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This paper discusses Google Scholar as an extension of Kilgour's goal to improve the availability of information. Kilgour was instrumental in the early development of the online library catalog, and he proposed passage retrieval to aid in information seeking. Google Scholar is a direct descendent of these technologies foreseen by Kilgour. Google Scholar holds promise as a means for libraries to expand their reach to new user communities, and to enable libraries to provide quality resources to users during their online search process.
Fred Kilgour would probably approve of Google Scholar. Kilgour wrote that the paramount goal of his professional career is "improving the availability of information." (1) He wrote about his goal of achieving this increase through shared electronic cataloging, and even argued that shared electronic cataloging will move libraries toward the goal of 100 percent availability of information. (2)
Throughout much of Kilgour's life, 100 percent availability of information meant that all of a library's books would be on the shelves when a user needed them. In proposing shared electronic cataloging--in other words, online union catalogs--Kilgour was proposing that users could identify libraries' holdings without having to travel to the library to use the card catalog. This would make the holdings of remote libraries as visible to users as the holdings of their local library.
Kilgour went further than this, however, and also proposed that the full text of books could be made available to users electronically. (3) This would move libraries toward the goal of 100 percent availability of information even more than online union catalogs. An electronic resource, unlike physical items, is never checked out; it may, in theory, be simultaneously used by an unlimited number of users. Where there are restrictions on the number of users of an electronic resource--as with subscription services such as NetLibrary, for example--this is not a necessary limitation of the technology, but rather a limitation imposed by licensing and legal arrangements.
Kilgour understood that his goal of 100 percent availability of information would only be reached by leveraging increasingly powerful technologies. The existence of effective search tools and the usability of those tools would be crucial so that the user would be able to locate available information without assistance. (4) To achieve this goal, therefore, Kilgour proposed and was instrumental in the early development of much library automation: he was behind the first uses of punched cards for keeping circulation records, he was behind the development of the first online union catalog, and he called for passage retrieval for information seeking at a time when such systems were first being developed. (5) This development and application of technology was all directed toward the goal of improving the availability of information. Kilgour stated that the goal of these proposed information-retrieval and other systems was "to supply the user with the information he requires, and only that information." (6)
Shared catalogs and electronically available text have the effect of removing both spatial and temporal barriers between the user and the material being used. When the user can access materials "from a personal microcomputer that may be located in a home, dormitory, office, or school," the user no longer has to physically go to the library. (7) This is a spatial barrier when the library is located at some distance from the user, or if the user is physically constrained in some way. Even if the user is perfectly able-bodied, however, and located close to a library, electronic access still eliminates a temporal barrier: accessing materials online is frequently faster and more convenient than physically going to the library. Electronic access enables 100 percent availability of information in two ways: by ensuring that the material is available when the user wants it, and by lowering or removing any actual or perceived barriers to the user accessing the material.
Weise writes that "for at least the last twenty to thirty years, we [librarians] have done our best to provide them [users] with services so they won't have to come to the library." …