Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Internet Insights: How Academics Are Using the Internet

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Internet Insights: How Academics Are Using the Internet

Article excerpt

The Internet has been described variously as "the premier network of networks," as "Everyone's Computers, Connected," or, most graphically, as an "unmanaged web of computer plasma."(1,2,3) Its lack of definition is its most defining characteristic. It is conjectured to be the world's largest network, but its amorphous design makes it impossible to measure this claim with precision.

Planet-wide, at least 4.5 million people connect over the Internet for personal and group communication, file transfer, and log-in to databases on remote computers.(4) According to most estimates, more than one million people will "Net"work each day from over two million host computers.(5,6,7) But no one really knows how correct these statistics are. Another approach is to think about the Internet as a network's network, linking approximately 11,000 international, national, and regional networks sponsored by universities, colleges, corporations, public institutions, and individuals.

It is estimated that traffic on this information interstate will rise by 11 percent, or one million users each month.(8,9) If the current rate of growth continues, there could be 300 million users by 1999, 750 million by 2000, and 1.5 billion by 2001.(10)

Academic Use

Today's Internet is an outgrowth of the Department of Defense's ARPAnet begun in 1969 to enable researchers to share major hardware and software resources located at remote computer centers. ARPA became DARPA, which became known as the DARPA Internet, which was later shortened to "the Internet." During the 1970s and 1980s, other telecommunications networks developed, and they were linked to the Internet to facilitate resource sharing. One of the most important of these was NSFNET under the auspices of the National Science Foundation. By 1990, ARPANET had been superseded by the NSFNET, which now operates as a high-speed "backbone" for the Internet."(11)

Academics were among the first to take the Cyberspace walk. The Electronic Frontier Foundation reports 100 percent penetration of the Internet in U.S. universities. Globally, universities are connecting to the Net in growing numbers. Universities in more than forty countries provide full Internet participation. Many others access only the e-mail function.(12) Given this high rate of participation in Net activities by the academic community, it is surprising to learn that little has been written which profiles Internet users and investigates the functions of the Net they use most. Tillman and Ladner conducted a survey of how s special librarians use the Internet because there was a similar lack of published research addressing this issue.(13) In the commercial sector, the Rohm and Haas Company conducted a survey to gather information about current and potential Internet usage in the chemical industry.(14)

Study Rationale

This study of academic uses of the Internet was conducted because of:

1. A lack of available literature in this area.

2. The novelty of the methodology, since few "formal" surveys have been conducted on the Internet.

3. The potential for a higher response rate than from the traditional survey methodology due to a large universe of potential responders.

4. The cost to distribute the survey being the same for many respondents as for a few.

The primary considerations in designing the questionnaire were to make it amenable to electronic response and convenient to analyze using a statistical software package. The statistical software selected was StatView. This package was chosen for its ability to accommodate the large amount of data to be generated, for ease of use for data input, and for its graphics capability in displaying results.

Methodology

Although the above literature review revealed the potential power of the Internet and its associated resources, there appeared to be very little concrete data concerning the actual use of the Internet by professionals in various types of organizations. …

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