"What's Not on the Web" by Joyce Kazman Valenza
The web offers a wealth of information, making student research much easier. However, as school librarian Joyce Kazman Valenza points out, it should not be the sole source of student information and it is best if it is not the starting point for a research project. Although many free-access websites have credible and usable information for students, finding these efficiently can be tricky and often leads students to choose unsatisfactory sources. Not only do students neglect to use the online database services that many schools subscribe to, but, because of the ease of access of the web, many students also neglect to actually go to the library to do research anymore. This is a loss because students miss out on the many print resources that schools have purchased and which, oftentimes are not accessible online, or are accessible only at great cost or difficulty. Also, students miss out on the most valuable research asset: the librarian! Whereas online students wade through possible sources alone, in the library the librarian can help guide students to good resources. I think that this article is really important for teachers to understand because, even though most schools do subscribe not to some sort of database (which allows students access to better resources than the free web alone) the internet is not yet an all-inclusive resource. Also, if students are not trained properly on how to find good internet sources, then teachers will receive substandard essays. The internet is a great tool, but it is far from perfect.
Q1: Should the free web be emphasized at all as a good source for academic research?
A1: It seems that the free web is a good place to begin research and get grounded in the topic. In the article, Valenza indicates that actually the library should be the place that students come to do background research and get their feet wet with the topic. However, I believe that, many library resources are not written at the basic level meant to give a general understanding, and so can be overwhelming for students if they have no previous experience with a topic. Also, the bulk of the research time will be spent on the applicable higher level understanding; therefore, since the free web is so easily accessed, the background research can be quick, leaving students the time to wade through the library stacks to do the more difficult searching. Otherwise, while there are good sources to be found on the free web, I believe that it can be too difficult for students to navigate it properly and find sources of equal caliber to the ones in the library or on a database. Whereas older students may be able to handle it, I think high schoolers are better left focusing their energy on the research paper itself instead of the perils of the web.
Q2: Eventually the web will become a comprehensive resource, probably making libraries obsolete. How can the web compensate for some of the functions that libraries now serve?
It will take away the face-to-face contact with experienced librarians. However, many library web pages, like that of CSUSM, offer a live chat option with librarians, so students can consult with experienced researchers when they hit a snag in their paper writing. One thing that my professors emphasize now is that, in going to the library stacks and actually looking for books, we often are able to then find more than just the one book we were looking for. Whereas we may have searched one topic and been led to a particular book, when we get to the shelf we usually find more related books that can be equally, if not more, helpful. I think the internet is becoming apt at this as well though, with many search engines suggesting other topics and with more than one article or website coming up on a search. Like Valenza points out, as long as students do not limit themselves to just a handful of familiar web sites, then they keep themselves open to many possible sources, many more than a library book shelf can hold.