Finding Research Materials on the Internet

The emergence of the Internet has had a profound effect on how we do research--or has it? Aren't we still looking for information, just in a different way? Look at what the authors of a recent book say:

"Instead of spending hours combing through books, library catalogs, and indexes, making endless telephone calls, or traveling to far-off places, with a few clicks of a mouse, we can find an enormous amount of information on virtually any subject." (Ackerman & Hartman, 1999, p. xv)*

So, instead of changing the kind of thing we want to find, there's just a lot more of it. Plus, because the Internet is a wide-open medium, the quality of information that's out there varies enormously.

But, even so, hasn't the Internet simply made libraries, along with the books, periodicals, tapes, and librarians in them, obsolete?

The simple answer to this question is, No. Here's why:

  1. First, most information is not available directly on the Internet. Most books are not available on the Internet, and books are a tremendously important kind of research tool. Libraries are still the best source of research information from books.

  2. Second, most information published in periodicals--newspapers, magazines, and journals--is not available for free on the Internet. Libraries provide access to these traditional kinds of information sources through subscriptions that benefit all library users.

  3. Libraries are constructed and run by librarians for use--that is, to facilitate learning through research and other related activities. All the traditional resources and services you find in libraries are for one purpose--learning. The Internet is used for many other things.

  4. In a library, there is always a librarian, someone knowledgeable to ask for help.

In fact, much of the information on the Internet is second-hand and second-rate--it has been written and published by self-proclaimed "experts," who base their expertise (if you're lucky) on more authoritative sources, such as books and journal articles.

The problem, then, is how to find the good stuff and leave the rest behind. Here are a few suggestions:

*Ackerman, E., & Hartman, K. (1999). The information specialist's guide to searching and researching on the Internet and the World Wide Web. Wilsonville, OR: ABF Content.