Category Archives: Libraries

Let’s talk about search

So my last post, “Yet another study shows that ‘digital natives’ suck at searching,” seems to have struck a nerve– it’s received over 5000 hits (thanks to links from BoingBoing and Fark, as well as Twitter and Facebook), and I’ve been reading  the wide range of comments that have sprung up in various places (including my blog, BoingBoing, and the original article at Inside Higher Ed).

I think what many people (especially students) don’t understand is that search is both a tool and a process, requiring different skills, knowledge, and experience. You can learn just enough to get by or really master it with a little curiosity, persistence, time, and practice. There are many ways to do this, and you don’t need a formal class– you can teach yourself (as I did).  There are lots of online resources to help you, including tutorials and how-to guides on university and library websites and specific search engine help pages. (And don’t forget about librarians, a seriously underused resource.) There are links to some resources in my posts and my blogroll and I’ll add more soon.

I do believe it’s important for students to be taught (and regularly practice)– at school, in libraries, and at home– the essentials of digital and information literacy and critical thinking, starting at a young age  and continuing throughout their education. These are important life skills which are being sadly neglected.

Yes, it’s a truth universally acknowledged that most students are lazy and want to get quick and “good enough” results. But the problem is that they don’t know what they don’t know. (As the ERIAL researchers noted, “students were just as unaware of the extent of their own information illiteracy as everyone else.”) They have no idea that there’s a world of information out there that you can’t find through a Google search. Most of it has never been digitized and probably never will be (for lack of funding and copyright concerns, among other reasons). Some has been digitized but is locked in proprietary databases and the “invisible web.” Most books and articles published in the US after 1922 are still under copyright, so even if they’ve been digitized chances are they aren’t free (unless you borrow them from a library). Even if information has been indexed in Google, you may never find it if you don’t know how to properly search for it.

Google could certainly improve the situation, but it is a company of engineers trying to make search as easy and simple as possible for the vast majority of users, giving them a single “magic box” into which they can type anything and get results, even if they’ve spelled the keywords wrong or don’t really know what they are looking for. Some of the “improvements” they’ve made over time have made it frustrating for advanced users like me, such as ignoring the terms I’ve actually typed and substituting what they assume I’m looking for, or filtering my results based on my past search history. And if you want more advanced search options, Google doesn’t make it easy to find or learn about them, and their help articles often aren’t helpful at all. Search is not just an engineering problem to be solved– it is both an art and a science, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. But no matter how good or flawed a tool like Google search is, anyone can learn how to use it well and get far better results.

A number of people have asked for some advice and tips on search, so here you go.

General advice:

  • When using any search engine, database, or website with search functions, take a few moments to read the instructions or help pages to figure out how to use the site to its full advantage.
  • Search engines are constantly evolving, so you should periodically review the instructions to see if you need to make changes in the way you search.
  • Every search engine is different, so what works for one won’t necessarily work for all, and each may produce different results using the same search terms.
  • If there is an “advanced search” option, you should always use it, as it will give you much more control over your searching and the results.
  • Refine your search. Experiment with different keywords and combinations of keywords. Look for clues to other possible keywords, such as related terms, alternate names, and subject-specific terminology. If you don’t get the results you are looking for, keep trying different things.
  • Remember to look beyond just the first few search results.

Some Google-specific tips:

  • Google’s search tips and help articles can be hard to find, but they do have useful information. Here are direct links:
  • Use Google’s advanced search function, which allows you to limit your search  in many different ways and combinations (all these words, this exact wording or phrase, one or more of these words, don’t show pages that have any of these unwanted words, language, file type, search within a site or domain, etc.). There is no longer a link to it on the main search page– it’s now hidden behind the gear icon (search settings) in the upper right corner. Here’s the direct link:  http://www.google.com/advanced_search?hl=en
  • If you’d rather use Google’s main search box instead of the advanced search, the help articles I linked to above have command shortcuts you can use, such as placing quotation marks around exact phrases. Note that Google no longer uses all Boolean operators. (You don’t need AND as it is the default in all searches. You can still use OR. Don’t use NOT, instead place a minus sign (-) directly before any words or terms you want to exclude.)
  • Google has many specialized search functions for images, news, blogs, scholarly papers, books, patents, etc.  Look in the upper left-hand corner, click “more,” then click “even more” for a full list. Here’s the direct link to the list:  http://www.google.com/intl/en/about/products/index.html
  • All the words you put in the query will be used and the order you put them in matters.
  • Search is case insensitive, punctuation is usually ignored, and common words (the, a) are usually ignored.
  • Google automatically searches for common variations of a keyword.

A final note: Improving your search skills is important, but it’s even more important that you think critically and evaluate your search results and sources.  (See some of my previous posts for more about this.)

Yet another study shows that “digital natives” suck at searching

I’ve blogged before about studies showing that so-called “digital natives” lack basic information literacy skills and have great difficulty doing academic research and finding and evaluating sources.  (My two posts on Project Information Literacy studies are here and here.)

This Inside Higher Ed article reported today on the results of new studies by the ERIAL (Ethnographic Research in Illinois Academic Libraries) Project. Here’s an excerpt, but you should read the whole thing:

“The majority of students — of all levels — exhibited significant difficulties that ranged across nearly every aspect of the search process,” according to researchers there. They tended to overuse Google and misuse scholarly databases. They preferred simple database searches to other methods of discovery, but generally exhibited “a lack of understanding of search logic” that often foiled their attempts to find good sources….

The most alarming finding in the ERIAL studies was perhaps the most predictable: when it comes to finding and evaluating sources in the Internet age, students are downright lousy….

The prevalence of Google in student research is well-documented, but the Illinois researchers found something they did not expect: students were not very good at using Google. They were basically clueless about the logic underlying how the search engine organizes and displays its results. Consequently, the students did not know how to build a search that would return good sources. (For instance, limiting a search to news articles, or querying specific databases such as Google Book Search or Google Scholar.)

Duke and Asher said they were surprised by “the extent to which students appeared to lack even some of the most basic information literacy skills that we assumed they would have mastered in high school.” Even students who were high achievers in high school suffered from these deficiencies…

In other words: Today’s college students might have grown up with the language of the information age, but they do not necessarily know the grammar.

“I think it really exploded this myth of the ‘digital native,’ ” Asher said. “Just because you’ve grown up searching things in Google doesn’t mean you know how to use Google as a good research tool.”

Even when students turned to more scholarly resources, that did not necessarily solve the problem. Many seemed confused about where in the constellation of library databases they should turn to locate sources for their particular research topic: Half wound up using databases a librarian “would most likely never recommend for their topic.”…

Years of conditioning on Google had not endowed the Illinois Wesleyan students with any searching savvy to speak of, but rather had instilled them with a stunted understanding of how to finely tune a search in order to home in on usable sources, concluded the ERIAL researchers.

Regardless of the advanced-search capabilities of the database they were querying, “Students generally treated all search boxes as the equivalent of a Google search box, and searched ‘Google-style,’ using the ‘any word anywhere’ keyword as a default,” they wrote. Out of the 30 students Duke and Asher observed doing research, 27 failed to narrow their search criteria at all when doing so would have turned up more helpful returns.

Unsurprisingly, students using this method got either too many search results or too few. Frequently, students would be so discouraged they would change their research topic to something more amenable to a simple search….

Duke and Asher noted: “Students showed an almost complete lack of interest in seeking assistance from librarians during the search process.” Of all the students they observed — many of whom struggled to find good sources, to the point of despair — not one asked a librarian for help.

In a separate study of students…, other ERIAL researchers deduced several possible reasons for this. The most basic was that students were just as unaware of the extent of their own information illiteracy as everyone else.

How are students supposed to acquire these important digital and information literacy skills if they aren’t being taught in schools, many parents and teachers lack these skills themselves, and the librarians who have the skills are ignored or fired as libraries close in record numbers?

The David Foster Wallace archive

Today the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin announced that the literary archive of David Foster Wallace they acquired after his death is now open to researchers. The archive includes Wallace’s papers, manuscripts, correspondence, teaching materials, and the extensively annotated books from his library.

Here’s a photograph of the inside cover of Wallace’s annotated copy of Don DeLillo’s Players:

The Harry Ransom Center blog has a series of interesting posts about the Wallace archive:

Here are links to more information about the archive:

The Harry Ransom Center is a humanities research library and museum with many extraordinary collections, including exceptional literary archives, manuscripts, and rare books, but you do have to go in person to access them. (They also have a Gutenberg Bible and three copies of the Shakespeare First Folio, among other treasures.)

The Seattle Public Library’s annual shutdown

For those of you who live in Seattle, a reminder that the Seattle Public Library system will be closed from Monday, August 30th through Monday, September 6th. This week-long end of summer shutdown has unfortunately become an annual event (see my blog post from last year, “Why shut down the entire Seattle Public Library system for a week?”). All branches will be closed and the library staff of about 650 will be on unpaid furlough. In a change from last year, the SPL website won’t be shut down, so you can access the library catalog (though you can’t put books on hold), the databases and online resources, and digital media, but you are on your own if you run into problems or have questions. See this SPL document for details.

