About the Author
Robert I. Berkman is founder and editor of the Information Advisory Newsletter. He has also taught "How to Be an Instant Expert" course at New York City's Learning Annex for several years. He is currently teaching a course for The New School on computer-based research and lives in Washington, D.C.
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Why doing research at Your Library Is Still Critical
You may think that since you have the Internet there's no reason to trudge off to the library. Well, that's flat out incorrect. Although there's unquestionably a truly incredible amount of information on the Internet (described in chapter 5), your library still offers several critical benefits that can't be found online. Below are ten reasons why, despite the Internet, any good researcher will treasure libraries and will want to make frequent visits:Access to Books
This may seem obvious, but it can be easy to forget that only at a library are you going to be able to browse thousands of actual books, find the ones you want, and then read them. The Net does many things extremely well -- but one thing it does not do is provide the complete text of many books. Yes, you can order books easily, but you can read only a miniscule number of them online. In addition, there are few people who would actually want to read an entire book on their computer screen.Access to Magazines and Newspapers
Although many publishers do put the complete text of their magazine or newspaper online, there are several problems with accessing these on the Web. First, it is still hit or miss as to whether the specific title you seek is available on the Internet, and, even if it does exist online, it can be difficult to find. If you do locate it, you are unlikely to be able to scan the back issues, and almost certainly will not be able to do so for free.
The library is still the best place to go for finding journals and newspapers of interest to you, and for digging up back issues. Interestingly, in many cases the library is also the better choice for finding the current newsstand issue as well: most libraries have a place where the most recent issues are displayed -- which makes them easier to find than searching on the Web. Furthermore, it is hard to browse pages on the Internet -- but easy to flip through a print copy in your hands.
Also, I find scanning the covers of magazine journals displayed on library shelves to be an interesting exercise. You can discover what issues are hot, see magazines that you previously might not have known about or did not read, and get a sense of how various media are covering some topic you may be researching. This kind of meta-browsing is quite difficult to do on the Internet.Access to Directories
As discussed later in this chapter, directories are invaluable tools for researchers, as they pull together related data on a subject and can provide leads for locating further information. Like books, complete directories are not well represented in their full text on the Internet. And when a directory is available, you'll normally have to pay a fee to search it. Many of these directories are quite expensive too'running in the hundreds of dollars'and so the best place to find and use them without having to purchase or pay a search fee, remains your library.Access to Primary Materials
Libraries are also still the place to go when you need to use rare books, maps, manuscripts, letters, photographs, and other primary and special collection documents. While some libraries are scanning in these materials and putting them on the Net (see the discussion of digital libraries in this chapter), these collections, while intriguing and certainly growing, represent a miniscule percentage of the primary documents held in the world's libraries. It is extremely doubtful, given the time and cost of these digital conversion efforts, that a significant number of collections will be digitized anywhere in the near future.Access to the Internet
Most libraries these days let you use their computers to search the Internet. Why use the library to search the Net? While you may have a computer and modem in your home, your library may offer a faster and more reliable connection, since libraries typically use leased lines, not a dial-up connection. Furthermore, when you find the name of a book, magazine, or other print source while at the library, you can check the library's catalog to see if it has the source, and if it does, you can grab it from the shelves right there!Access to Fee-based Databases
As explained in chapter 5, searching a database is different than searching pages on the Internet. Databases provide access to a focused set of filtered information (e.g., newspaper articles, company financial data, articles published in sociological journals, etc.) and are set up to allow you to perform sophisticated searching. Unlike the general Internet, fee-based informational databases don't contain advertisements, pornography, or nonsubstantive data'and they are created specifically for researchers.
These databases cost money to subscribe to'sometimes a lot of money -- but when a library subscribes, it makes access to these powerful databases free! (Some libraries may restrict this to authorized users and may charge a nominal fee for printing data.) Some of these databases are stored on disks on the library's own computers, and these are called CD-ROMs. Other databases are stored remotely on the database vendor's computers and the library connects to them via the telephone; these are called online databases. In either case, these databases remain some of the most powerful and important tools for any researcher.Organized Information with Expert Finder Tools
As anyone who has ever conducted a search knows, one of the biggest frustrations is trying to pinpoint the information you need from among the millions of Web pages on the Internet. The problem is that nobody has organized the information on the Net. Information contained in the library, in contrast, is fully organized around a standardized and consistent cataloguing method...
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