Putting Primo to the Test (Against Google Scholar)

My university’s library recently acquired access to Primo Discovery Services, which they have made the default search on their web page. So, I decided to give it a spin and do a side by side test with Google Scholar (which is my normal research avenue, mostly to avoid the need to search a dozen different databases).

I tested the topic of play for literacy learning, using the following searches:

  • “play theory” and literacy
  • play-literacy

Both searches yielded relevant results in Google Scholar. Primo was a different story.

My top results in Primo for “play theory” and literacy (simple search, sorted by relevance, limited to peer-reviewed)

primoplaytheoryandlearning

My top results in Google Scholar for “play theory” and literacy (using library links)

googlescholarplaytheoryandliteracy

As you can probably tell, relevance was clearly better for Google Scholar. Though, only two of the results in Google Scholar are available at my university’s library.

I had better luck with the play-literacy search.

My top results for play-literacy in Primo (simple search, sorted by relevance, limited to peer-reviewed)

primoplayliteracy

My top results for play-literacy in Google Scholar (using library links)

googlescholarplayliteracy

Top results of the two for play-literacy only yielded one common article, although three of the articles from the Google Scholar results are available at my library. Interestingly, there were an adequate number of relevant articles from my Primo results, I just had to dig deeper to find them. For example, drilling down into specific databases was more fruitful than cross-searching (which kind of defeats the purpose).

Overall, Google Scholar beat Primo for this particular search. And I’ve had similar frustrations with Primo for other research topics. It could be that my library simply lacks coverage of the areas of research I’m interested in (true to some extent). Or it could be due to vastly different ranking algorithms (Google Scholar weighs citation counts heavily). Whatever it is, I’m sticking with Google Scholar for the time being.

This also makes me wonder about the value of discovery search tools. Who are they good for? From a library skills development point of view, I think caution should be taken when promoting them with beginning researchers. More critically literate researchers may find them useful, but most likely only those who are unsure where to start or are in multi-disciplinary fields. Seasoned researchers who know precisely what they need will likely feel the same frustration as I feel when results are not exact enough (and when other databases just work better for them).

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4 thoughts on “Putting Primo to the Test (Against Google Scholar)

    • Hi Lucy,

      I’m not sure if the Primo version I was using at that time utilized the ScholarRank technology. I just now re-created the search for ‘play literacy’ out of curiosity, and found the Primo results to have changed – the top 5 results are highly relevant and also appear in the Google Scholar top results (but Google Scholar results are the same and include a greater number of relevant results). I suspect today’s version of Primo is using the ScholarRank technology – isn’t that their default relevance technology now? So I did see a slight improvement over last time.

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