To help close a $67 million gap in Seattle’s 2010 general fund budget, Seattle’s library system had to cut $3 million this year from its $50 million budget. The shutdown will save $650,000, with the rest coming from a reduction in branch hours (as of last February, 15 of the 27 branches are closed on Fridays and Sundays and open only 35 hours a week) and cuts to staff, the book buying budget, the capital budget for major maintenance, etc. It looks like there will be even deeper cuts in 2011, as Seattle is facing a $56 million gap for 2011 and the mayor has asked the library and most other city departments (except police and fire) for cuts of 9.5% to 14.5%, which for the library would be $4.9 to $7.4 million.

The SPL leadership is going to have to make some very tough decisions and face the fact that its budget will not only continue to decline over the next few years but may never again be what it was during Seattle’s boom times.

From 1998 to 2008, Seattle built, replaced, expanded, and renovated libraries throughout the city with the $291 million “Libraries for All” bond measure, passed during Seattle’s dot-com boom. The SPL website boasts:

Ten years later, we have finished the final chapter of Libraries for All. It’s time to pause for a moment and look at what we’ve achieved – four new libraries in communities without library service, the replacement, expansion or renovation of 22 existing branches, and a spectacular new Central Library.

Yes, let’s look at what we’ve achieved– we have 27 new or improved library buildings but we’ve had to cut back on the hours they are open, cut back on their staff, cut back on buying books and materials, and defer maintenance. Building new libraries is sexy, but funding their day-to-day operations is not, and expanding your library system results in significant and permanent increases in all of your costs. Unfortunately, the library system does not have a dedicated funding source, so it has to fight for money from the city’s general fund against higher-priority departments like fire, police, human services, the courts, and transportation, to name a few. In lean times, libraries are the low-hanging fruit.

Seattle may love its libraries, but it takes money to keep them open.

Word lovers rejoice: the Historical Thesaurus will be added to OED Online in December

Last October, I blogged at length about the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary, which was only available in two massive print volumes priced just under $400 (though discounted at Amazon.com). As I wrote at the time:

Browsing this work feels strangely like time-travel. All the words from Old English to 2003—obsolete and current, including slang and dialect—have been extracted from the Oxford English Dictionary and organized by their meanings and dates of use. This places each word within its historical context, revealing how ideas and meanings emerged and the different ways they’ve been expressed through time….

The result is the world’s largest thesaurus, nearly 4000 pages of small type in two big volumes weighing fifteen pounds, with a slipcase and folding chart of the top levels of the classification system. I like print references because browsing can lead to serendipitous discoveries, but these books can be awkward to use. It’s especially frustrating when looking up a word with multiple meanings, as the index may list dozens of identification numbers, which means lots of page flipping. No, it’s not available online or on CD, though that may eventually change. I’d like to see the powers-that-be at Oxford University Press quickly add the HTOED to the online OED so both works can be used together and fully cross-referenced and searched.

Christian Kay, the editor of the HTOED, read my post and sent me an email noting that there were plans to eventually link the HTOED to the OED Online and make it available to subscribers, but that could be a couple of years away.

The good news is that you’ll only have to wait until the end of this year. John Simpson, the chief editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, has announced that the OED Online will be relaunched in December 2010 with major changes, including an integrated online edition of the HTOED:

It’s now just over ten years since the OED first went online in 2000, and these ten years have seen remarkable changes in the number, style, and functionality of online reference sites. The OED Online was a ground-breaking site when it was first launched online, and it has steadily received very positive responses from users.

Later this year we are taking the opportunity to make some major changes to the OED Online, taking into account readers’ comments and our own sense of how we would like the site to develop.

When the two-volume Historical Thesaurus of the OED was published in October 2009 we were immediately asked whether it could be incorporated into the OED Online. At the time, we were testing the feasibility of this, but now we can confirm that the relaunched OED site will contain an integrated online edition of the Historical Thesaurus. This means, for instance, that a user viewing the entry for halberd (the early modern weapon combining a spear and a battle-axe) can click to reach the related entries langue de boeuf, glaive, budge, poleaxe, ox-tongue, and partisan—to list only those first recorded between 1450 and 1611.

Here are more details from the OED Online relaunch FAQs:

Q. When will the new OED site launch?

A. The OED site will relaunch in December 2010. As well as the new-look website, the regular quarterly update will be published with new words and revisions of entries across the alphabet.

Q. What new content will be added at launch?

A. The most significant new content is the integration of the Historical Thesaurus of the OED (HTOED) into OED Online. This will allow readers to click through from entries to synonyms by date. The new site will also offer publicly-available feature pieces, providing guides to the OED content and regular commentaries on topical issues in the story of the language.

Q. What new functionality will be added at launch?

A. Amongst other things users will be able to search and browse the OED by a wide variety of criteria including subject, region, usage, or language of origin; see detailed information about the major sources of the OED; view search results as a timeline; and be able personalize the resource by saving searches and entries to their own profile.

Q. Will I have to take out a new subscription to access the HTOED?

A. No, it will be fully integrated and therefore accessible as part of your current subscription.

Individuals can subscribe to the OED Online for $295 a year or $29.95 a month. But you may not need an individual subscription, as many public and university libraries subscribe to it, and some (like the Seattle Public Library) offer free online access from home if you have a library card.

For more about the HTOED, see my original post, “Time-traveling through the English language with the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary.”

Update, 11/30/2010: The new OED website has launched, and it fully integrates the Oxford English Dictionary with the Historical Thesaurus. See my new blog post for more information.

“I’ll blow your mind, show you how to find…”: Lady Gaga virus infects librarians

I still haven’t gotten the Glee “Bad Romance” earworm out of my head, and now here comes the librarian remix of “Poker Face” :

The video was created by Sarah Wachter, who will soon receive her MLIS from the University of Washington Information School. She posted the lyrics on her blog, and here’s an excerpt:

You got a question that is causing you some pain
Typin’ keywords into the search engine again.
Look your naïve searching just ain’t gonna get it done
Cause when it comes to search if it’s not tough it isn’t fun (fun)

Oh, oh, oh, oh, ohhhh, ohh-oh-e-ohh-oh-oh
I’ll blow your mind, show you how to find.
Oh, oh, oh, oh, ohhhh, ohh-oh-e-ohh-oh-oh
I’ll blow your mind, show you how to find.

Can use my
Can use my
Yeah you can use my catalog
(Don’t forget the databases)

Librarians rock.

Search, browse, and share digital images from the Library of Congress

Today the Library of Congress announced the launch of their new and improved Prints and Photographs Online Catalogue (PPOC), making it easier to browse, search, and share LOC’s 1.25 million digital images, including historic photographs, prints and drawings, posters, cartoons, baseball cards, and architectural drawings. Many of the digital images can be downloaded at no charge in different formats (jpegs and tiffs) and resolutions, and the new share/save tool allows you to save images, searches, or collections and post links to them on social networking sites.

The Prints and Photographs Online Catalogue can be found at http://www.loc.gov/pictures and a descriptive list of the digital collections is here. Go browse!

“Books are Weapons in the War of Ideas”: 1942 WWII poster from the U.S. Government Printing Office.

Libraries and the Espresso Book Machine

I’ve written before about bookstores using the Espresso Book Machine to print books on demand. Thanks to Resource Shelf, I just learned that the Grace Mellman Library in Temecula, California has purchased an Espresso Book Machine with grant money as part of a program to study “the usefulness of on-demand printing to enhance library collections”:

Library patrons will now have the option to request titles, have the book printed for free, read it and return it to the library collection, or they may choose to keep the book and pay a printing fee. If the requesting patron is at the Book Espresso location and wants to pay for the book, it can be printed immediately while they wait.

“Growing our collections based upon patron on-demand choices is a new concept for our library system,” said Jan Kuebel, Manager of Grace Mellman Library. “Rather than relying solely on interlibrary loan, we now have a way to immediately respond to patron requests for materials outside of our current collection.”

Available book titles will be obtained from Lightning Source, with over 500,000 titles available, and Google Books, who has partnered with over 20,000 publishers to make their content available for on-demand printing….

I think this is great, and I only wish more libraries (and independent bookstores) could afford EBMs, as they provide instant access at a reasonable cost to a wide range of material not currently on their shelves.

I still haven’t tried out the EBMs in Seattle at the University Bookstore or Third Place Books, but I will report back when I do.

Oxford University Press is having a sale

Those of you who share my love of reference books should know that Oxford University Press’ annual Spring Sale has begun. The Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary is unfortunately not on sale, but many other great books are 30%, 50%, or 65% off. (The site is a bit difficult to browse– you have to browse by subject and also by discount– and the sale prices aren’t visible until you place the item in your cart, but your patience will be rewarded.)

While browsing, I spotted these two items which may be of interest to readers of my blog:

And now for something completely different…

Today is day 7 of Amazon’s boycott of Macmillan print books and ebooks. John Scalzi summarizes the current state of affairs in a very entertaining way in his new blog post, “A Quick Interview of Me, By Me, To Catch Up With Everything Amazon.” And Matt and I spotted this today in a full-page ad in the New York Times for Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto:  “Available at booksellers everywhere except Amazon.”

I realize that not all of my readers are as obsessed with this subject as I am, so I will give you a break and blog about some other things today:

Google Book Settlement

The Google Book Settlement fairness hearing will finally be held on February 18th, and the deadline to opt out or object passed on January 28th. James Grimmelmann has been posting lots of great links about the GBS on his Laboratorium blog:

Clarion and Clarion West Writers Workshop deadlines approaching

Applications are due by March 1st for the 2010 Clarion West Writers Workshop in Seattle, “an intensive six-week workshop for writers preparing for professional careers in science fiction and fantasy.” The 2010 workshop will run from June 20th to July 30th, and the instructors are Michael Bishop, Maureen McHugh, Nnedi Okorafor, Graham Joyce, Ellen Datlow, and Ian McDonald. See the Clarion West website for more information.

