Where should children be looking for information?
by Vivienne Simpson
I am going to state upfront that I am a book fan, and I will always love the printed word more than computerised versions. I love libraries. I love researching in libraries. Even so, when I find something I don’t know I will always “google it” rather than go to a library. And for the general information I need on a day to day basis I find this works well for me. I have twice studied at university and with history being one of my majors I believe I am well drilled in the ability to identify reputable sources. However, I have recently begun to wonder if I am not teaching my son bad habits by relying solely on the internet and not teaching him to use the reference section in the local libraries. So I set out to find out if I my gut feeling was a reality.
Guess what? I used the internet for my research because although there are books on using libraries for research and on using the internet, none that I could easily access were on which option was best. However there were many articles from academic institutions and bodies of librarians on the subject, but none that I could easily find from a teacher’s perspective. I am sure you will be surprised that I found out neither option is either good or bad. The internet has the advantage of being available 24/7, is self service and free. Libraries have staff trained to help and can quickly take you to the correct resources to answer your question and their information is reputable. So if both have their uses then when should you use what? I found no definitive answer so I made up my own. Where you look for information depends on:
What level of Information you are looking for?
If you are looking for basic information then the internet will suffice. For example if you want to know the names of the planets in our galaxy then an internet search will do. If you are requiring more in depth information then an internet search can bring up a wealth of options and you may get information over-load. If you want more detailed information you may want to ask a librarian to help you narrow down what you need to look at. Definitely if you are carrying out academic research you will at some stage have to go to a library or into a library system to get the level of specialised data you require from trustworthy sources that other academics would recognise.
Have you a clearly framed question?
What are the planets in our galaxy is a fairly simple question and in returns 4,560,000 results on a google search. However you can find the answer on the first page right at the top. But if you are not quite sure you know what you are looking for and put in something general like ‘alternative theories on universe creation’ you get 39,100,000 responses and it covers everything from differing religious and scientific views to personal opinions. There were still new ideas coming up on page 6. In addition there are a number of other search strings that can bring up even more varied information
Searches related to alternative theories of universe creation
- theories of how the universe began
- different theories of the origin of the universe
- steady state universe
- plasma cosmology theory
- eternal inflation theory
- the alpha and the omega theory
- the accelerating universe
- the incredible bulk theory
If you are unsure of what question you are trying to answer a reference librarian may be exactly what you need as they will be able to question you to help you narrow down your field of reference. Or they can provide some generalist sources that can help you narrow down the question yourself.
If you are are writing and academic paper then you will already have a question formed, you just need to be really careful about what sources you use to answer that question. Which brings me to my next point.
Do you need to have credible sources to answer your question?
We all like to think that the sources we use are credible, but in the world of internet search engines they may not be. Search engines rate content that is sponsored or that a lot of people visit and/or comment on as more relevant in their rankings than source reliability. That does not make the information any less credible or authoritative, it just means that we have to be more careful and make sure we understand how credible that source is.
In library collections and academic online collections the sources of information are peer reviewed and checked for validity. Online anyone can write anything. This blog is an example. I am nether qualified as a librarian or a teacher, my only skill is that I am pretty good at research and breaking down facts. And what I am writing is my personal opinion based on what I have read. I am not an authority and I would not recommend quoting this article in an academic report. However, the links below where I found my information are reasonable, creditable resources.
One of those sources provided a couple of ways to check validity and credibility, authority and accuracy of resources. You need to look at:
- Audience – To whom is the site directed – children, adults, students; a certain ethnicity, gender or political affiliation? Is it understandable by the layman, or is it highly technical requiring specialized knowledge?
- Authority – Is the author of the site listed? Can you determine his/her expertise? Is contact information given – phone number, address, e-mail? With what organization is he/she associated?
- Bias – Does the language, tone, or treatment of its subject give the site a particular slant or bias? Is the site objective? Is it designed to sway opinion? Organizational affiliation can often indicate bias.
- Currency – Is the site up-to-date with working links? Are dates given for when it was created and last updated? Is the topic current?
- Scope – Is the site an in-depth study of the topic going several pages deep, or is it a superficial, single-page look at the subject? Are statistics and sources referenced properly cited? Does the site offer unique information not found anywhere else, e.g., print sources?
Thanks to the University of Maryland and the University of Dallas for providing the content for this tool. (from the Web Vs Library Databases – A Comparison)
Another of the sites below offered:
It is important to find out who is the author and what are the author’s qualifications or expertise, in order to determine the credibility and reliability of the information you find on the website.
Who is the author of the Web site? What are the qualifications of the author or group that created the site?
What part of the URL (Web address) gave you clues about authorship?
- (.com).a company
- (.edu) academic institution
- (.gov) U.S. Government agency
- (.mil) U.S. military site
- (.net) network of computers
- (.org) non-profit organization
- (.uk) country sponsored site (www.jamieoliver.com) a personal Web page
(from the Web Vs Library Databases – A Comparison)
After all the reading and research and writing the summary down in this blog I think I have my answer. For most of the things my son needs to look up for primary school we can frame simple questions and we can get those questions answered easily and accurately on the internet. As he gets older he will have more complex questions and he will need to be taught the limitations of the internet and be introduced to other sources. Still, I am pleased he has a couple of encyclopaedias that he often looks things up in when he does not have computer time. Encyclopaedias have the added benefits of browsing. You can easily be distracted by the information around what you re looking up. I am also pleased that he goes to a school with a good library and has been introduced to the non-fiction section. He brings home books on things he is interested in so he can read more in depth, so he already understands the benefits of reading a book on a specific subject. Maybe he has found the balance without all my worry and angst.
If you want to turn me into an internet expert feel free to write comments and like this article and I will move pretty quickly up the search rankings.
I am going to leave you with 2 quotes from books on the subject:
“Any idiot can put up a website.”
― Patricia Briggs,
“If television’s a babysitter, the Internet is a drunk librarian who won’t shut up.”
― Dorothy Gambrell,
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Black And White Image – Cincinnati Library (Image in Public Domain)
Internet Image http://cliparts.co/clipart/3343961
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