GURU INTERVIEW: GARY PRICE
My theory is that Gary Price, who generates one invaluable site after another, maintains them, and still writes, consults, gives speeches, and works at a full-time job, is a secret project created by DARPA; if he's not a state of the art robot with state of the art artificial intelligence, I can't imagine how he has the time or stamina to do it all. Including taking the time off to answer these questions.
Marylaine: What kinds of information do you NOT expect to find on the net, or at least regard the net as a low-yield source for?
Gary: Material published in scholarly journals and deep archive material. Of course, more and more of this information is available "via the web". This is using the Internet and web browser to connect to fee-based, value-added databases and database providers. Also, we are starting to see fee-based information being marketed to the general public via Northern Light and ELibrary.
Misconceptions of what and is not available "on the net", for free is a major myth. Unfortunately mainstream media and advertising make it seem that all one needs to do is type and click. Then, in just a few seconds the precise answer you are searching for will magically appear.
I often think of the free material "on the Internet" as a type of directory. This means that often the precise answer is not available but what you do find can lead you to the precise answer in an expedited manner. That said, you can find some really useful material for free.
Marylaine: I'm asking all my interviewees this, hoping to arrive at a kind of master reading list: What do you read to keep up? Trade publications, listservs, online services, etc.?
Gary: As I have said in the past, if it is available I read it, or at least try to. I monitor numerous listservs. Newslib, Buslib, Prspct-l to name just a few. Other required reading includes ResearchBuzz and the new LLRXBuzz, Chris Sherman's site and weekly newsletter, and the work of Greg Notess and Danny Sullivan and your Neat New Stuff I Found This Week page. What else? Trade publications for the information industry (Searcher, for which I write, Information Today (Shirl Kennedy is awesome) Online, etc.
I have assembled some of my favorite technology news links on a page that your reader's can feel free to visit at: http://gwis2.circ.gwu.edu/~gprice/tech.htm
I also try to scan versions of non-info profession trade journals. They often contain useful sites not found elsewhere. After that my eyes (often tired) wander anywhere and everywhere I can find new tools being discussed. I also have many Northern Light Alerts set up as well as a Excite NewsTracker profile.
Finally, several U.K. newspapers have excellent "new media" and Internet sections. The Guardian, The Times of London, and The Telegraph often add an sites that may get by the U.S. based professional. Keeping oneself "current" using the Internet is something that the Net does well. Yes, finding and mining material is a very time consuming job but I love it! Internet collection development is crucial, more on that later.
Marylaine: What are your favorite search engines, for what purposes?
Gary: I tend to use Alta Vista (in the advanced mode, as I find the near adjacency operator very useful), Google, Fast (All The Web), Northern Light the most as keyword search tools. Open Directory Project (via the new Google interface) and the LII (we love Carol Leita) as directory resources. I am not a big fan of metasearch or add-on search tools. They can not offer the power which you can obtain from the search resource in the native form, especially with "advanced mode" or "power mode" searching
As we all know doing a complete search takes a mix of search engines to get the job done. This is often news to many novice searchers along with the understanding that general search tools, like those mentioned above, only crawl a small percentage of what is actually available and even if they do have many pages of a large site they may not have them all. Depth and currency of crawl is something that does not get as much discussion as they should.
Luckily, the "invisible web", the material that the "general" search tools cannot get to, is starting to get more notice in the search community.
I hope resources like "direct search", at the very least, illustrate the wide variety of data that is available. However, with so much available it is important for the information professional to at least have some idea of what is available PRIOR to needing the material. I realize this is difficult, however we have always learned to some degree what is on the shelves in our print reference collections. It is time for Internet resource collection development to get serious. Let's start talking more resources and less entire sites.
Marylaine: Do you periodically cull the links on your pages to keep your list from becoming unmanageably large?
Gary: Yes, I spend a lot of time making sure that links are current. However, I know that trying to be 100% on top of the matter could make me loose what little hair I have left. Luckily, users of are kind enough to drop notes when links are dead. When I do get word of a bad link I try to correct it as soon as possible. The same holds true when I get a suggestion for something new that should be added. Keeping the resources up to date with new or newly discovered materials is something that I can do quickly.