Also due by March 1st are applications for the 2010 Clarion Writers’ Workshop at UC San Diego, which runs from June 27th to August 7th. The 2010 instructors are Delia Sherman, George R.R. Martin, Dale Bailey, Samuel R. Delany, Jeff VanderMeer, and Ann VanderMeer.

Library budget cuts

Small Beer Press

Kelly Link and Gavin Grant’s Small Beer Press will bring back into print two books by writers Matt and I really like– Ted Chiang’s Stories of Your Life in October 2010, and Kelley Eskridge’s Solitaire in January 2011. They are joining a fine group of other writers published by Small Beer Press, including John Crowley, Elizabeth Hand, Geoff Ryman, Sean Stewart, and Kelly Link, among others.

And finally…

Introducing the iCodex:

Today, St. Stephen of Jobs announced the newest creation from the monks at Abbey Apple: the iCodex, which he believes will revolutionize the way people work and play…

With the iCodex, people can now store multiple items in one, easy-to-use package. A user could, for example, enjoy both cooking recipes and psalms, or mappa mundi and instructions on marital relations. Since the iCodex’s pages are bound together in an easy-to-turn format, things stored at the end of an iCodex are as easy to access as the beginning…

Excitement for the product could be felt all over the literate world. At the Library of Google, scribes were busy transferring hundreds of years of scrolls onto codices. “We hope to copy the entire history of human writing into codex form within the next few decades,” said Larry the Page, Google’s founder….

Go read the whole thing on Tom Elrod’s Wordism blog.

I have treats for you…

* Last night I spoke with Stesha Brandon, the events manager of the University Book Store in Seattle, and she told me that they are getting an Espresso Book Machine in January. (See my post “…an ATM for books” for more about the Espresso Book Machine, including video of it in action.) That makes a total of three EBMs in Washington state (University Book Store, Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park and Village Books in Bellingham), more than any other state. Decisions, decisions…. Which public domain work should I print first?

* Thanks to the LiteratEye blog, I’m having great fun browsing through LibraryThing’s “Legacy Libraries” project, in which members of the “I See Dead People’s Books” group enter the libraries of famous dead people as LibraryThing catalogues. There are nearly 70 completed libraries, including  John Adams, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Benjamin Franklin, Ernest Hemingway, Katharine Hepburn, Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Johnson, T.E. Lawrence, Sylvia Plath, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and George Washington. There are also over 50 libraries in progress, including  Charles Darwin, John Dee, Emily Dickinson, C.S. Lewis, Mary, Queen of Scots, Herman Melville, Adam Smith, Leonardo da Vinci, and William Butler Yeats.

* For those who are total Shakespeare geeks like me, behold the new Shakespeare Quarto Archives, containing digital reproductions and transcriptions of 32 copies of the five earliest editions of Hamlet published before 1642. Here’s a video introduction to the Shakespeare Quarto Archives:

* There are lots of end of the year lists, but I always look forward to those by Craig Silverman on his Regret the Error blog. For your reading pleasure:

Crunks 2009: The Year in Media Errors and Corrections

2009 Plagiarism Round-Up

* And finally:

Oh hai. In teh beginnin Ceiling Cat maded teh skiez An da Urfs, but he did not eated dem.

Ceiling Cat creats teh universes and stuffs

Yes, Virginia, there is a LOLCat Bible. I discovered the LOLCat Bible Translation project through Steve Wiggins (Neal Stephenson’s brother-in-law), a scholar of ancient and modern religions with a blog named Sects and Violence in the Ancient World.

More from Project Information Literacy: “the librarian approach is based on thoroughness, while the student approach is based on efficiency”

Back in April, I wrote a long post titled “I’m shocked to discover there’s gambling in this casino…” about Project Information Literacy’s February 2009 report, “Finding Context: What Today’s College Students Say About Conducting Research in the Digital Age.” In my post I was somewhat snarky about the report, as you can see from this excerpt:

Surely it isn’t a surprise that:

* Students always procrastinate and are looking for quick and easy answers.

* Students spend an unlimited amount of time and effort on things that interest them, but do the minimum necessary on academic assignments.

* Students universally use the two tools that are the most convenient, familiar, and useful to them– Wikipedia and Google– and they will continue to do so regardless of what their professors say.

* Students don’t know or haven’t been taught how to do research, think critically, find and evaluate sources (online and in the library), and efficiently sift through the overwhelming amount of available information to find what they need.

This month Project Information Literacy released a new and more in-depth report, “Lessons Learned: How College Students Seek Information in the Digital Age”, and it offers some valuable insights and recommendations. Among the report’s conclusions:

When it came to everyday life research, nearly all of the respondents used Google, Wikipedia, and friends for finding context. Almost all of the students used course readings, [online] library resources, and public Internet sites such as Google and Wikipedia, when conducting course-related research—no matter… what resources they had at their disposal.

The relatively consistent pattern of information usage suggests that most students in our study favored a risk-averse and predictable information-seeking strategy. The student approach appears to be learned by rote and reliant on using a small set of resources nearly each and every time.

At the same time, the student approach may sometimes backfire. Using public sites on the Internet, such as Google search, early on, may be one reason why students reportedly find research frustrating in the digital age.

We have found studentsʼ frustrations and challenges involve narrowing down topics, finding relevant resources, sorting through too many results from online searches, and evaluating the credibility of what students choose to use. Still, almost all students used public Internet sites early on, despite their known limitations….

A significant majority of students in our sample–8 in 10–did not ever consult librarians for course-related research assignments. Instead, instructors played an important role in coaching students through the research process…

When it comes to finding information and conducting research, today’s students clearly favor brevity, consensus, and currency in the information sources they seek… [They] have defined their preferences for information sources in a world where credibility, veracity, and intellectual authority are less of a given–or even an expectation from students–with each passing day.

All in all, we are reminded of a comment from one student… about using books from the campus library: “Books, do I use them? Not really, they are antiquated interfaces. You have to look in an index, way in the back, and it’s not even hypertexted linked.”

Today’s students are not lazy or unthinking. This student, representing many, looks at information sources, systems, and services as to how well they meet his or her needs in terms of content, accessibility, and usefulness….

So students prefer to use web sources like Google and Wikipedia because they are fast, convenient, familiar, and produce results, meeting their needs for “content, accessibility, and usefulness.” Of all of the library resources provided to students, online scholarly research databases are used the most, as not only do instructors require their use to find credible content, but they are easy to search. Students aren’t using resources like books, even when they are better and more authoritative for academic research, because they take more time, thought, and effort to find and use, and they can’t be quickly and easily searched. This makes sense– today’s college students are digital natives.

I didn’t understand why so few students use librarians as a resource until I read about the “critical difference between the students’ approach and the librarians’ approach” to research:

“The library guide recommends beginning course-related research by using library resources to identify and narrow down a topic. These resources, the library catalog and periodical indices, are all vetted, credible, and authoritative. Only much later in the research process, and only after a topic has been safely nailed down, does the guide recommends turning to Internet resources, such as Google… The student approach is different… [They] reported using public Internet sources (i.e. Google and Wikipedia) in their initial stages of research for a variety of reasons, which included a belief that the Internet is an all-inclusive information resource… All in all, the librarian approach is based on thoroughness, while the student approach is based on efficiency. To that end, librarians suggest using scholarly resources, while many students in our study used a wide range of resources that deliver an abundance of results early on, whether they are scholarly or not. As a whole, the findings suggest that students in our sample favored sources for their brevity, consensus, and currency over other qualities and less so, for their scholarly authority.

At the end of the report, the authors make a series of recommendations, of which I thought these were particularly important:

Course-related research assignments should not indirectly encourage students to half-heartedly engage in a narrow exploration of the digital landscape (e.g., assignments that state requirements such as, “must use five sources cited in your paper”). Administrators, faculty, and librarians should examine whether research-based assignments result in opening studentsʼ minds to expand their information-gathering competencies. Instead, we recommend that students be given course-related research assignments that encourage the collection, analysis, and synthesis of multiple viewpoints from a variety of sources, so the transfer of information literacy and critical thinking competencies may be more actively called up, practiced, and learned by students…

Our work leads us to draw an important distinction between library services and library resources… For the most part, in our study, librarians were left out of the student research workflow, despite librariansʼ vast training and expertise in finding information. Librarians should systematically (not just anecdotally) examine the services they provide to students… Questions should be addressed about how and why services and resources are used—not only how often (e.g., circulation or reference desk statistics). Librarians may want to initiate their analysis by asking what percentage of their campus are using the library, for what particular resources or services, and why or why not?

So what do you think? How can we expand the minds and research methods of digital natives? We can’t convert all information to digital form, so are there ways to pry them away from their computers and into the stacks? Should we even try? Rather than trying to change the ways they do research, should we instead focus on teaching them to improve their web search skills and find and evaluate digital sources? Can we provide better or more authoritative alternatives to Wikipedia and Google, or make it easier to find academic sources with one search? How can we make academic research more interesting and creative for students?

I welcome your comments and ideas.

Link salad

Sorry for the lack of blogging, but I’ve been unusually busy of late. Here’s a round-up of some of the links I’ve collected over the past week or two.

