As a librarian, and sometimes curator of information, I often make it my mission to push our library’s online databases as the holy grail for information seekers, in their pursuit of quality information. I like to refer to these databases, accessible via the library website, as a treasure-trove of tools for the researcher, in pursuit of vetted information. Librarians, as a rule, tend to push these types of resources for a variety of reasons. Research databases from companies like EBSCO, ProQuest, Ovid and others, provide users with an opportunity to leverage these resources in ways a blind search via Google can fall short. In addition, knowledge is power, and good information isn’t always free. These powerful research tools provided through the library do not come cheaply. When used properly, a savvy database searcher can pull up a vast amount of quality, and sometimes very esoteric results, that a simple search of the world wide web never could. So why, might you ask, am I about to contradict myself and tell you that sometimes a search of Google can also produce very useful results?
So let’s talk about the world wide web, in terms of Google and other commercial search engines. Google and search engines like Yahoo! and Bing makes their money through ads, and through selling user data. Information is money, and it will be paid for somehow. Aside from all the big brother stuff, that goes along with searching an ad driven search engine, the discerning searcher can still glean a great amount of intelligence though commercial search engines. It just takes a little more work on the part of the searcher to sift through the information and evaluate it. There are plenty of organizations, governmental and educational institutions, that put quality content out there without any type of paywall. The National Library of Medicine (PubMed), World Health Organization, and Census Bureau are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to finding good information to base research on. These are obvious free tools for researchers, but what can searchers do to find other quality and freely available sources on the web. To start with, be wary of sites that end in .com. As with anything users can find through the world wide web, this is a guideline and not a hard pressed rule. When doing a Google search, throw in your keywords but maybe add edu, org or gov to the search and see what you can pull up. Domains often play a large role in the type of information they contain. When viewing your results, keep things in mind, such as a date when the information was posted, the credentials behind the author or organization that created the information. It is also important to assess the bias any organization or author may have.
In closing, there is a lot of great information on the world wide web, but unlike a research database, created with structures and tools in place to leverage your search, commercial search engines require you to do a lot of the leg work. Many institutions freely share very useful information online, and this is a fact that should not be ignored. If you do your due diligence in vetting the information, a great deal can be produced for your research needs and endeavors
In his role as Library Manager, Access Services, Edmund’s responsibilities include managing library circulation and interlibrary loan, overseeing course reserves, managing library facilities, and providing reference services and instructional support. Edmund earned his MLS from Queens College, and Masters in Communications from New York Institute of Technology Old Westbury. He previously worked as a Librarian at NYIT at their Columbus Circle location.