Libraries on the Internet are part of a worldwide network of information.
Resources on the Web
The Internet is a direct source of information for your patrons and a tool for you to use when assisting them. Many library resources are provided for patrons on the Internet, locally or through statewide systems.
Some libraries provide service to patrons from the Web as if it were another branch – a branch patrons can visit without leaving home! Reference service in some areas is provided with real time Internet access or via email. Libraries serve their communities; and growing numbers of people in our communities want 24/7 access to information, from wherever they happen to be!
Websites may provide content, allow you to search for useful sites, or serve as an index to the content of other sites. Many libraries provide organized lists or databases of recommended sites for staff and patrons. The following examples of lists of recommended reference websites are from ALA sections:
- The ‘Best of the Best’ Business Web Sites, organized by subjects and compiled by the Business Reference and Services Section (BRASS).
- Great Websites for Kids, from ALA’s Association for Library Service to Children. Categories include animals, arts, history, literature, science, math, social sciences, and recommended Web reference resources for kids and parents. Features a website of the month.
- Refdesk has quick facts and indexed information.
- Google Scholar and Stanford University’s HighWire are excellent jumping off points when searching for scholarly articles on a specific topic.
- And, yes, it’s okay to START with a crowd sourced site such as Wikipedia or wikiHow, especially on a topic unknown to you, but remember to always consult reputable sources through the references and external links that are provided.
Evaluating the Internet as a Tool
As technology develops, one of the primary roles of libraries will be to help patrons discern the quality, accuracy, and value of the information they find. For example, trying the same search with several search engines will yield different results.
- Purpose: Why was the site created? What is it intended to do? Does it really do that? Look at pages telling about the site, site index, menu bar, table of contents, and an examination of the text itself to help you determine the purpose.
- Authority: Is the author or producer of the site qualified and reputable? Is information regularly updated?
- Scope: What does the site really cover? How extensive is the coverage?
- Audience: Who is the site written for? If, for example, the site is health related, is it meant for the lay person or for a doctor? For a child or for an adult?
- Format: How is the site arranged? Does it have an index? Is it easy to use and navigate?
Internet Filtering, CIPA, Deleting Online Predators Act
Stay aware of state legislation affecting Internet use in public libraries and requirements for CIPA (Children’s Internet Protection Act). Visit ALA’s information pages about CIPA (Children’s Internet Protection Act). Look at the issues about the Deleting Online Predators Act, DOPA, (which expands CIPA to include “social networking” websites) on ALA’s information site about the issues of Online Social Networks. Despite these limitations, remember that libraries are committed to free access to information and the First Amendment to the greatest extent possible.
Check with your supervisor about the policies regarding Internet use in your library and find out how staff use websites from your library, from other libraries in the state, or OPLIN.
Major Point: Libraries provide access to information for the communities they serve. The best access for many users is on the Web.