I hope that my research compilations are used not only as reference tools but also as acquisition lists. I hear from many users that in the process of locating what they came for they leave with 2 or 3 new resources. Yes, serendipity still works.
Marylaine: How much time do you spend on the reference desk? And how working with students and faculty shape what you do on the web?
Gary: At the Virginia Campus Library of George Washington we are more of a distance campus where students usually contact us either over the telephone or via e-mail via email. Also, the Virginia Campus only offers graduate classes. While I do not spend time at a large academic library style reference desk, I do spend time answering questions. In the process of using the Internet to answer questions from students I often come across useful material to add to one of my compilations. I also do a lot of training (both at the Virginia and main campuses) so staying up to date about what is available both on and via the web is crucial.
It's amazing the amount of material that is published. Even with George Washington's large holdings coupled with many consortium agreements, document delivery services, and inter-library loan the number of documents that are difficult to track down using traditional methods. The Internet is a wonderful tool that can often quickly lead you to the author of an article who can often provide you with a copy.
Marylaine: How well do you think students understand how to find and evaluate information on the net? Do they understand the difference between the net and databases of scholarly information?
Gary: Critical information skills are crucial. I spend several minutes in all of my presentations discussing this issue. It is important that these skills are taught at the earliest stages of education.
Strong evaluative skills must also be demonstrated by information professionals by way of the choice of resources made to a class project page or a general web collection. Our work in this area can add tremendous value. The same care and skill must be taken with Internet collection development as with print collection development. This is another reason why "knowing your collection" is crucial and searching at the last minute can lead to problems.
As to the differences between the net and scholarly information, in a general sense, most likely they are very confused. I begin each of my presentations comparing "on the net" and "via the net". "On the net" is the place one can easily (with server space) place the material. There is very little "control" of this material (ie. value added indexing) and it is very unstable (here today gone tomorrow). This is also the "space" that tools like Google and Alta Vista crawl and where most of the material that resides on the invisible web is contained. It is also very difficult to generalize what is "on the net".
"Via the net" is using the same web browser and the same Internet connection that is used to access "on the net" to access databases of scholarly information. This info tends to have value added to it (descriptors, abstracts, very robust searching options) and in the academic world is often subsidized by the a university. There are also numerous challenges in this "via the net world". They include many interfaces to learn, a plethora of search capabilities to keep straight, and the lack of time most have to learn how to use these resources in more than an elementary manner.
Marylaine: Do you work with faculty to locate high quality web sites for the courses they teach?
Gary: Yes, absolutely. We have had a great deal of success preparing compilations of "on the Internet" along with advice about which "via the Internet" material to select. This is another example of how we can add value.
Time and the lack of it seems to be a MAJOR issue for most people. Many of our students also have full-time work responsibilities. One of Ranganathan's five laws of library science is "save the time of the reader". Perhaps it should be amended to save the time of the "reader and electronic information access tool user."
Marylaine: Do you find that people from all over the world send you reference questions, and if so, how do you respond?
Gary: They sure do. While I cannot answer all of them, I try (although admittedly, sometimes failing) to at least steer them in the right direction. I have gotten several requests to find "all the needed information" to start a business including developing a marketing plan. I have suggested that these people contact information brokers.
These messages illustrate users confusion about what is and is not available for free. It also demonstrates the increasing visibility and importance (although we have known it all along) of the job we do.
With the proliferation "expert sites" coming online I can only wonder how they handle the volume. Unfortunately, it most likely giving less than satisfactory answers, not to mention the quality of the information they suggest.
Note that Gary conducted a self-interview in the October, 1999 issue of Searcher, available online at http://www.infotoday.com/searcher/oct99/price.htm. I made a point of asking him different questions.
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I've never really been in awe of machines. I've always been of the mind that machines are our friends, not our equals.
David Bowie, Shift, November, 1999
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Ex Libris: an E-Zine for Librarians and Other Information Junkies.
Copyright, Marylaine Block, 2000.