Google Scholar vs. Library Databases

Google Scholar and library databases work fairly differently from each other. Most of these differences fall under:



These are discussed in more detail below. Overall, Google Scholar is a good place to start research, or to find a few articles for an overview of a topic, but relying on it exclusively may limit your research.

Other helpful tutorials include these for using Google Scholar, selecting library databases to search, and searching in library databases.

Search Results

Relevance of Results

Google Scholar tends to generate many more results for searches than library databases. As shown, a search for “radiocarbon dating” in Academic Search Complete returns about 5,400 results, while the same search in Google Scholar returns 143,000 results.

More information may seem promising, but most of the extra results Google Scholar produces aren’t very relevant to the conducted search. There is less “noise” to wade through in library databases.

Screenshot of an Academic Search Complete search for "radiocarbon dating" with the number of search results (5,453) boxed in red.
Screenshot of a Google Scholar search for "radiocarbon dating" with the number of results (143,000) boxed in red.

Quality of Results

Google Scholar does not exclusively index scholarly, peer-reviewed materials. Additionally, Google Scholar is not able to filter out non-scholarly materials, so users have to be particularly careful to evaluate the sources they find. Library databases, however, much more reliably contain high-quality resources and have tools to filter out non-academic results. 

Subjects Covered

Many library databases focus on a single field of study, relying on subject experts to gather and organize legitimate scholarly resources. Google Scholar covers a multitude of subject areas, but again, this can result in a lot of “noise” in your search. On the other hand, Google Scholar’s coverage tends to be better in STEM fields compared to the social sciences or humanities. For topics in the social sciences or humanities, it’s especially important to consult library resources in addition to Google Scholar.

Search Control

Refining Searches

Google Scholar has very few features for refining search results. You can restrict results by publication date, and you can exclude patents and citations from your results.

Most importantly, Google Scholar does not have an option for limiting results to scholarly, peer-reviewed materials. Virtually all library databases do.

Screenshot of Google Scholar options for refining results.

Library databases typically have a variety of options for refining search results. The exact options vary by database provider and subject, but publication date, peer review, material type (articles, books, conference proceedings, and so on), publication title, subject, and language are all especially common. Several examples are shown below.


(ProQuest interface)

Subject: Business

Screenshot of ABI/INFORM database options for refining search results.

IEEE Xplore

from IEEE

Subject: Electronics

Screenshot of IEEE Xplore database options for refining search results.


(EBSCO interface)

Subject: Psychology

Screenshot of PsycINFO database options for refining search results.


Subjects: Physical Sciences, Health Sciences, Social Sciences

Screenshot of Scopus database options for refining search results.

Using these options to filter your search results helps you find more relevant results, and to find them more quickly. As you can see, while the functionality of specific databases vary, they all offer you more control than Google Scholar–and, as discussed earlier, Google Scholar returns more irrelevant results to begin with.

Related Terms

Google Scholar automatically searches for terms related to the keywords you enter–even terms or phrases you enclose in quotation marks. Most library databases, however, only search for exactly what you type. While Google’s inclusion of related terms can be helpful at the start of the search process, it may muddy your results for more specific searches. You can always know exactly what a library database is searching.