Sergey Brin’s op-ed in the New York Times defending the Google Books settlement, “A Library to Last Forever”:

Today, if you want to access a typical out-of-print book, you have only one choice — fly to one of a handful of leading libraries in the country and hope to find it in the stacks.

I laughed out loud when I read this. As far as I know, all libraries have online catalogues so you can check their holdings remotely, and many have interlibrary loan programs. And has this man never heard of a used bookstore? You can even search for millions of out-of-print books on sites like Bookfinder, buy them online and have them mailed to your home.

Here’s Pamela Samuelson’s response in The Huffington Post, “Google Books in Not a Library.”

And Chris Thompson’s response in Slate, “Sergey Brin Blows Smoke Up Your Ass.”

And the Open Book Alliance’s response.

Chris Thompson’s East Bay Express article “The Case Against Google Books,” about Peter Brantley, Pamela Samuelson, and Geoff Nunberg and their opposition to the Google Books settlement.

Lewis Hyde’s New York Times Book Review essay on orphan works: “There are millions of them out there, and they are gumming up the world of publishing…. [When] Carnegie Mellon University tried to digitize a collection of out-of-print books, one of every five turned out to be orphaned. When Cornell tried to post a collection of agricultural monographs online, half were orphans. The United States Holocaust Museum owns millions of pages of archival documents that it can neither publish nor digitize.”

Sam Roberts’ New York Times article about the Leon Levy Foundation’s grants to institutions to “preserve and digitize their archival collections and to make them available online to scholars and to the public.” This could uncover many historical treasures that have been locked away in uncatalogued archives.

Michael Ruane’s Washington Post article, “WWII GI Returns Books Taken from Germany Six Decades Ago,” with “anti-Nazi librarians hiding their books.”

Motoko Rich’s New York Times article about library ebooks, in which “some publishers worry that the convenience of borrowing books electronically could ultimately cut into sales of print editions.”

Survival of the Book’s post on the Entertainment Weekly Q&A with Dacre Stoker about the Dracula sequel: “We grew up thinking, Isn’t it too bad that the copyright was lost in the 1930s?… When [the vampire craze] was just beginning to pick up, we said, ‘You know what? We better get this thing done.'”

From Letters of Note, a 1777 Revolutionary War “masked letter.”

And yes, I know I missed Banned Books Week, but you can still read my post from last year, “Girls lean back everywhere….”

Library of Congress World War I posters now online

The Library of Congress has photographed and made available online 1,900 World War I posters created between 1914 and 1920.  The majority of the posters are from the United States, but the collection also includes posters from Canada, Great Britain, Germany, Austria, Australia, Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands, and Russia. Here’s some background from the introduction to the collection:

During World War I, the impact of the poster as a means of communication was greater than at any other time during history. The ability of posters to inspire, inform, and persuade combined with vibrant design trends in many of the participating countries to produce thousands of interesting visual works. As a valuable historical research resource, the posters provide multiple points of view for understanding this global conflict. As artistic works, the posters range in style from graphically vibrant works by well-known designers to anonymous broadsides (predominantly text).

The Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division has extensive holdings of World War I era posters. Available online are approximately 1,900 posters created between 1914 and 1920. Most relate directly to the war, but some German posters date from the post-war period and illustrate events such as the rise of Bolshevism and Communism, the 1919 General Assembly election and various plebiscites….

The poster was a major tool for broad dissemination of information during the war. Countries on both sides of the conflict distributed posters widely to garner support, urge action, and boost morale… Even with its late entry into the war, the United States produced more posters than any other country….

All of these posters are in the public domain the United States, and you can download free digital files directly from the Library of Congress website or purchase photographic copies. Here are two of the posters:

Patriotic Canadians

it's up to you

There’s lots of other great stuff in the LOC’s Prints and Photographs Division–historic photographs (including Mathew Brady’s Civil War photographs, Ansel Adams’s Manzanar War Relocation Center photographs, and many newspaper and magazine archives), fine prints and posters, baseball cards, cartoons, and so on. Here are links to the online catalogue and the collection and subject overview, so go browse. (An important note: some of this material is still under copyright. See the LOC’s rights and restrictions information for details and the copyright status of specific collections.)

Someone other than Google is digitizing and selling public domain library books

Last month I blogged about Google partnering with the makers of the Espresso Book Machine to print 2 million public domain works on demand. Yesterday DigitalKoans reported that the New York Public Library has joined the Kirtas Technologies Digitize-on-Demand program to digitize and sell public domain works. Here’s an excerpt from the Kirtas press release:

Readers and researchers looking for hard-to-find books now have the opportunity to dip into the collections of one of the world’s most comprehensive libraries to purchase digitized copies of public domain titles. Through their Digitize-on-Demand program, Kirtas Technologies has partnered with The New York Public Library to make 500,000 public domain works from the Library’s collections available (to anyone in the world).

“New technology has allowed the Library to greatly expand access to its collections,” said Paul LeClerc, President of The New York Public Library. “Now, for the first time, library users are able to order copies of specific items from our vast public domain collections that are useful to them. Additionally the program creates a digital legacy for future users of the same item and a revenue stream to support our operations. We are very pleased to participate in a program that is so beneficial to everyone involved.”

Using existing information from NYPL’s catalog records, Kirtas will make the library’s public domain books available for sale through its retail site before they are ever digitized. Customers can search for a desired title on http://www.kirtasbooks.com and place an order for that book. When the order is placed, only then is it pulled from the shelf, digitized and made available as a high-quality reprint or digital file.

What makes this approach to digitization unique is that NYPL incurs no up-front printing, production or storage costs. It also provides the library with a self-funding, commercial model helping it to sustain its digitization programs in the future. Unlike other free or low-cost digitization programs, the library retains the rights and ownership to their own digitized content…

Kirtas currently has 13 partnerships with universities and public libraries to make special collections available for sale online. Virtually any library with a modern records database and valuable collections can participate in the Digitize on Demand program.

This is an interesting model, as books don’t have to be scanned until someone requests a copy, unlike Google’s random and expensive “scan first” method. But the Kirtas Books website (www.kirtasbooks.com) is surprisingly clunky, unattractive, and awkward to use, and it looks like it takes 3 to 4 weeks to have a book scanned (books that have already been scanned are available for instant download). For the titles I’ve browsed, digital files are $1.95, paperbacks are an additional $8.05, and hardcovers are an additional $18.05. The powerful and easy to use Google Book Search (and its free digital files of public domain works) wins hands down, so I don’t see myself using Kirtas Books unless I want a copy of a work that Google hasn’t yet scanned.

Update: A commenter has noted that the book scans done by Kirtas Books are much better than those done by Google. If that’s true, then I may have been too quick to assume that I wouldn’t order from Kirtas unless I couldn’t get something from Google. I should order some books from both Kirtas and the Espresso Book Machine and compare them. (I stand by my criticisms of the Kirtas Books website, and its limited search capabilities don’t compare to Google Book Search. The long wait to have a book scanned is still a problem, as I’m usually under time pressure when doing research for others.)

More closures of the Seattle Public Library system in 2010

As I suspected, the one-week closure of the entire Seattle Public Library system earlier this month was just the beginning. This year the library was asked to cut 2% of its budget (about $1 million), and the system was shut down for a week (with all employees unpaid during that time) to save $655,000. For more on this and my objections to it, see my earlier post “Why shut down the entire Seattle Public Library system for a week?”

Yesterday Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels proposed $41 million in cuts (about 4.4%) from the city budget for 2010. The Seattle Public Library system has to make cuts to its 2010 budget of 5%, about $2.8 million. As noted in today’s post on the Friends of the Seattle Public Library blog:

This is a significantly larger impact than what Seattle experienced with the downward adjustment of the 2009 budget. What does this mean to you and your neighborhood? A one week closure of the entire system and 21 branch libraries that will close Friday and Sunday all year. In addition, according to the library’s website, the proposed 2010 capital budget is down 37 percent from the 2009 adopted budget which means delays in the maintenance and upkeep of our very busy, well used buildings…

12 million people turned to our libraries last year. Many are accessing critical services: job search resources, free computers, wi-fi efficiency, community meeting space, literacy support and so forth. Our blog stories portray these everyday uses and the impact on individuals and families. Closed libraries and abbreviated access creates hardships. In the recession of 2002 and 2003 our library system was closed for two weeks each year and library hours were cut. The Library hasn’t regained the operating hours lost almost 7 years ago.

In 1998, Seattle voters approved a $196 million bond measure (“Libraries for All”) to build the new central library and build or renovate branch libraries, and the last project was completed in 2008. The bond money could only be used for the construction of libraries. I don’t think it makes much sense to build lots of new libraries but not fully fund their day-to-day operations. They should have a dedicated funding source so that the libraries don’t have to close or reduce their hours every time Seattle tax revenues go down.

The Seattle Public Library website has details of the proposed 2010 cuts:  about the budgetoperational budget reductions;  capital budget reductions;  reductions in branch hours.  The website notes:  “While the council allocates the funds to operate the Library, it is the Library Board’s responsibility to decide how that money is spent.”

Here’s the Seattle City Council’s 2010 budget calendar. There will be public hearings on October 7, 14, and 26th.

“When I look at books, I see an outdated technology, like scrolls before books…”

According to this Boston Globe article, the Cushing Academy, a New England prep school, is replacing all of its library books with a digital “learning center”:

This year, after having amassed a collection of more than 20,000 books, officials at the pristine campus about 90 minutes west of Boston have decided the 144-year-old school no longer needs a traditional library. The academy’s administrators have decided to discard all their books and have given away half of what stocked their sprawling stacks – the classics, novels, poetry, biographies, tomes on every subject from the humanities to the sciences. The future, they believe, is digital.

