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THE WORLD WIDE WEB AS AN INFORMATION RESOURCE The widespread availability and use of the World Wide Web and Web browsers (such as Netscape) have enabled librarians to take advantage of the capacity of the Internet to serve as a virtual reference desk, providing access to countless information resources worldwide. The notion of a virtual reference collection, available at the click of a mouse, is undeniably seductive, particularly for libraries with limited physical collections. Upon closer exami
  1 THE WORLD WIDE WEB AS AN INFORMATION RESOURCE The widespread availability and use of the World Wide Web and Web browsers (such as Netscape) have enabled librarians to take advantage of the capacity of the Internet to serve as avirtual reference desk, providing access to countless information resources worldwide. Thenotion of a virtual reference collection, available at the click of a mouse, is undeniably seductive, particularly for libraries with limited physical collections. Upon closer examination, however,using the Web to provide accurate and effective information service is a complicated proposition.Technical considerations aside, attempts at gaining intellectual control and achieving precisionrecall over an ever expanding universe of text, image, and sound, can quickly prove daunting. Not only does utilization of the Web presuppose appropriate hardware, software, and searchingskills, but Web sites are notoriously unreliable and frequently lack authority. Nonetheless, theWeb has the potential to provide information far beyond that which is available in the library'scollection, and librarians can ill afford to ignore its capabilities.This paper provides a framework for effective utilization of the Web in providingreference and information services, and supplementing the library's collection andservices. Following a brief discussion of the principles and practice of referencelibrarianship, and values and limitations inherent in traditional publishing media, thedelivery of information in the context of cyberspace is considered. Issues under consideration include authority, content, bibliographic control, access, availability,currency, and cost. The comparative advantages and disadvantages of Web-basedelectronic vs. print resources are highlighted, with an emphasis on their relationship tothe library's mission. An overview of currently available Web-based library and bibliographic resources is provided, including online library catalogs, periodical indexesand electronic journals, full text and interactive reference tools, and electronic texts.Strategies for identifying relevant Web sites are proposed, including use of Web indexesand filter projects, virtual reference desks, and electronic and print reviews. And finally,methods and tools for the evaluation and management of useful Web sites are proposed,and future directions are considered. Combining theoretical principles of librarianshipwith practical applications of information technology, this session will engage  2  participants in a discussion of how and when Web-based resources can be used in thecontext of traditional library services. 1. INTRODUCTION  As the World Wide Web becomes an increasingly popular platform for the delivery of digitizedinformation, librarians face the challenge of finding and using information that's accurate andreliable. Browsers such as Netscape and Microsoft Explorer have demystified the Internet, andmake its contents accessible to users who have a minimum of technical expertise. Consequently,the notion of the Internet as a virtual library, available at the click of a mouse, is becomingincreasingly attractive, particularly to libraries with limited resources and small collections.Upon closer examination, however, using the web to access accurate and reliable information is acomplicated proposition. Technical considerations aside, attempts at gaining intellectual controland achieving precision recall over an ever expanding universe of text, image, and sound, canquickly prove daunting. Not only does effective utilization of the web presuppose appropriatehardware, software, and searching skills, but web sites are notoriously undependable andfrequently lack the authority that we associate with published works. Moreover, just becausesomething is on the web doesn't mean you can find it! Nonetheless, librarians ignore web-basedinformation at their own peril, for it has the potential to expand and enrich the library's physicalcollection and information servicesUse of the web to replace, supplement, or complement the library's print collection presentsfundamental dilemmas and opportunities. This paper provides a framework for effectiveutilization of the web to provide information and resources that supplement the library'scollection. Beginning with a brief discussion of the traditional values that characterize libraries,the focus turns to the delivery of information in the context of cyberspace. A summary of theadvantages and disadvantages of using web-based resources is followed by strategies for findinginformation on the web. The paper concludes with a discussion of the balancing act thatlibrarians must perform in order to best integrate the web into existing resources.  3 2. TRADITIONAL COLLECTIONS, TRADITIONAL VALUES  The World Wide Web is not, and cannot be, a library. The issue is not physical space, or shelvesof books and journals, but a set of principles on which libraries ideally operate. At their best,libraries select resources which have some assurance of quality, organize them for easy access,and provide professional research support, instruction, and assistance to users. A good library isnot a passive repository of texts or documents, but an actively selected collection of the bestmaterials available and affordable which support the educational, research, or recreationalmission of the individual library. To help ensure the authority and reliability of library materials,librarians can depend upon reputable publishers, review media, and selective bibliographies tomake acquisitions decisions. Moreover, libraries organize their materials so that users can findthe books, articles, or reports they need. From the development of the Anglo AmericanCataloging Rules and the MARC record, to the Dewey Decimal and Ranganathan ColonClassification systems, to online catalog systems, libraries have established mechanisms todescribe and organize library materials, and make them assessable to users. Finally, libraries provide value-added services in the form of professional personnel who not only select andorganize the materials, but who assist users in finding the material or information they need, aswell as teaching them to find information on their own. These library standards, as we shall see,have not yet migrated into cyberspace, and referring at this point to the World Wide Web as a virtual library does an injustice to the institution of libraries.Contrasted to the ideal of a library, chaos and unpredictability reign on the World Wide Web. Onthe web, anyone can be an author or publisher, so the notion of quality, authority or expertise isnot guaranteed. Finding the information one needs is a challenge, and there's no guarantee that itwill still be there tomorrow. On the other hand, the web enables a librarian from the middle of the United States to explore the wonders of the Kruger National Park and listen to songs of school children in Cape Town, without leaving her desk. At its best, the web overcomes thelimitations of time and space to put information that transcends the printed page onto desktop of the user. The following section highlights the pitfalls and potential of the web, underscoring thedilemma that librarians face as we come to grips with this revolutionary medium for disseminating information.  4 3. PITFALLS IN USING THE WEB AS AN INFORMATION SOURCE  Despite the warm reception that the web has generally received, a critical look reveals soberingrealities which are summarized below. 3.1. Authority  Because the Internet is a distributed environment, with no overall authority, no editorial review isrequired for inclusion. In practical terms, this means that no standards exist for content or format,and anyone can be an author or publisher. At the least, this can result in typographical andgrammatical errors, misspellings, and poor layout and design. At worst, opinion can pose as fact,and information can be misleading or erroneous. Moreover, since no requirements exist for identifying authorship, dates of publication or revision, or source of the information (such asfootnotes or bibliography), evaluation of the site's authority and accuracy is difficult. Theintegrity of the data is further compromised by the possibility that data has been altered, whether intentionally or because of the way the information is stored and transmitted. Consequently, thereal possibility exists for inaccurate or false data to be received or used by unwary users, andmultiple, different or contradictory versions of information may be simultaneously available,further adding to the user's dilemma (Mathieu and Woodard, 1996). 3.2. Content/Scope  Though an enormous amount of data is transmitted daily across the web, the ratio of diamonds todregs can be appallingly low. Much of what is available on the web is of little or no value, except perhaps to the individual who produced it, and the sheer quantity of sites makes the search for quality that much more difficult. Moreover, as an unregulated media, the web is rife withcommercialism and garishness. Screens are frequently so cluttered with ads and promotionalhype that they become difficult to use. In terms of balance, judging from the larger web site listssuch as Yahoo (, the web is clearly tilted towards recreational andcommercial uses. Business and technology are more heavily represented than are the humanities,and information is more likely to be current than historical. And finally, with its srcins in theU.S., the language and culture of the web are heavily weighted towards English and NorthAmerica. Anatoly Voronow, director of the Russian Internet provider Glasnet, denounces the
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