Information Literacy: Library Research for the Technically Savvy
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Suppose you have finished reading Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse for your class, and you want to find some literary criticism to help you understand the novel or gain a new perspective. Try searching in a periodical database (Infotrac or EBSCOhost, for example), or a database specific to literature (maybe Literature Online Reference Edition or Gale's Literature Resource Center) by typing in "Virginia Woolf" or "To The Lighthouse" as the subject. Search methods and syntaxes vary in these databases, so check with the librarian for a quick lesson on your library's tool.
Now let's consider the World Wide Web. Would you trust what you find on the World Wide Web? There is a lot of good information posted in cyberspace, but there is also a lot of junk.
If you need to find a page from scratch, type a search term into the search box of one of the popular search engines (i.e., Google, Bing) Now consider the results. Look at the Web sites that have been returned. Is there an author listed somewhere on the site? Does the author list contact information? Is there a date when this information was posted? Is the text on the page trying to sell you something or some idea? How is it written? Are there grammatical or spelling mistakes?
A great place to find reliable Web sites is the Internet Public Library. This is a site designed by librarians who organized an index of quality Web sites for reference. You may either type a subject term into the box or click on the Resources by Subject button for a list of Web sites. When you find sites that correspond to your search query, check to see if there are any related sites listed.
As with any new skill, practice makes perfect. Be patient, perform searches often, and soon you will be an expert!
Margaret Montet, a writer and academic librarian, teaches information literacy skills at Bucks County Community College in Pennsylvania. This is an updated reprint of her article that appeared in the "Mature Years" Spring 2006 print edition
Related Articles: See You Online! Tips for Using College Library Resources and the Web and The Digital Library: Online Databases and Reference Software.