“When I look at books, I see an outdated technology, like scrolls before books,’’ said James Tracy, headmaster of Cushing and chief promoter of the bookless campus. “This isn’t ‘Fahrenheit 451’ [the 1953 Ray Bradbury novel in which books are banned]. We’re not discouraging students from reading. We see this as a natural way to shape emerging trends and optimize technology.’’

Instead of a library, the academy is spending nearly $500,000 to create a “learning center,’’ though that is only one of the names in contention for the new space. In place of the stacks, they are spending $42,000 on three large flat-screen TVs that will project data from the Internet and $20,000 on special laptop-friendly study carrels. Where the reference desk was, they are building a $50,000 coffee shop that will include a $12,000 cappuccino machine.

And to replace those old pulpy devices that have transmitted information since Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in the 1400s, they have spent $10,000 to buy 18 electronic readers made by Amazon.com and Sony… Those who don’t have access to the electronic readers will be expected to do their research and peruse many assigned texts on their computers…

Cushing is one of the first schools in the country to abandon its books….

This is stupid on so many levels that I forced myself to wait a full day before blogging about it so I wouldn’t rant incoherently. Let me just pose a few questions:

  • Did the librarians of Cushing Academy try to explain to their headmaster that only a small percentage of works are available in digital form, and that most of those aren’t free?
  • Before discarding their 20,000 printed books, did they consider checking to see which ones aren’t available in digital form and keeping those? (In my experience many of the best reference works only exist in print form.)
  • Did they think about the fact that even if the library pays to subscribe to subscription databases and encourages the use of free public domain works (Google Books, Project Gutenberg, etc.), that still means students won’t have access to the vast majority of works published after 1922 and still under copyright?
  • What happens when students try to do research using Google Books and discover that the works they need are only available in print form and they can’t view more than a snippet of text online? Has Cushing Academy set up any kind of interlibrary loan program so students can get access to the printed books they need?
  • Will teachers at the school be limited to using only texts available in digital form?
  • Will students be instructed in how to find, use, evaluate, and cite digital sources? (Perhaps we should start calling the Cushing Academy “the Wikipedia school.”)
  • What’s going to happen when these kids go off to college and discover that they don’t have a clue how to find or use printed sources? Will they even know that there’s a whole world of knowledge not available to them on the internet?
  • Were the parents told about this in advance so they could choose to send their children to another school instead? (Especially since this year’s tuition for the Cushing Academy boarding school is over $42,000 and the day school is over $31,000.)

I could go on, but I’m going to stop now before my head explodes. I’ll leave you with an excerpt from the transcript of a talk that James Tracy (the headmaster) gave about “Libraries Beyond Books,” which is posted on the Cushing Academy website:

This is why, at Cushing Academy, where we are dedicated to forging the most far-sighted pedagogies for twenty-first century education, we have decided to be bookless within a year.

You know [holding up a book], if I look at this book I am struck by how limited it is. This is pretty bulky. I don’t mean to belittle or disparage it. I love books, and I love the representation of culture that they embody, but, from an information perspective, this is a very, very bulky way to reposit data by today’s standards.

We should be able to hold not only this book but thousands of others in one hand. So Cushing has decided to go from a library that right now is a warehouse of 20,000 books shelved in old technology to a library of millions of books utilizing far less space and with much richer and more powerful means of accessing that information. If I want to research all the references to Churchill just in our little 20,000 volume library, it’s going to take me months and years, but I can now data mine every reference to Churchill in 7 million volumes in a matter of seconds using search engines. Moreover, we find from a check of the records that our students aren’t really using the books extensively for research, anyway. They’re already doing most of that online, and, in fact, they are checking out more music and films than books from the Cushing library.

I’ll tell you that, with the financial crisis, as a Headmaster, I no longer see the point of maintaining this huge warehouse of underutilized space that we call a library. Better to free up that space while at the same time expanding by many orders of magnitude the school community’s access to information, literature, art, music via terminals that I term “Portals to Civilization.”

In praise of browsing

For me, an important element of creative research is serendipity, which the OED defines as “making happy and unexpected discoveries by accident.” Browsing is a great way to open yourself to serendipity, but it is unfortunately becoming a lost art in this digital age.

Browsing and searching are different– browsing is about the journey, searching is about the destination. Searching is focused on finding specific information quickly and often leads to tunnel-vision, which can prevent you from recognizing useful sources that don’t match your preconceived ideas and assumptions. Browsing is about slowing down, opening your eyes, feeding your curiosity, and allowing yourself the opportunity to make discoveries.

I believe it’s important to set aside time to browse on a regular basis– not just on the web, but in the physical world as well. Spend time exploring different bookstores (both new and used), visit libraries and museums, and search out unusual places you’ve never visited. Take a different route, walk around neighborhoods you don’t live in, look for hidden treasures.

Whenever you are looking for something in a bookstore or library, always browse the surrounding books and nearby shelves. I can’t tell you the number of times that I found books much better than the one I was looking for by doing this. Sometimes you don’t really know what you need until you find it.

Remind yourself to occasionally browse unfamiliar sections or subjects in bookstores and libraries, rather than only the ones you think will be of interest to you. Bookstores (especially those selling used books) each have their own idiosyncratic system of categorizing, so what you want may be in a section you never visit, and if you change your routine you might stumble across amazing things you aren’t looking for.

Use sources to lead you to other sources. Whenever you are looking at a book or article, browse the bibliographies or lists of references cited, as this will often reveal useful sources you might not have found on your own. When you discover an interesting blog or website, check out the list of links and bookmark those that may be useful to you. Talk to people and ask them for recommendations.

If something arouses your curiosity or inspires you, embrace the creative impulse and and see where it leads. Write stuff down. Let your mind wander.

I hope you’ll all spend some time browsing this holiday weekend. You never know what you might discover….

Why shut down the entire Seattle Public Library system for a week?

The entire Seattle Public Library system will shut down from August 31st through September 7th. All branches will be closed, book drop slots will be locked, and even the website will be shut down, so there will be no access to the library catalogue or online databases.

According to information on the library website and the flyer being distributed at the branches, the closure is due to citywide budget cuts. Seattle has to close a $43 million gap in the 2009 budget, and the Seattle Public Library has to cut $1 million this year, about 2% of its budget. Shutting the library system for the week will save about $655,000 from salary reductions, as employees will not be paid during that week.

The flyer notes that by shutting the system for a week, branch hours throughout the year won’t have to be cut and library jobs will be preserved. The City Librarian, Susan Hildreth, is quoted: “While there were no good options, temporarily closing will have the least impact on public service for the long term… It preserves our regular hours of operation.”

It seems to me that there must be ways to save the same amount of money without shutting the entire system at once. The system consists of the large Central Library and 26 small neighborhood branches, so why not rotate closures among the branches throughout the year, or close half the system one week and the other half a different week. That way, if your local branch was closed, you could still go to another branch. And why shut down the website at all? A special fundraising drive could also have helped narrow the gap, as I think most library users would be willing to chip in a buck (or five) to keep their branches open.

Our Seattle libraries have always been busy, but since the downturn in the economy they are continuously packed. So many people are using the libraries for job hunting that the computers are always in use and it’s hard to find a seat. In 2008, over 2 million people visited the Central Library, nearly 5 million people visited the neighborhood branches, there were over 6 million “virtual visits” to the website, and over 11 million items were circulated. I’m sure the numbers for 2009 will be much higher.

I suspect that the decision to shut the whole system at once was made not only to get the pain over with quickly and preserve service the rest of the year, but also to make a statement and remind everyone how important the library system is by forcing us to live without it for a week. It’s actually not a bad strategy, but there must have been other options that would not have deprived this book-crazy city (and the unemployed and those without home computers) of its libraries and their vital services for a week.

Curious Expeditions and Atlas Obscura

World traveler and filmmaker Dylan Thuras (one of the creators of the amazing Curious Expeditions website) and science journalist Joshua Foer are guest blogging at BoingBoing, where they announced the launch of their new website, Atlas Obscura: A Compendium of the World’s Wonders, Curiosities, and Esoterica:

The Atlas is a collaborative project whose purpose is to catalog all of the “wondrous, curious, and esoteric places” that get left out of traditional travel guidebooks and are ignored by the average tourist. Anyone can enter new places into the Atlas Obscura, or edit content that someone else has already contributed.

What kind of places are we talking about? Here are a few that were recently added to the Atlas:

– A hidden spot in the Smoky Mountains where you can find fireflies that blink in unison

-A 70-year-old house made entirely out of paper

– A giant hole in the middle of the Turkmenistan desert that’s been burning for four decades

– A Czech church built of bones

– The world’s largest Tesla coil

– A museum filled with the genitals of every known mammal in Iceland

– Enormous concrete sound mirrors once used to detect aircraft off the English coast

– The self-built cathedral of an eccentric Spanish ex-monk

– A museum of Victorian hair art in Independence, Missiouri

– An underwater sculpture garden off the coast of Grenada

– Galileo’s amputated middle finger

The site certainly sounds interesting (I haven’t been able to really explore it yet, as their server keeps crashing from all of the BoingBoing traffic), but it raises an obvious question, which was already asked by a commenter to their post:

…if this is all obscure information, how is any of it verified? Specifically, what’s preventing trolls at 4chan or the jokers at Uncyclopedia from deciding that there is wonderful, fertile soil available for them at Atlas Obscura, and start posting articles about a gingerbread house in the Black Forest, a place off of Cyprus where all the dolphins wink in unison, or the Bermuda Triangle-like effect near Dick Cheney’s house?

