality bites even more.
A short while ago I taught a Web Search class for colleagues at the University Library at Leiden. For the purpose of demonstrating what the Deep or Invisible Web actually constitutes I used and example from their own repository. It is was a thesis on Cannabis from last year and deposited as one huge PDF of 14 MB. Using Google you can find the metadata record. With Google Scholar as well. However, if you try to search for a quite specific sentence on the beginning pages of the actual PDF file Google gives not the sought after thesis. You find three other PhD dissertations. Two of those defended at the same university that same day, but not the one on Cannabis.
Interestingly, you are able to find parts of the thesis in Google Scholar, eg chapter 2, chapter 3 etc. But those are the parts of the thesis contained in different chapters that have been published elsewhere in scholarly journals. Unfortunately, none of these parts in Google Scholar refers back to the original thesis that is in Open Access or have been posted as OA journal article pre-prints in the Leiden repository. In Google Scholar most of the materials is still behind toll gates at publishers websites.
Is Google to blame for this incomplete indexing of repositories? Hagendorn and Santelli point the finger to Google indeed. However, John Wilkin, a colleague of them, doesn’t agree. Just as Lorcan Dempsey didn’t. And neither do I.
I have taken an interest in the new role of librarians. We are no longer solely responsible for bringing external –documentary- resources from outside into the realm of our academic clientele. We have also the dear task of bringing the fruits of their labour as good as possible for the floodlights of the external world. Be it academic or plain lay interest. We have to bring the information out there. Open Access plays an important role in this new task. But that task doesn’t stop at making it simply available on the Web.
Making it available is only a first, essential step. Making it rank well is a second, perhaps even more important step. So as librarians we have to become SEO experts. I have mentioned this here before, as well as at my Dutch blog.
So what to do about this chosen example from the Leiden repository. Well there is actually a slew of measures that should be taken. First of course is to divide the complete thesis in parts, at chapter level. Albeit publishers give permission only to publish articles, of which most theses in the beta sciences exists in the Netherlands, when the thesis is published as a whole. On the other hand, nearly 95% of the publishers allow publication of pre-prints and peer reviewed post prints. The so called Romeo green road. So it is up to the repository managers, preferably with the consent from the PhD candidate, to tear up the thesis in its parts –the chapters, which are the pre-print or post-prints of articles- and archive the thesis on chapter level as well. This makes the record for this thesis with a number of links to far more digestible chunks of information better palatable for the search engine spiders and crawlers. The record for the thesis thus contains links to the individual chapters deposited elsewhere in the repository.
Interesting side effect of this additional effort at the repository side is that the deposit rates will increase considerably. This applies for most Universities in the Netherlands, for our collection of theses as well. Since PhD students are responsible of the lion’s share of academic research at the University, depositing the individual chapters as article preprints in the repository will be of major benefit to the OA performance university. It will require more labour at the side of repository management, but if we take this seriously it is well worth the effort.
We still have to work at the visibility of the repositories really hard, but making the information more palatable is a good start.
Hagedorn, K. and J. Santelli (2008). Google still not indexing hidden web URLs. D-Lib Magazine 14(7/8). http://www.dlib.org/dlib/july08/hagedorn/07hagedorn.html