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Internet Research Vs Library Usage

In today’s society, Internet and traditional library resources are both available and useful when conducting research. Each has its own unique strengths and weaknesses that affect their availability and usefulness in a given context. By knowing these strengths and weaknesses, a writer or researcher can dramatically improve the effectiveness of his or her research efforts.

The Comparative Environment

Twenty years ago, many believed that the Internet would sound the death knell for bookstores and libraries, predicting that by the turn of the century there would be no more books physically published and existing books would be converted into virtual resources on the Internet. This has yet to happen for a variety of reasons. Although the Internet has many advantages over public libraries, it also has many key flaws. Since this is an essay on the research environment, I shall keep my arguments limited to those facets affecting that specific environment.

The Difference in Organization

Materials found in public and school libraries are organized by a standardized classification system, known as the Dewey Decimal System. Under this organization, books of related topics are clustered together in identifiable locations within the library. The Internet on the other hand is disorganized. Having no identifiable classification system in place, the Internet can be a real informational jungle. Efforts to gain some kind of order have been overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information on the Internet. Even search engines whose primary purpose is supposed to be to help us find information on the Internet are finding themselves flooded by the volume of entries, many of which have little or no relevance to the information sought in the first place.

The Difference in Quality

Public libraries also have a distinct advantage over the Internet in the quality and relevance of its materials. The purchasing of Library materials depends on specific criteria, established by the knowledgeable and experienced librarians, to ensure their importance and relevance. The Internet has no means of ensuring any particular site has accurate, reliable information. Often, information on Internet websites is biased, particularly when personal or organizational opinions are ingrained into the presentation of the information. This problem is a key reason most schools refuse to allow students to use resources such as Wikipedia. Internet resources can also be highly influenced by the current popularity of specific topics. Organizations who have limited space on their Internet websites may choose to remove important research information to make way for the current primarily interests of Internet viewers.

The Difference in Support

Library users have another distinct advantage over Internet users: the librarians. Librarians can be a vital resource in locating information relevant to your research. Today they are not only knowledgeable about the resources within the library itself, but often know where on the Internet to find important, relevant information as well.

The Difference in Exclusivity

In this facet, both libraries and the Internet have individual strengths and weaknesses. Each has particular resources that are only available through their media. Many publications (books and periodicals) are only published in physical form and thus must be acquired from a bookstore or borrowed from the library. Other resources are found only in digital form on the Internet. There is a gradual blurring between the two as small publishers and independent authors are beginning to use a mixture of digital books (known as ebooks) and print-on-demand publishing services that make physical books out of the ebooks.

The Difference of Availability

Here, both venues have particular problems and advantages as well. Several major issues affect availability for one or both venues: location, hours of operation, physical availability of materials, and borrowing time constraints. Libraries are not available 24 hours a day like the Internet is and can only be accessed at physical locations, some of which are less than convenient for users. However, the Internet can be accessed from almost anywhere today using wireless connectivity. Physical availability can be an issue for both venues. Library materials are frequently in use by other patrons and thus unavailable for immediate use by other patrons. Websites, though normally available to everyone simultaneously, frequently vanish without a trace for one reason or another, making the information on the website unavailable to everyone. Internet resources can also be used without concern for their return, unlike library resources that may only be borrowed for a limited time, putting additional time constraints on the researcher who may have to set aside other work to view the materials before they must be returned.

The Difference of Collections

Here libraries and the Internet stand at direct opposites. Libraries routinely acquire materials by following a planned program, keeping and preserving materials deemed relevant or historically significant, giving them a significant edge in access to historical information and archives. The Internet, by comparison, focuses primarily on the here and now, offering up-to-date news, information and opinions from around the world in an open-access environment.

The Differences of Usability and Costs

Again, libraries and the Internet face significant differences. Locating resources held by the community library systems can be time consuming and their availability is seldom guaranteed. Many feel the hardships of having to physically visit the library to gain access to its resources is an undesirable situation. The Internet today requires little time to access and, thanks to modern software, minimal computer skills. Cost of access is an area that libraries win almost hands down. Offsetting the inconvenience of having to physically access the library is the fact that library materials may be used or borrowed without charge (unless you are late in returning them). A growing problem on the Internet is the charging of access fees for information and resources that were one freely available. An example of this is the New York Times. When their website was first established, archived stories could be accessed without restriction. Today, they charge a significant monthly fee to access any stories more than seven days old.

The Final Word

As you can see, the Internet and libraries both have their advantages and disadvantages. As such, each has its unique place in the landscape of informational research. Neither should be relied upon exclusively, nor should either be dismissed. Researchers and, in particular, professors at higher education institutes must acknowledge these differences and respect the role that each of these valuable venues play in the life of our society. A significant problem for many researchers and writers is a profound lack of library resources within their community. Prior to the Internet, their only choices were expensive trips into larger communities whose resources were more abundant or to purchase the necessary resources themselves on the open market. However, thanks to the Internet, these remotely located professionals can access many of the resources by computer or contact companies like ours for research assistance. Many of our researchers and writers are located in major cities like Washington, DC, Denver, Colorado or Seattle, Washington where library resources are readily available. They are ready and willing to assist you in any way they can. All it takes is your order for some of their time, be it a few days or weeks of in-depth research or a mere hour here and there on simple fact or article location and copying assignments. In addition, as always, discretion is our middle name.

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