I certainly hope they have more safeguards in place than Wikipedia does.

While waiting for Atlas Obscura to come back online, treat yourself to more porn for book lovers at Curious Expeditions’ “Librophiliac Love Letter: A Compendium of Beautiful Libraries” page. Here’s a hint of what awaits you there:

Real Gabinete Portugues De Leitura Rio De Janeiro, Brazil

Real Gabinete Portugues De Leitura Rio De Janeiro, Brazil

George Peabody Library, Baltimore, Maryland

George Peabody Library, Baltimore, Maryland

Google and antitrust and censorship, oh my!

Lots of interesting book-related news, articles, and posts over the last week or so:

“Hidden treasures in the world’s public photography archives”

The Commons on Flickr is a website and program “to increase access to publicly-held photography collections” and “to provide a way for the general public to contribute information and knowledge” by adding tags or comments to help describe the photographs. The Library of Congress, the Smithsonian, the New York Public Library, and the National Galleries of Scotland are just a few of the participating institutions.

Here’s a photo from the State Library of New South Wales of Adelie penguins after a blizzard at Cape Denison, taken by Frank Hurley during the First Australasian Antarctic Expedition, 1911-1914:

penguins

Here’s an 1882 albumen print of Oscar Wilde from the George Eastman House Collection:

wilde

Thanks to LISNews for the tip.

World Digital Library launches April 21st

UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization), the Library of Congress, and over 30 institutions from around the world have partnered to created the World Digital Library, which will launch on April 21, 2009.

From the World Digital Library website:

The World Digital Library will make available on the Internet, free of charge and in multilingual format, significant primary materials from cultures around the world, including manuscripts, maps, rare books, musical scores, recordings, films, prints, photographs, architectural drawings, and other significant cultural materials. The objectives of the World Digital Library are to promote international and inter-cultural understanding and awareness, provide resources to educators, expand non-English and non-Western content on the Internet, and to contribute to scholarly research.

From the UNESCO press release:

The WDL will function in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish, and will include content in a great many other languages. Browse and search features will facilitate cross-cultural and cross-temporal exploration on the site. Descriptions of each item and videos with expert curators speaking about selected items will provide context for users, and are intended to spark curiosity and encourage both students and the general public to learn more about the cultural heritage of all countries.

The WDL was developed by a team at the Library of Congress. Technical assistance was provided by the Bibliotheca Alexandrina of Alexandria, Egypt. Institutions contributing content and expertise to the WDL include national libraries and cultural and educational institutions in Brazil, Egypt, China, France, Iraq, Israel, Japan, Mali, Mexico, Morocco, the Netherlands, Qatar, the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Slovakia, Sweden, Uganda, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Examples of treasures that will be featured on the WDL include oracle bones and steles contributed by the National Library of China; Arabic scientific manuscripts from the National Library and Archives of Egypt; early photographs of Latin America from the National Library of Brazil; the Hyakumanto darani, a publication from the year 764 from the National Diet Library of Japan; the famous 13th century “Devil’s Bible” from the National Library of Sweden; and works of Arabic, Persian, and Turkish calligraphy from the collections of the Library of Congress.

The National Archives (NARA) has created a web page highlighting the digital copies of documents it’s contributing to the World Digital Library, including the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, the Bill of Rights, the Emancipation Proclamation, and Civil War photographs.

My thanks to the Librarian and Information Science News blog for the tip.

I’m shocked to discover there’s gambling in this casino…

I recently read the February 2009 Project Information Literacy Progress Report from the Information School at the University of Washington, titled “Finding Context: What Today’s College Students Say about Conducting Research in the Digital Age.”

The goal of the project is to “understand how early adults conceptualize and operationalize research activities for course work and ‘everyday use’ and especially how they resolve issues of credibility, authority, relevance, and currency in the digital age.”

While I admire these goals and am obviously interested in the subject, I wasn’t surprised by the findings, and I found some of the quotes from students unintentionally funny.

The report begins by asking:

What is it like to be a college student in the digital age? In a world teeming with information technology and overflowing with access to data, how do students find the information they need? How do students conduct research for course-related assignments? How do they conduct research for use in their everyday lives? What frustrations and obstacles do they encounter? What strategies have students developed to meet their information needs?

Their conclusion?

So far, we have found that no matter where students are enrolled, no matter what information resources they may have at their disposal, and no matter how much time they have, the abundance of information technology and the proliferation of digital information resources make conducting research uniquely paradoxical: Research seems to be far more difficult to conduct in the digital age than it did in previous times… In general, students reported being challenged, confused, and frustrated by the research process, despite the convenience, relative ease, or ubiquity of the Internet. In our sessions, frustrations included the effects of information overload and being inundated with resources, but more. Participants also reported having particular difficulty traversing a vast and every-changing information landscape. Specifically, participants greatest challenges were related to finding the materials they desired, knew existed, and needed on a “just in time” basis.

Some specific findings:

  • Students treat everyday life research and course-related research differently, and they put a lot more time and effort into the former. “Students reported that searches for everyday life information could last for days, and were driven by curiosity, as students clicked on Google results or Wikipedia citations and unfolded layers of information.”
  • Students “reported almost twice as many frustrations, overall, with conducting course-related research than with everday life research, though the nature or type of participants’ frustrations had underlying similarities.” Everyday life frustrations included: too many results from a Google search and the need to sort through them; knowing the “answer” is online but not being able to find it; figuring out whether a source is credible; knowing that everything is not online; and never can find enough information on the obscure topic being searched. Course-related frustrations included: information overload; too much irrelevant information, can’t locate what is needed from online results; trying to find the “perfect” source; not knowing what to look for, yet still sifting through articles that might fit; trouble finding books needed on library shelves; and conducting research to meet another’s expectations.
  • Students begin their course-related research with Wikipedia. They begin their everyday life research with Google, followed by blogs and Wikipedia.
  • “The majority of the students we interviewed did not start on an assignment–thinking about it, researching, or writing–until two or three days before it was due.”

The study authors note that for students, conducting research “may feel a lot like being an inexperienced sailor heading directly into an oncoming wind, sails wildly flapping, and not being able to maneuver and get to a desired destination.” They believe this is because students are struggling to “find context,” and they go on to describe four types of context students seek: big picture; language, situational, information gathering.

But what do students do to find context? They use Wikipedia, despite its flaws and warnings from their professors. “We found the majority of students ignored the negatives and went to the site anyway. Most students depended on and used Wikipedia for information cited in papers, but just never included Wikipedia entries on their Works Cited page. In our sessions, students also discussed concerns over Wikipedia and accuracy. However, most participants believed that they, themselves, had the ability to discern the credibility of a Wikipedia source, based on their ‘gut level’ interpretation of Wikipedia’s rating system.”

Surely it isn’t a surprise that:

  • Students always procrastinate and are looking for quick and easy answers.
  • Students spend an unlimited amount of time and effort on things that interest them, but do the minimum necessary on academic assignments.
  • Students universally use the two tools that are the most convenient, familiar, and useful to them– Wikipedia and Google– and they will continue to do so regardless of what their professors say.
  • Students don’t know or haven’t been taught how to do research, think critically, find and evaluate sources (online and in the library), and efficiently sift through the overwhelming amount of available information to find what they need.

I wrote in my very first blog post, “Research is like treasure hunting, and to do it well you must be skeptical, curious, discriminating, persistent, and willing to look beneath the surface.” Research also requires time and patience, but it is a skill that can be learned with a little knowledge and practice. However, research is much easier to do when motivated by a love of learning, intellectual curiosity, and passion for your subject, rather than obligation.  Even I don’t like researching subjects I find boring. So while we clearly need to teach students how to do research, we should also be giving them assignments that not only educate them, but also interest and inspire them.

A fascinating post last month in the blog In the Library with the Lead Pipe gave a librarian’s perspective on this, discussing some of the “questionable assignments” given to students by well-meaning faculty members:

Every semester there is at least one assignment that comes across my reference desk that makes me throw my hands up in exasperation (such as: a scavenger hunt that was written before we moved much of our content online or the requirement that the student must have at least one print source, library databases and ebooks do not count)…

We kept getting students who had the same (admirable) weekly assignment: find and read a newspaper article covering the event they were studying that week. The article (or possibly other primary source document) had to have been written during the time of the event and from the perspective of the people involved. We had been doing fine helping them find historical and foreign papers as needed, until they came to the Ottoman Empire. And it didn’t stop there. The class was a survey of world history. They continued to have topics that simply might not have ever been documented by the people involved, unlikely in newspaper article form, certainly not in English, and may not have ever been translated into English if it did manage to get written down and preserved. African events were also particularly difficult…

Scavenger hunt assignments are frustrating for everyone. Looking up trivia is not the same as conducting research and without a meaningful application of the process of using the library anything they learn through the scavenger hunt is less likely to stick…

Often the student, the faculty, or both don’t differentiate between the free web and resources that the library has purchased, but are available electronically…

Librarians are on the front lines of this battle, and both students and faculty would benefit from using them more as a resource.

