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  • Poe in Cyberspace: The Library as Cloud
  • Heyward Ehrlich

Don’t bring food into the library—but do partake of the “bento box.” The library’s “bento box” is not literally a kit for a complete Japanese meal but actually something only named after it, the all-in-one search box growing in acceptance in research libraries. The library’s “bento box” tries to do everything: it can search traditional local resources, such as the book catalog, media holdings, and research guides; more importantly, it can select articles in the library’s databases. Thus, when looking for articles on Edgar Allan Poe’s “Ulalume,” it is no longer necessary to look separately into the MLA International Bibliography, JSTOR, Project Muse, and the library catalog, because one visit to the “bento box” may be able to do it all. The secret is not in the search box itself but in the discovery services of ProQuest and EBSCO that take the researcher directly to full texts in appropriate scholarly journals. This is the cutting edge of digital integration in academic research.

In recent years, the Internet search engine has changed the nature of academic research, making it possible to index and access all information as though in a single global concordance. The search engine Google Scholar has broken the monopoly that libraries formerly had on research and paved the way for the “bento box” of the current discovery services. Before we examine the discovery services of ProQuest and EBSCO, however, we need to understand the contributions and shortcomings of Google Scholar, which in some ways they build upon. A query on Google Scholar for “Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘Ulalume’” will yield 1,230 results in 0.05 seconds. (If we shorten the search string to just “Poe Ulalume,” we will slightly increase the number of results and similarly shorten the query time.) The immediate difficulty of Google Scholar’s results is that a thousand matches are far more than we can manage, even if in one sample run the first screen of results does contain a mix of items by known Poe scholars, such as Eric W. Carlson, Edward H. Davidson, Marie Bonaparte, Dwight Thomas, Kenneth Silverman, and Daniel Hoffman.

Although Google Scholar is recognized on many library Web pages, it remains an underrated research tool if only for its remarkable arsenal of user customizations. It can limit its results within a custom range of dates; it can limit its results to just books and articles (omitting bare citations); and it can reveal its sources—for example, from printed editions of publishers such as Cambridge University Press, from digitized versions of works from Google Books or, or from entries in the databases of JSTOR, ProQuest, [End Page 88] or Project Muse. Google Scholar can also usefully report on how many citations each item has earned (you can even count the mentions of your own articles!); it apparently can also bring up exactly 101 articles that are related to the each item; it can show how the citation for each item is formatted according to MLA, Chicago, or other style guides; it can save searches to your Gmail account; it can search WorldCat for the nearest library that has your book; and it can send you an e-mail alert when something related to your search comes up. With more capabilities than most of us are likely to use, Google Scholar even offers unobtrusive help at the bottom of its screen. (If you still need more customization, use regular Google and run the risk of its larger flood of hits.)

For many users, Google Scholar is free and so quick and easy to use that any shortcomings are ignored or readily forgiven. For many general purpose uses it may not matter what its sources are, but for advanced research purposes only recognized scholarly sources can provide stable citation addresses, which is one reason why few scholars normally use texts and comments based on Google’s use of sources such as,, or even (Each week I am invited to submit articles to new digital publications that I cannot comfortably cite as sources for research.) The first...


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pp. 88-93
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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