Librarians Help Surf Seas of the Internet

Article excerpt

Byline: Sarah Long

You might think the powerful duo of widespread access to computers and the ubiquitous Internet would be delivering a knockout punch to library service. But that's not the case.

Take the library at Harper College in Palatine, for example. Joe Accardi, dean of resources for learning, says that the Internet and other technologies actually have caused an increase in library use. Harper College librarians, for example, responded to more than 16,000 reference questions last year, and provided library instruction in the use of both online and print materials to nearly 5,000 students. Additionally, the library loaned more than 40,000 items from its collection. That's an increase of 14 percent over items loaned the previous year, while the number of questions and instruction continue to hold steady.

The Web is making libraries more valuable as the public turns to librarians for assistance in evaluating the myriad of information resources available online and find authoritative answers.

Here's the problem: You may put in "dog" and get more than 9 million hits. First of all, how do you deal with so many hits to a simple question? Secondly, how do you figure out which sites can be trusted and which are either erroneous or misguided? Librarians can help.

As perennial early adapters to new technology, librarians have been dealing with electronic sources and commercial databases since the middle 1970s. Librarians are trained information professionals. Using the example of the dog search above, a librarian would ask you what aspect of dogs you are interested in: a specific breed, training, or just a general overview. The librarian would then combine the keywords into a search request. For example, if you want an overview of dogs the search terms might look like this, "encyclopedia+dogs." With this approach, the number of hits drops to 16.

Librarians know how to look for cues on Web sites to determine authenticity. For example, does the site have a privacy policy? Is the site updated regularly? Most importantly a librarian can advise you on whether the group sponsoring the site may have a bias in the way they present information. …