Magazine article Information Today

Internet Reference: Just the Good Stuff

Magazine article Information Today

Internet Reference: Just the Good Stuff

Article excerpt

Here's how to offer quick access to good reference resources on the Web

When you just got a new hammer, everything looks like a nail," according to Abraham Maslow, who died years before the Internet existed. Nevertheless, these words may well describe one extreme in the way that librarians relate to the World Wide Web.

The other extreme was recently expressed when a librarian at a research library in New York said, "We never use the Internet for any kind of referencethere is just too much flaky and unreliable material out there."

Between Two Extremes

Between the two extremes, you will find the rest of us, who know that the Internet is a fabulous repository of information as well as a cultural garbage dump of monumental proportions. We have all had the experience of helping a patron try to find some piece of information in the library reference area and coming up dry. As a last resort, we look on the Internet and often find exactly what the patron was looking for.

This happened to me last week when I was helping a student who wanted a book that listed the top-selling single records from past years. I knew that such a book exists, but my library did not own it. However, I remembered that I had seen a site on the Web that did the same thing ( Within minutes, the patron was happily cruising the 1970s for song titles. In this particular case, I got to that site because I knew that there was a link to it on my personal home page. If I had gone through the process of searching the concept on the large search engines, it would have taken me 10 or 15 minutes of sorting through irrelevant hits-a time period that translates to hours from the perspective of the student.

This gets to the crux of the matter for any librarian who wants to put the Internet into the reference mix. There must be some way to have the addresses for useful sites right at one's fingertips. Fortunately, there are a lot of ways; most of them involve building a bookmark file of useful sites.

One night recently, our CD-ROM server had its own ideas about what to do, and we couldn't get into our networked version of ERIC. I checked in Yahoo! under "education," and found that Syracuse University had mounted a Web version of ERIC ( that was complete and easy to use. Following that line of inquiry, I also searched for MEDLINE and found that it, too, had been released for free Web access as Grateful Med ( It appears that the government has decided that the Web is the best way to distribute information to the citizenry.

Another notable example is the Statistical Abstract of the United States at ( tab/96statab.html). This requires Adobe Acrobat, but the site links to a free download source. I remember working as a reference librarian at St. John's University, where the reference desk kept one copy of the Statistical Abstract that looked like it had been subjected to target practice by the end of its year. Now we have as many copies of the Statistical Abstract as we have PCs-and they never get worn.

Quality Standards

OK, you say. You can trust the government to deliver information, but what about everybody else? People on the Web can be very clever at putting bad information in impressive packages. Who sets the standards?

Again, there is good news. A number of universities and other agencies patrol the Internet for useful information and provide links. Does this mean that they are infallible? …

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