It looks like I now have lots of subjects for future blog posts…

Porn for book lovers

Thanks to MobyLives, I’ve discovered that the Mirage Bookmark website has a collection of stunning photos of the “Most Interesting Bookstores of the World” and the “Most Interesting Libraries of the World.”

Are you sure you can handle it? Here’s a taste…

The Lello Bookstore in Porto, Portugal:

lello-bookstore-porto

Bookstore El Atenio in Buenos Aires:

bookstore-el-ateneo-2

The Library of the Royal Site of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, Spain:

royal-library-el-escorial

The Central Public Library in Vancouver, Canada:

central-library-vancouver

Had enough? No? How about a photo from Wired magazine of Jay Walker’s personal library:

ff_walker4_f

I feel faint…

Update: You can find many more sexy photos of libraries on the Curious Expeditions blog in a post from September 2007 titled “Librophiliac Love Letter: A Compendium of Beautiful Libraries.” Be sure to check out the rest of this amazing site.

Digital collection news from two of my favorite libraries

Last month the Library of Congress digitally scanned the 25,000th book in its “Digitizing American Imprints” program, which “scans aging ‘brittle’ books often too fragile to serve to researchers.” From their January 14, 2009 press release:

The Library, which has contracted with the Internet Archive for digitization services, is combining its efforts with other libraries as part of the open content movement. The movement, which includes over 100 libraries, universities and cultural institutions, aims to digitize and make freely available public-domain books in a wide variety of subject areas.

Books scanned in this pilot project come primarily from the Library’s local history and genealogy sections of the General Collections. For many of these titles, only a few copies exist anywhere in the world, and a reader would need to travel to Washington to view the Library’s copy. Now, the works can be accessed freely online or downloaded for closer inspection or printing. Readers can search the text for individual words, making the digital copy an even more valuable research tool than the original…

All scanning operations are housed in the Library’s John Adams Building on Capitol Hill. Internet Archive staff work two shifts each day on 10 “Scribe” scanning stations. The operation can digitize up to 1,000 volumes each week. Shortly after scanning is complete, the books are available online at www.archive.org. Books can be read online or downloaded for more intensive study. The Library of Congress is actively working with the Internet Archive on the development of a full-featured, open-source page turner. A beta version, called the Flip Book, is currently available on the Internet Archive site…

The Internet Archive is a non-profit organization founded in 1996 to build an Internet library, with the purpose of offering permanent access for researchers, historians, and scholars to historical collections that exist in digital format. The Internet Archive includes texts, audio, moving images, and software as well as archived web pages…

The Internet Archive is also home to the Wayback Machine, an archive of 85 billion web pages “from 1996 to a few months ago.”  Type in a web address and choose from the archived dates available. It’s kind of like digital time travel.

The Folger Shakespeare Library “is expanding access to its digital collection by offering free online access to over 20,000 images from the library’s holdings.” From their January 15, 2009 press release:

The digital image collection includes books, theater memorabilia, manuscripts, art, and 218 of the Folger’s pre-1640 quarto editions of the works of William Shakespeare. Users can now examine these collection items in detail while accessing the Folger’s rare materials from desktop anywhere in the world.”Digital initiatives are an important and ongoing part of our mission to provide access to the Folger collection,” said Gail Kern Paster, Director of the Folger Shakespeare Library. “Cherishing the past has never been in conflict with embracing the future. The promise of digitization is one more powerful case in point. We now have opportunities to bring the Folger’s extraordinary collection to more users than ever.”

Julie Ainsworth, the Folger’s Head of Photography and Digital Imaging, said, “We began digitizing the collection in 1995. By making the collection available online, we are giving researchers and the public an important tool.”

The Folger’s digital image collection provides resources for users to view multiple images side by side, save their search results, create permanent links to images, and perform other tasks through a free software program, Luna Insight.

Stephen Enniss, Eric Weinmann Librarian at the Folger said that “These features will create more ways for researchers, students, and teachers to experience the collection. They can share images with each other, generate online galleries, and examine items from Queen Elizabeth’s letters to costume sketches. As a library we’re continually seeking ways to expand access to researchers and students across the country and around the world.”

The Folger is also collaborating with the University of Oxford to create the Shakespeare Quartos Archive, which will provide free online access to interactive, high-resolution images of the 75 quarto editions of Shakespeare’s plays. Other participants include the British Library, the University of Edinburgh Library, the Huntington Library, and the National Library of Scotland, and the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities which is designing a special interface for the Hamlet quartos in the archive. The Shakespeare Quartos Archive is funded by a new Transatlantic Digitization Collaboration Grant awarded jointly by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Joint Information Systems Committee. In addition, Picturing Shakespeare will make 10,000 images from the Folger collection – including prints, drawings, and photographs relating to Shakespeare – available to teachers, scholars, and the general public through an initiative from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Both projects join a fast-growing body of podcasts, videos, and other online content produced by the library.

Here’s the link to the Folger’s Digital Image Collection.

As I wrote in my blog post about library resources you can access from home, rare book library websites offer extraordinary and unique digital collections, online exhibitions, virtual galleries and showcases, essays and articles, collection and research guides, and bibliographies. So go explore.

Europe puts its cultural treasures online

Europeana, a new digital library of Europe’s cultural treasures (including literature, art, history, music, and cinema) launched today with over 2 million items from over 1000 institutions (museums, national libraries, archives, and galleries) from 27 European Union countries.

The “About Us” page has information about the project, a list of participating institutions (including the Louvre and the British Library), and details about the kinds of items that have been digitized and are available on the site:

  • Images – paintings, drawings, maps, photos and pictures of museum objects
  • Texts – books, newspapers, letters, diaries and archival papers
  • Sounds – music and spoken word from cylinders, tapes, discs and radio broadcasts
  • Videos – films, newsreels and TV broadcasts

This website is a prototype, with plans to launch the full version in 2010 with over 6 million digital items.  I suspect their servers are currently overwhelmed, as I haven’t yet been able to successfully complete a search, but I look forward to exploring the site over time.

Update: According to news reports, the Europeana website crashed after receiving an unexpected 10 million user requests per hour, so the site will be out of commission until mid-December.

Great news about Google Book Search

Like everyone else, I use Google dozens of times a day. Their web search engine is still the best I’ve found, but Google also has a number of more specialized search functions that I like and use regularly. By far my favorite is Google Book Search, which is not one of the main functions listed on Google’s home page, but it will appear if you click the “more” link.

Google Book Search enables you to search the full texts of all of the books stored in its database, which is made up of books scanned from the collections of cooperating libraries (including Harvard University, Oxford University, and the New York Public Library, to name a few) and digital book files submitted by publishers. For books in the public domain (published in the U.S. before 1923), you can read as much of the text as you like online, download a PDF file of the entire book, and print as many pages as you want. For books still under copyright, if the author or publisher has given permission, you may be able to view a limited number of pages (though you cannot print or copy any of the text), but most books are restricted to only a few lines or no preview at all. Google displays detailed information about each book, and you can see a list of libraries that have it or buy a copy from an online bookstore.

I love Google Book Search because it helps me discover extremely useful and interesting books of all kinds– old and new, in-print and out-of-print, primary and secondary sources, and valuable sources of information long neglected or forgotten. I love having instant access to complete works in the public domain that are out of print and not available through my local libraries. I love being able to search the texts of millions of books simultaneously for words or phrases– names, places, dates, subjects, titles, historical events, etc.

Google Book Search has always been controversial because it scans books still under copyright without obtaining permission from the authors and publishers, and Google has been sued by the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers over it. The great news is, according to Publishers Weekly, the lawsuits have been settled, and everyone wins– millions of books under copyright will be searchable online, there will be a way to purchase full online access to many copyrighted works, the full texts of out-of-print books will be viewable for free on library computer terminals, authors and publishers will control whether or not their works are included and share in the revenue generated through online access to their works, a nonprofit Book Rights Registry will be set up, etc. As both a researcher and the wife of an author, I am thrilled.

Here are excerpts from the AAP statement detailing the settlement:

The Authors Guild, the Association of American Publishers, and Google today announced a groundbreaking settlement agreement on behalf of a broad class of authors and publishers worldwide that would expand online access to millions of in-copyright books and other written materials in the U.S. from the collections of a number of major U.S. libraries participating in Google Book Search….

The agreement promises to benefit readers and researchers, and enhance the ability of authors and publishers to distribute their content in digital form, by significantly expanding online access to works through Google Book Search, an ambitious effort to make millions of books searchable via the Web. The agreement acknowledges the rights and interests of copyright owners, provides an efficient means for them to control how their intellectual property is accessed online and enables them to receive compensation for online access to their works.

If approved by the court, the agreement would provide:

  • More Access to Out-of-Print Books — Generating greater exposure for millions of in-copyright works, including hard-to-find out-of-print books, by enabling readers in the U.S. to search these works and preview them online;
  • Additional Ways to Purchase Copyrighted Books — Building off publishers’ and authors’ current efforts and further expanding the electronic market for copyrighted books in the U.S., by offering users the ability to purchase online access to many in-copyright books;
  • Institutional Subscriptions to Millions of Books Online — Offering a means for U.S. colleges, universities and other organizations to obtain subscriptions for online access to collections from some of the world’s most renowned libraries;
  • Free Access From U.S. Libraries — Providing free, full-text, online viewing of millions of out-of-print books at designated computers in U.S. public and university libraries; and
  • Compensation to Authors and Publishers and Control Over Access to Their Works — Distributing payments earned from online access provided by Google and, prospectively, from similar programs that may be established by other providers, through a newly created independent, not-for-profit Book Rights Registry that will also locate rightsholders, collect and maintain accurate rightsholder information, and provide a way for rightsholders to request inclusion in or exclusion from the project.

