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The Internet vs. The Library

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The ability to find, retrieve, analyze, and use information is known as information literacy. To be information literate, one must first acquire the foundational skills and competencies associated with general education – critical thinking and reasoning abilities, written and oral communication skills, etc. In our information based society, students must develop these skills early on so they are prepared to take advantage of opportunities, whether they are work or school related.

The ability to find and retrieve information can be a challenge if you are not sure where to start. With vast resources available on the internet, students must make choices about how to access information and then which information resources to use.

Students tend to use internet search engines, such as Google, to locate information resources rather than library online catalogs or databases of scholarly journal articles. These search engines index only the “surface Web”. Less than 7% of the information found here is appropriate for educational or scholarly purposes. No single search engine indexes more than 16% of the surface Web. There is little evidence that students use more than one search engine when they look for information. What is known as the “deep web” is 500 times larger and growing much faster than the surface Web. The deep Web provides information in all disciplines, for all populations, and is better in quality than the surface web. Approximately 95% of deep web content is publicly accessible without fees or subscriptions. Deep web content is not indexed and therefore not accessible using popular search engines.

Students are often unable to distinguish appropriate from inappropriate resources. If the information is not available on the internet, it does not exist for them. Librarians and faculty express concern that students do not know how to adequately evaluate the quality of information resources found on the internet.

By limiting their research to the internet, students are ignoring the books, journals, databases, full-text digital resources and other scholarly materials provided by the library. In many academic libraries, use of print resources is decreasing. Use of video and other media appears to be increasing. Ignoring library resources in lieu of web resources may imperil the quality of student learning. You may find instructors who do not allow their students to use web resources in class projects for this very reason. Faculty can have an enormous influence over student choices for research resources.

Undergraduate students who use library resources report the following:

  • 76% of undergraduates utilized electronic databases/article indexes within the last year.
  • 75% of undergraduates reported using library print materials within the last year.
  • 77% of undergraduates reported using computer access at the library
  • 44% of undergraduates indicated having used electronic journals available through the library
  • 23% of undergraduate students utilized Interlibrary Loan services at their library
  • 41% of undergraduates have used print reserves at their library

Academic libraries are making changes to try to engage more students. Some libraries are following the Leavey library model and are transforming part of their physical space into information commons, multimedia production areas, classrooms, or all three. 83% of undergraduates report not using the library due to inconvenient operating hours. Because of this, some libraries are experimenting with 24-hour access of library facilities. Most already provide 24-hour access to digital library collections and services. Research has shown that a barrier to academic library usage is often that students don’t know what services their library offers. Most libraries offer tours and library instruction. Try to take advantage of any training the library offers. Familiarize yourself with your Library’s web site and the resources available there. Resources found at the library can elevate your academic performance.

It’s a good idea to begin your research on the internet to acquire background and introductory information. Use the information you find to seek out additional, more detailed information at the library. If you still insist on using the internet for your research, make sure your information is as legitimate as possible. Some things to look for when evaluating web sites are:

  • Accuracy Who wrote the page? Is this person qualified to write this document? What is the purpose of the document and why was it produced? Know the difference between author and webmaster.
  • Authority Who published the document and are they separate from the webmaster? Check the domain – what institution published this document? Does the publisher list their qualifications?
  • Objectivity What goals/objectives does this page meet? How detailed is the information? What opinions (if any) are expressed by the author? Determine if the page is a mask for advertising – if so, check for bias.
  • Currency How old is the information? When was the page last updated?
  • Coverage Are the links evaluated and do they complement the theme? Is there a balance of text and images? Is the information cited correctly? If the page requires special software, how much do you miss if you don’t have the software? Is the information free or is there a fee? Is there an option for text only, frames or a suggested browser for better viewing?

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