Though it must have been at least seventeen years ago, I still remember the first time a teacher stood in front of my class and proclaimed what has since become standard at the outset of every research paper and class project in schools across the country: “You must include at least one (or two, or ten) internet source(s).”
I’d heard that line at least twice a year over the course of my school career, and it never failed to put a wrinkle on my forehead every time. I am and always have been a bibliophile through and through, and it took me a long time to get over the notion that using anything other than a good old-fashioned book for academic research was sacrilege. Of course, I realize now that my views were probably in the minority; the mid-to-late-nineties was a time of rapid digital transformation, when the ideas and gadgets we now take for granted–all the games, all the programs and devices, and all of the wonders of the Word Wide Web–were still fermenting in the technological brewery. Today, I’m as much a part of this wired world as anyone else, and I honestly wouldn’t have it any other way.
That said, I do have my misgivings over how much academic research revolves around the internet–not because there’s anything intrinsically wrong with it, but because the attitudes of far too many students literally scream “Everything is Online!” The “sad” truth, however, is that precious little of what’s readily available out there really meets scholarly muster, and as teachers wise up to the yearly round of copypasta they receive from students courtesy of Wikipedia and Google, they are putting a greater stress on quality and reputable resources. Unfortunately, many of these valuable online gems are hard to find; they’re often tucked safely away behind an intimidating pay wall, or lost in a tangle of dead links and dead ends.
The good news is that there are a number of good sources out there dedicated to teaching budding scholars how to separate the wheat from the internet chafe with confidence. A good place to start would be the About.com Guide to Online Research: Navigate the Web–from RSS and the Invisible Web to Multimedia and the Blogosphere by Wendy Boswell. Yes, I know it’s a book (published in 2007), but it’s a helpful guide for anyone looking to learn the basics of web research. Boswell writes with the casual web surfer in mind and fills her book with helpful hints along with a glossary for readers who want to know an IP from an ISP. While not specifically geared towards student research, it gives valuable advice on how to evaluate websites, master classic search engines, and many more useful tips for anyone hoping to navigate the internet’s murky terrain.
A major topic in Boswell’s book is the so-called Deep Web, the huge sea of websites lurking just beyond the nets cast by the major search engines. Major components of these hidden websites are the aforementioned pay walls and online databases that form a barricade around most of the information crucial for well-crafted school papers. GALILEO is one such resource, a huge online library portal offering vast, authoritative information from hundreds of periodicals, scholarly journals, and academic monographs. An initiative of the University System of Georgia, GALILEO provides equal access to information for all citizens in Georgia and accomplishes its mission through a network of universities, K-12 schools, and public libraries. GALILEO can be used as a sort of scholarly Google by typing in queries and collecting results. There’s also a specially-designed GALILEO Kids interface, plus you can access any of its individual resources directly with GALILEO A-Z. These various ways of access are conveniently perched at the top of the Reference Databases page on our library website.
Here are two additional resources specifically tailored for our youngest scholars:
- Kids Search – Designed with elementary and middle school students in mind, this bright and colorful site cuts a lot of the pain out of researching topics. Its unique check-box topic search helps students narrow down searches without fumbling around to find the right words, and it comes equipped with a dictionary and an encyclopedia.
- NoveList K-8 Plus – Need to find books in a particular category? This new junior addition to the popular Novelist database allows young students to browse through subject and genre categories for whatever topic they need. It’s also a good place for parents to build a summer reading list to get a good head start on what their child may expect in the upcoming school year.
I’d be the first to admit that, if I’m looking for quick, painless information, I’d probably turn to Google or Wikipedia before I crack open a dictionary or an encyclopedia. The internet is the source for virtually unlimited information, and having all of that at your fingertips can be quite intoxicating. But information access and information literacy are not the same, and if you or your child are trying to get the most accurate and scholarly information you can, you might want to give the Wikiverse a rest and try a resource with a little more meat.
There’s a nice list of student resources available on the library website under Reference Databases. If anyone has their own hidden gem, please feel free to share.