Under the agreement, Google will make payments totaling $125 million. The money will be used to establish the Book Rights Registry, to resolve existing claims by authors and publishers and to cover legal fees. The settlement agreement resolves… lawsuits [that] challenged Google’s plan to digitize, search and show snippets of in-copyright books and to share digital copies with libraries without the explicit permission of the copyright owner.

Holders worldwide of U.S. copyrights can register their works with the Book Rights Registry and receive compensation from institutional subscriptions, book sales, ad revenues and other possible revenue models, as well as a cash payment if their works have already been digitized.

Libraries at the Universities of California, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Stanford have provided input into the settlement and expect to participate in the project, including by making their collections available. Along with a number of other U.S. libraries that currently work with Google, their significant efforts to preserve, maintain and provide access to books have played a critical role in achieving this agreement and, through their anticipated participation, they are furthering such efforts while making books even more accessible to students, researchers and readers in the U.S. It is expected that additional libraries in the U.S. will participate in this project in the future….

“It’s hard work writing a book, and even harder work getting paid for it,” said Roy Blount Jr., President of the Authors Guild. “As a reader and researcher, I’ll be delighted to stop by my local library to browse the stacks of some of the world’s great libraries. As an author, well, we appreciate payment when people use our work. This deal makes good sense.”

“This historic settlement is a win for everyone,” said Richard Sarnoff, Chairman of the Association of American Publishers. “From our perspective, the agreement creates an innovative framework for the use of copyrighted material in a rapidly digitizing world, serves readers by enabling broader access to a huge trove of hard-to-find books, and benefits the publishing community by establishing an attractive commercial model that offers both control and choice to the rightsholder.”

“Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. Today, together with the authors, publishers, and libraries, we have been able to make a great leap in this endeavor,” said Sergey Brin, co-founder & president of technology at Google. “While this agreement is a real win-win for all of us, the real victors are all the readers. The tremendous wealth of knowledge that lies within the books of the world will now be at their fingertips.”

Updates:

Here is Google’s blog post about the settlement.

Here the future changes to Google Book Search resulting from the agreement are explained.

“Girls lean back everywhere…”

In honor of Banned Books Week (September 27th through October 4th), I thought I’d recommend an excellent book on the subject of literary censorship and obscenity prosecutions in the United States, written by a First Amendment lawyer:  Edward de Grazia’s 1992 Girls Lean Back Everywhere: The Law of Obscenity and the Assault on Genius. The title is taken from a quote by Jane Heap, who (with Margaret Anderson) was prosecuted in 1920 for publishing episodes from James Joyce’s Ulysses in their magazine, The Little Review:

Mr. Joyce was not teaching early Egyptian perversions nor inventing new ones. Girls lean back everywhere, showing lace and silk stockings; wear low-cut sleeveless blouses, breathless bathing suits; men think thoughts and have emotions about these things everywhere–seldom as delicately and imaginatively as Mr. Bloom–and no one is corrupted.

This work describes in detail the publishing histories and obscenity trials of the most controversial books of the 20th century, including Joyce’s Ulysses, Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness, Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch, Allen Ginsberg’s Howl, and Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy, as well as later trials involving the monologues of Lenny Bruce, the photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe, and the lyrics of 2 Live Crew.

What makes this work particularly entertaining are the extensive quotes from the authors and publishers involved. As de Grazia notes in his introduction:

I wanted to find out, and describe, how the persons who were most immediately affected by literary censorship–authors and publishers–responded to and felt about it, and to present their reactions as much as possible in words of their own. I also wanted to say what I could about the nature of the legal and constitutional process that has framed the struggle against censorship in our country….

Visit the American Library Association’s website for more information about Banned Books week, including lists of the most frequently challenged authors and books, descriptions of notable First Amendment court cases, and information on how to fight censorship and deal with challenges to library books.

Update 4/24/13: Edward de Grazia, the author of Girls Lean Back Everywhere, has died. See my new blog post for details.

Library resources you can access from home

If you haven’t visited a library website recently, you may be surprised to learn there are a wealth of free reference sources and research tools which you may be able to access from the comfort of your home, any time of the day or night.

If you have a library card, many public library systems give you free access to a wide range of electronic resources through their websites, including subscription databases, reference books, newspapers, magazines, and journals. For example, the Seattle Public Library offers free access to the Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford Reference Online (which allows you to search hundreds of Oxford University Press reference works in all subjects), the New York Times historical archive dating back to 1851, Britannica Online, and the AP Photo Archive, to name only a few. Many libraries also allow you to download digital audiobooks and ebooks to your home computer.

If you don’t have a library card, most libraries will allow you to use their onsite computers to access their electronic resources.  This is true for many colleges and universities as well. You won’t be able to access their resources remotely unless you are a current student or faculty member, but if you visit their campus libraries you can use their public terminals. University libraries tend to have a far wider and deeper range of electronic resources than public libraries, so if you are doing serious research, it may well be worth the trip.

Many libraries throughout the world offer free online resources available to everyone, such as their own “best of the web” link collections. One of the most surprising free services offered by some libraries is “Ask the Librarian,”  which allows you to ask research questions by email or live web chat. Look for terms like “Ask the Librarian” or  “Chat with a Librarian” on a library website, or use a search engine to find one.

Rare book library websites offer extraordinary and unique digital collections, online exhibitions, virtual galleries and showcases, essays and articles, collection and research guides, and bibliographies. Some of the best include the Library of Congress, the New York Public Library, and the British Library, to name a few.

To find links to libraries around the world, check out Library Spot.

The writer’s bookshelf (part 2)

This is the second in an ongoing series of posts about the references writers and editors should have on their actual or virtual bookshelf.

Dictionaries

You should have– and use– a good dictionary. (You are only asking for trouble if you rely on spell-check.) A recent edition is preferable, as new words are added over time, and changes can occur in spelling, hyphenation, plurals, usage, etc. For example, the current edition of my dictionary lists the word “online” (both the adjective and adverb) as one word, no hyphen. The previous edition of the same dictionary published a decade earlier lists the word (adjective and adverb) as “on-line,” two words, with a hyphen.

There are a number of good dictionaries out there, but many copy editors prefer Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition (the most recent edition, revised in 2003), which is what I use. It is available in multiple formats: hardcover book (in various bindings, generally priced $22 to $27, but available online for $15 to $20), CD-ROM (which allows you to save the entire dictionary to your computer and easily search it without ever having to load the CD again), and web subscription (for $14.95 per year at www.merriam-webstercollegiate.com). You can also get them in combination– the edition of the book I bought included the CD-ROM and a free one-year subscription to the website for a total of $27 (less than $20 online).

If you need an unabridged dictionary (most people don’t, though copy editors sometimes do), Webster’s Third New International Unabridged Dictionary is a classic, but it is expensive. It is available by web subscription at http://unabridged.merriam-webster.com for $29.95 a year.

The mother of all dictionaries is, of course, the Oxford English Dictionary, which provides the meaning and history of over half a million words, past and present. The OED tells you when each word entered the language and provides over 2.5 million quotations illustrating word usage over time. The OED is available in many formats, all of which are expensive: book form (the 20-volume full set, a two-volume abridged set), CD-ROM, and web subscription (monthly or annually) at www.oed.com. The great news is that many public libraries subscribe to it, so if you have a library card, you may be able to access it for free from your home computer through your library’s website. (For example, on the Seattle Public Library website, the OED is in their list of databases and websites, so if you enter your library card number and PIN, you’ll have full access from home.)

There are many free dictionaries on the web, but I’ll only list a few here:

  • Merriam-Webster offers free web access to an online dictionary and thesaurus at www.m-w.com, though access to their premium works (the Collegiate and Unabridged dictionaries) is by paid subscription only.
  • OneLook Dictionary Search (www.onelook.com) is a special search engine which has indexed over 1000 online dictionaries. By entering a word or phrase into one search box, you can view results from many different online dictionaries.
  • A free online dictionary and thesaurus can be found at www.yourdictionary.com.

Choose the dictionary that best suits your needs. For the casual user, a simple print or online dictionary may suffice. If you write or edit, you should use something more substantial and authoritative. If you are a professional writer or editor, check with your publisher or employer, as they may specify one as part of their house style.

Reference link collections (part 1)

There are a number of reference sites containing collections of links to selected websites organized by subject or category. They are sometimes described as online reference directories, web indexes, or “best of the web,” but I just call them link collections. They can be a good way to discover useful sources of information that you otherwise might never find. Some of the best link collections have been created by librarians who carefully choose which websites they include.    

I suggest taking time to explore link collections when you aren’t actually looking for specific information. As each contains links to hundreds or thousands of different websites, they can be completely overwhelming. In reality, only a small number of the individual websites they link to may actually be of use to you. Browse through a specific subject area of interest, see which websites look potentially useful to you, then bookmark and organize those websites you want to keep track of for future reference. By familiarizing yourself in advance with individual reference websites and putting them where you can find them again, you’ll have a much easier time of it when you do need information. 

Here are a few general link collections to get you started:

 In future posts I’ll write about more specialized subject link collections.