Thursday, March 01, 2007

Crazy Librarian Guy on a Soapbox: Let Us Help!

Don't get me wrong, I think that the teachers at my school are incredibly good. Many hold undergraduate and graduate degrees from the most selective and prestigious universities in the country and our student body has some of the best and brightest students in the city, but even with those wonderful (on paper at least) credentials, most teachers here (IMHO) have a woefully shallow understanding of the complexities of conducting research on the Internet.

As librarians, it is evident to us that at the root of the problem is that most people really do not understand one of the most fundamental aspects of doing quality research using online resources and that is that the Internet is NOT a single monolithic entity.

The WORLD WIDE WEB IS NOT synonymous with the Internet.

The World Wide Web (also known as the "free web" or "open web") is the part of the Internet that you search when you type a search query into a search engine like Google or Yahoo. In many cases you will find information that is "sufficient" to fulfill your information needs. This is where you go to find answers to questions like:

"What is Julie, the Mormon girl from the Real World—New Orleans, doing now?"
"What is the word that you use to refer to a whole bunch of frogs (like a gaggle of geese)?"
This is when Wikipedia can be a great friend! :-)

However, searchers should be doing a majority of their online research in a SEPARATE part of the Internet called SUBSCRIPTION DATABASES.

Most substantial research conducted by high school and college students should at least be partially completed using PAID SUBSCRITION DATABASES that are in all likelihood available through your institution's library/librarians. Subscription databases are a part of the Internet and sometimes referred to as the "deep web" or the "invisible web" because most articles from professional journals/magazines/newspapers will NOT show up in Google or Yahoo search results.

Go tell it to the Librarian!

Before you give students an assignment that requires any kind of research, let your school or academic librarians look the assignment over and ask them for feedback. Librarians will tell you if the assignment can be done reasonably or will give you some ideas about where/when your students may have difficulty locating necessary information.

If your librarians are good, they may even offer to come up with a list of resources that could be useful for you to pass on to your students! (Believe me, librarians LIVE for this stuff … otherwise we're just cataloging books and shushing people … which is just REALLY BORING! Require your students to include citations from subscription databases where solid professional peer reviewed research is most appropriate. If you are in a blended instruction environment please consider requiring students to cite PRINT sources (gasp!) if they are available. In spite of the widely held belief that everything is available online, there is MUCH information out there that is NOT YET available in digital form (it depends on your field and the topic(s) within your field of study)

Bottom line: students really need to be made comfortable using BOTH print and online sources of information.

Read more (sources from the free web … :-):

The Internet and Subscription Databases—Know the Differences Between the Open Web and Premium Databases—Available at: <<< http://www.contra-costa.lib.ca.us/researchcenter/differences_databases.pdf >>>

Is Wikipedia an Acceptable Source for College Papers? (Includes a statement from Jimmy Wales a co-founder of Wikipedia) Available at <<< http://www.williampolley.com/blog/archives/2007/02/is_wikipedia_an.html#trackbacks >>>

Thanks for letting me rant!

Dave /middle school (where in a lesson, 80% of my very high achieving 7th graders once believed that California's genetically engineered velcro crop was being threatened by a virus causing the hook and loop strips to be un-harvestable <<< http://home.inreach.com/kumbach/velcro.html >>>) AAAUUUGGGHHH!!!

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