HOW I FIND NEAT NEW STUFF
You know, it doesn't take all that long to find and sample the new stuff. Yes, I know the thought of looking through Yahoo, for instance, is pretty daunting, given that they add an average 1000 sites a day. The secret is, I don't have to look at all of them. In fact, on one of Yahoo's good days, I might click on 5 of 1300 sites they listed.
It's not really all that different from skimming book review journals to decide what to order. We don't look at everything there, either -- we look at what's in our collection development areas. And even there, sometimes we don't need to read past the first line of the review to know this is not for us -- that first line may tell us it's too academic for our collection, or too juvenile, too unauthoritative, etc.
Which is to say, before you ever pick up an issue of Library Journal, you already have in your mind an image of what you want, for your particular clientele. Where I would have passed up a Chilton's manual for my academic library, you might pass up a complete snoozer of a sociology text which we would order immediately.
In short, we all have a collection development policy, even if we've never written it out, even if it's only "I know it when I see it."
The collection guidelines I used for Best Information on the Net are posted on the site at http://library.sau.edu/bestinfo/selpolicy.htm. Note that in addition to stressing sites with substantial free scholarly content, I also made a point of serving the social and religious mission of my Catholic institution by specifically looking within all subject areas for sites that dealt with ethical and human rights issues, or offered opportunities for service to the community or information for citizenship. We promote values as well as informational.
Neat New was always a different proposition, though, the only part of BIOTN in which I really let my personality leak through. Because it served a wider audience, I was free to look sites that were just interesting. From a range of noncommercial sites with substantial content, I always pick a couple of fun sites, several sites of serious reference value, and a few sites that meet ordinary human needs. Lest I fall into the trap of tailoring a collection to my own personal interests, I always try to make sure there's something there for people who are NOT like me -- children, men, dog-lovers, businessmen, stay-at-home moms, people of other cultures and religions.
With this in mind, it's easy for me to skim through all the sites listed in What's New on the Net http://library.sau.edu/bestinfo/Librarians/new.htm. There are entire categories of sites I will never look at because of the noise to signal ratio -- the Business sites in Yahoo, for example, may include some stuff I'd like, but at the cost of sorting through thousands of commercial sites that interest me not at all. On Net Happenings, I skim titles and occasionally click on one or two reviews and maybe go to the sites to see them for myself.
Seeing for myself is the equivalent of looking through a new reference book. I want to see how a site is organized, whether it's searchable, and what kinds of questions it answers. I try out a search or two, check out the index to see the range of topics -- or in some cases notice that the organization is so sloppy that there's no way to find anything easily, in which case, I'm outta there. The difference between a web site and a reference book, though, is that I also have to look at mechanical factors such as speed of download, simplicity and ease of navigation, special software it might require. I won't bother with a site that takes too long to load or to figure out, because I know my users won't.
The NetNew page includes the work of many wonderful librarians who are also weeding through the junk and evaluating sites for us. I always look at their work. But I look through Yahoo and NetHappenings because relatively few people have the patience to do it. It's a way I can provide extra service.
There are often good leads in the magazines I read. Entertainment Weekly has a special internet section you can subscribe to. Other magazines often mention web sites in passing, including their own, so I might refer you on occasion to a particularly good article in American Demographics or Columbia Journalism Review or Searcher.
It's also true that people send me their sites, hoping I will review them. Enough of them turn out to be gems that it's worth the time involved to wade through the rest.
This is really not hard to do, and any of you could do it if you wanted to invest the time (and it does give you the ultimate excuse for surfing). In case you're wondering, it takes me maybe four hours a week to do this. I figure, what the hey, this is one of the most enjoyable acts of public service I've ever done.
This is from Tara Calishain's Research Buzz (http://www.researchbuzz.com/news/index.html) and I couldn't agree with her more:
Okay: about two weeks ago Steve Lawrence and the NEC crew release a study that says that even the BEST search engine indexes less than 20 percent of the Web. So AltaVista -- one of the best-known search engines on the 'Net, long famous for no muss no fuss -- what do they do in response to the news? THEY'RE GETTING INTO ISP SERVICES AND PERSONALIZED PORTAL PAGES!
Okay, okay -- I know there's not a direct correlation, but! HERE'S A LOOPY IDEA: Why don't the SEARCH ENGINES WORK ON INDEXING MORE THAN 20% OF THE WEB?! You want to stand out in the crowd? Want to get lots of attention and market share? Why not retool your search engine so it SEARCHES BETTER? Don't give me my flippin' horoscope, don't partner up with someone who's already distributing content to a billion other sites, don't try to sell me stuff I don't need.
JUST MAKE THE SEARCH FUNCTION WORK BETTER.
The question for Excite, HotBot, AltaVista, and all the others is this: are you search engines, or are you here to sell me stuff? Make up your mind and let me know. In the meantime I'll be over at Google.com .
THE REAL IMAGE PROBLEM FOR LIBRARIANS
There's a new site devoted to Image and the Librarian, at
http://www.wam.umd.edu/~staciemm/project/ImageHomepage.htm which you might want to take a look at.
But right now, I think our biggest image problem has nothing to do with dowdy shoes and hair in a bun. It has to do with technology.
You see, I'm pretty sure people don't make the distinction between INFORMATION and the computers by which the information is delivered. When people don't find what they need on the net, I suspect they think of it as a computer problem, not an information problem. I doubt they say, "This machine won't give me what I need. What I need is a librarian!" I think most of them think they need to ask a computer geek. Which is a pity, because as we know, many computer geeks understand the machines, but are nearly as clueless about the ins and outs of databases as the general public is.
So, yes, it would be nice for our image if when people thought of librarians, they thought of smart, up-to-date professionals who actually visit hair stylists. But it might be better still if the ads and TV shows and movies that refer to us showed us teaching people how databases work, and dazzling our users with what we're able to find for them using computers.
Somehow I think that might be even harder to achieve. But we can hope.