Although the state of the internet is far more advanced, and there is a far larger body of credible, useful information available to be discovered, many of the guidelines the Touro Libraries first put forth in the Fall 1998 edition of our newsletter are still sound advice. The original article, titled “Research on the Internet,” aimed to address the mistaken impression, if you’ll forgive the archaism, “that ‘surfing the web’ is the best way to retrieve information.”
Today, that statement would need some qualification. For example, if you’re looking for information about or produced by the government, for example, looking online is in fact the best way to access those documents. The same goes for breaking news coverage.
Now as then however, when seeking information for academic research rather than quick fact-finding or satisfying curiosity, you’re much better off consulting library resources. In modern libraries, many of their sources may indeed be accessible online, in the form of e-books and electronic databases, but since they require paid subscriptions, they cannot be searched with a typical search engine like Google. Instead, you will need to access them through the library’s website, and if off-campus, log-in with a unique library username and password to authenticate your status as a member of the Touro community. (If you haven’t signed up for off-campus access yet, you may do so here.)
Additionally, although there was already concern in the late ‘90s that many free websites were “often constructed ‘because somebody has an axe to grind or a company wants to crow about its own product,’” there are sometimes much more insidious forms of misrepresentation on the web today. Take, for example, BSEInfo.org, a seemingly informative site about bovine spongiform encephalopathy, more commonly known as mad cow disease. At first glance, this seems to be an authoritative public health site, complete with quotations from the CDC, USDA and other government organizations.
Digging just a bit deeper, however, a critical reader will find that it is funded by Beef Checkoff, a division of the Cattleman’s Beef Board. Even if the information they do report is valid, you can be sure that an association of beef sellers has some pretty good motivation to paint a very one-sided picture of the issue.
To meet your academic research needs, Touro Libraries currently offers over 120 subject-specific databases for searching through articles from journals, newspapers and magazines and almost 100,000 e-books, in addition to our large physical collection. New this semester is our collection of library research guides with information to help students and faculty navigate our many resources effectively. We also have resources to help searchers weed out the authoritative from the misleading when using Google to supplement library research.
We may have come a long way in terms of availability of and access to information in the last 15 years, but the need for people with the skills to efficiently locate, critically evaluate, and apply that information has never been stronger. Just be glad that you don’t have to search ProQuest with a dial-up internet connection or browse the Encyclopedia Britannica via CD-ROM. Or, horror of horrors, thumb through the index of an actual print book!