#4, April 2, 1999. (published every Friday)

My First Rule of Information * * * * Internet as Delivery Boy

April 2: airplanes, genealogy, and two kinds of viruses. As always, nifty stuff for librarians as well.

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Part 2: What's the Best Search Engine?.
The one that matches the way you think, and that consistently gives you the best results.

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My Favorite Sites on___:

Part 2: Hot Paper Topics
Where to go when all your books on gun control and capital punishment are checked out.
Part I: Curmudgeons and Caffeine
Other columnists--what I read on the net in the morning as I have my first caffeine infusion.

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Wanna See Your Name in Lights?

Or at least on this page, anyway? I'd like to print here your contributions as well as mine. As you've noticed, the articles are brief, somewhere between 200 and 500 words. I'd also be happy to run other people's contributions to the regular features: RE:searching and Favorite Sites on _____. The pay rate is the same I work for: nothing.

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Ask a Guru

Ask me questions, and if I actually know the answers, I'll post them. If not, maybe my friends on the net will help.

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Drop me a Line

Want to comment, ask questions, submit articles, or invite me to speak or do some training? Contact me at: marylaine at netexpress.net.

Visit My Other Sites

My Word's Worth

a weekly column on books, words, libraries, American culture, and whatever happens to interest me.

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My page on all things book-related.

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Best Information on the Net

Still my favorite pit stop on the information Highway.

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My personal page

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My resume

or why you might like to have me as a guest speaker or internet trainer.

My First Rule of Information

My rules of information developed from watching students flounder and misfire in their quests. Often the reason they don't find what they want is that they are looking in the wrong place--trying to find articles about Bosnia in Medline, for example.

That's why my first rule of information is GO WHERE IT IS. We know, as our users do not, that information comes in different forms, and each form has different advantages and drawbacks.

  • BOOKS are where we go for extensive background, history, and analysis. Books generalize. If you think of original research as the pieces of the puzzle, the authors of books are putting the pieces together and figuring out what the pattern is.

  • JOURNAL ARTICLES are small, very specific pieces of the puzzle that report on original experiments and surveys, or analyze extremely narrow aspects of a topic. Where a book might generalize about the decline of frog populations, a journal article would speak only about what the researcher could observe and test: the decline of one specific population in one specific location, or the results of an experiment testing one possible cause.

  • The INTERNET has a little of everything. Its greatest strength is that it is always available. It is also an unparalleled source for pictures and demonstrations. Any time your question is "what does it look like?" or "how does it work?" the internet should be our source of choice. The federal government is totally online, and the states are well on their way, so if you want laws, tax forms, statistics, information about NIH drug trials, think internet first.

    For introductions to topics at an elementary level, look for Frequently Asked Questions Files on the net. For late-breaking news, head to the net (but stick to reputable news sources like CNN or Reuters). Because the sites are keyword searchable you have a decent chance of tracking a quote, finding out who wrote a short story, tracing the chronology of battles of the civil war, finding a reproduction of a Van Gogh painting--you name it.

    Is there scholarly research available on the net? Yes, just as there are in fact zebras in the US. But when you want zebras in bulk, you go to Africa, and when you want scholarly studies in bulk, you go to journal indexes and databases.

    I draw a little diagram for my students, a circle cut up into lots of little pieces--books, journal articles (located in many different databases), the net, and everything else. Because information is a lot like pizza--each of these is one slice. The hungrier you are, the more you eat. But which slice you start with depends on the kind of information need you have. Go where it is.

    Stay tuned for part II next week.

    The Internet as Delivery Boy

    If you just read my first rule of information, you'll understand the mistake we make in treating the net as just a collection of websites. We fail to appreciate its possibilities as a delivery medium for substantially higher quality materials like full-text magazine and journal articles.

    The greatest flaw in the internet is that there are no IQ requirements for admission--all anyone needs is a computer and a service provider. The second greatest flaw is also the net's greatest virtue: it is available, all the time, with full text documents on virtually every imaginable subject, that are keyword searchable and easily findable. It does no good at all for professors and librarians to insist that students not use it. They already ARE using it, and they love it.

    The resources they find there may be shoddy, incorrect, silly beyond belief, but believe me, they do not care. They don't know how to tell the difference between an excellent piece of research and a silly one, but they do not care. The fact is, they have better luck finding something on the internet than they ever have had in most of our library systems. If our students are intimidated by libraries, it may be because of things like not finding a single book about Thomas Aquinas in a Catholic college library because he is listed under THOMAS OF AQUINAS instead of under AQUINAS. Enough failures like this, and many students abandon all hope the moment they walk through the doors of a library.

    That suggests a couple of considerations for librarians and faculty alike. One is, to make our library systems as user friendly as the net is. This means: 1) keyword searchability, 2) access 24 hour a day , and 3) an easily understandable interface (and I don't mean help screens, because they won't read them).

    The other thing we need to think about is linking high quality sites to our own web pages, and showing our users how to search better and evaluate what they find.

    If you look at the Business page of Best Information on the Net, you will see how we at St. Ambrose University aim to set up all our pages: We link in the full-text business databases, BUSINESS ASAP, LEXIS-NEXIS, and FIRST SEARCH (for ABI INFORM); we link in both our journal holdings list and the list of journals available in our full-text databases; and we link in a tutorial in using those databases and the internet for a business research topic. Look also at the tutorials Laura Cohen has put on her pages at SUNY-Albany (http://www.albany.edu/library/internet/ )

    These are just a couple of ways librarians have used the net to deliver high quality information and training to users. There are a lot more truly inventive librarians coming up with other ideas and solutions. The fact is, the net is an opportunity for us: we can use the net, which our customers already love, as a medium to continue to do what we do better than anybody else, but do it on call 24 hours a day, whenever and wherever our users want it.