Library Research Skills
The Library and the Web
Sometimes the hardest part about research is just getting started. Two places to begin looking for information are in the Library resources and on the World Wide Web.
When you think about libraries the first things that come to mind are probably printed materials such as books and magazines. Libraries also provide access to resources like full-text magazine articles, periodical indexes, and online encyclopaedias. Libraries collect quality information in a wide variety of formats. Many electronic resources are accessible through a Web browser. Public Libraries purchase these sources for their "community”, members and staff to use. These resources are different than most of the information that is freely available to you over the Web because they have been reviewed and recommended by the library, through the work of librarians.
Alternately, no one individual or group dictates what information is acceptable for the Web or how it should be presented. This lack of authority allows many people to publish their opinions, ideas and creative works. While this information may be interesting, some of it may not be useful for academic research.
For your research, you will probably save yourself time and find more quality information if you begin with library resources and then move to the Web if you need more information or other points of view.
Library resources go through a review process.
Librarians select books, magazines, journals, databases and even Web sites. This selection process allows the library to collect sources considered reliable, historically relevant, and valuable.
Library resources are free or discounted for your use.
Though the items libraries purchases are not cheap, many people may share one copy.
Library resources are organized.
Items in libraries are organized so you can easily find all the sources on a topic. For example, when you search for a book in the library catalogue you will get a call number. The call number will direct you to a specific shelf in the library. The other books near the same call number should cover a similar topic.
Libraries contain both current and older information.
Libraries are organized collections of in-depth information published throughout time. As well as finding very current information, you can also find books that are no longer published and older issues of magazines. Occasionally you can access these items through digital library collections on the Web, as with the Local History Journals
Library resources come with personal assistance.
Unlike the Web, which is primarily do-it-yourself, libraries have staff that are trained to assist you in sorting through all these information sources. They can help you learn to use new tools and can answer any questions you have. Some public libraries even provide help through their Web sites.
Although many people first go to the Web for information, it is not always the best place for what you need. It can be difficult to make definitive statements about something as diverse as the Web. But here we go...
The majority of information on the Web does not go through a review process.
Anyone can publish on the Web without passing the content through an editor. An expert might write pages on the topic or a journalist, but a disgruntled consumer or a sixth grader can also publish their opinions on the web.
Some information on the Web is not free.
Many Web pages are free to view (and actually many of the best ones are), but some commercial sites will charge a fee to access all or part of their information.
Information on the Web is not organized.
Some directory services, like Yahoo, collect links to sites and place them in subject lists. But there are too many Web pages for any single directory service or search engine to organize and index.
Most information on the Web is not comprehensive.
The millions of Web pages out there make up an eclectic hodgepodge of information and opinion. Rarely will you be able to use a search engine on the Web to collect information about your topic from different time periods and different types of sources.
Most information on the Web is not permanent.
Some well-maintained sites are updated with very current information, but other sites may become quickly dated or disappear altogether without much notice.
Copyright (c) 2005 by Susan Kelly, Wexford County Library Service.
Adapted and modified (5th December 2005) from TILT, Texas Information Literacy Tutorial. This material is subject to the terms and conditions set forth in the TILT Open Publication Licence. (the latest version is presently available at http://tilt.lib.utsystem.edu/yourtilt/).