A Class on the Net for Librarians with Little or No Net Experience


"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

-- Arthur C. Clarke, _Profiles of the Future_, 1962


The Web has caught America's fancy and is quickly permeating American culture. Radio newscasters signoff by referencing their home page and station email address; the local TV weather man references a page on the Web with real-time local weather updates; movie posters include a home page URL where you can go to "play" the movie trailer, and TV commercials include a subtle "http://www.something.com" in the text (plug in a manufacturer or product for 'something' and you're likely to hit paydirt).

The Web is the marketing tool of the 90's; large, medium and even small businesses are hanging out a 'virtual' shingle (on the Web, nobody knows your office is in your guest bedroom!). But, aside from the rush of commerce to the net -- and its approaching ubiquitous stature -- what other developments are changing the face of the web? Here are some sites to tantalize:


If you've experienced the long lags between downloading soundfiles and video clips, and actually playing them, check out the RA and RV players (http://www.realaudio.com) that allow on-demand broadcasting (e.g., listen to ABC News updates while you surf away, or watch newsclips...). Expect other breakthroughs in delivery of real-time information as network performance increases.


Look for developments to provide for faster and easier presentation of digital media over the net, such as Macromedia's ShockWave ( http://www.macromedia.com/Tools/Shockwave/), which allows authoring, animation, and video experts to easily port existing skills to the web.


Java scripting allows for inclusion of portable programs in WWW pages that are executed by any browser (with a Java plugin); for information on Java and related software developments, refer to the Yahoo WWW collection (http://www.yahoo.com/Computers_and_Internet/Internet/World_Wide_Web/).


Virtual Reality Modeling Language (see http://vag.vrml.org/VRML_FAQ.html) allows for the addition of 3D data to the Web ... (without, I hope, requiring us to wear those funny little green plastic glasses!)

Educational Applications:

Look for more applications of internet technology in the classroom. Everything from web-based college courses (for credit) to special plug-ins for testing are being developed. Check out the Institute for Academic Technology's website (http://www.iat.unc.edu) for information on facilitating effective and affordable technologies in education.

Faster, Easier Search Tools:

Look for search engines that are faster, that provide access to a wider volume of web pages, and for more versatile all-in-one search sites. The trend also seems to be toward engines that attempt to weigh 'hits' by a 'goodness of match' confidence scale, such as Excite (http://www.excite.com/). For a critical look at current search engines, refer to the following collection: http://www.hamline.edu/library/bush/handouts/comparisons.html

Enhanced Browsers:

Browsers are fast-becoming all-in-one network interfaces. Support for group communications (whiteboards, chats, conferencing tools), fully-integrated email and newsgroup functions, improved security, and personalized "front-ends" (where updates to pages of vital interest to you are "pushed" to the forefront of your desktop for your immediate attention) are just some of the many expanded features you should expect to see. It's going to be an interesting ride!

A Look at the Possibilities

For a look at some of the issues facing web development, the March 1997 issue of The Scientific American (accessible on the web at: http://www.sciam.com/0397issue/0397intro.html) presents a special report on organizing the Internet: "Bringing Order from Chaos." Issues investigated include multilingualism on the Net, trusted systems (encryption and copyright issues), using information filters, searching the Net, the challenge of creating interfaces for the visually impaired, and preserving an historic archive of the Internet. Interesting reading...


In the aftermath of so much cyber-activity, what role will librarians play in this "brave new electronic world"? For an answer, let's start with John December, who has been researching and writing about this very subject for the past four years (almost the entire life of the Net as we know it today). An author and pioneer in Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC) on the Net, founder of the CMC Center (a Web-based forum) and the CMC Magazine (published exclusively on the Net), December is perhaps best known for creating and maintaining a comprehensive electronic list of Internet sites and tools: John December's _Information Sources_.

According to December, librarians are crucial to the future of information access and delivery on the Net. "Without tools and methodologies for gathering, evaluating, managing, and presenting information," he says, "the Web's potential as a universe of knowledge could be lost." In a thoughtful treatment of the subject, "Challenges for Web Information Providers", published in the CMC Magazine (1994) and later, as a chapter in his book, _The World Wide Web Unleashed_ (Sams, 1994; 1995), December addresses the role librarians must play if the Internet is to live up to its billing as the ultimate information resource of the 21st century.

If you remember, at the beginning of this course (in Lesson 2) I talked about the estimated 200,000 users who are connecting to the Net every month, searching for information and bringing information with them. As December points out, the resulting flood of information is too often "unfiltered by the critical and noise-reducing influences of collaboration and peer review"; the result, he says, can overwhelm users and obscure the value of the Web itself. The intelligent Web robots, spiders, worms, etc. may be able to locate multiple sites and sources with ease, but they are not capable of assessing the value of the information they retrieve.

Most of us choose information sources based on our previously developed trust of their work. On the Web, we may select a site based on the reputation of the institution supporting the site. December views an "institutional imprimatur" as an increasingly useful tool for ensuring aspects of quality. He explains it this way: "I might seek out the Web page of a university or government research center for information related to a particular topic. This information is valuable, ultimately, because specialists and experts maintain it."

In maintaining his own Internet list, December pays close attention to the verifiable accuracy and reliability of sources and to the continuing freshness and stability of links. He will select a few comprehensive collections of basic links over a multiplicity of sites offering the same repetitive links. He looks for resources accompanied by brief, descriptive annotations and for those that offer an alternate perspective or point of view. In short, he does many of the things that librarians traditionally do.

Says December, "A resource list exists within a larger context in which its value as information can be used to create or develop knowledge ... In order to accomplish this, a resource list should be presented and used within a community of people interested in the information, in order to provide the critical review as well as suggestions to improve it." With the plethora of URLs on the Web, pointing in all directions to a myriad of links, librarians are needed more than ever before to gather, evaluate, manage, and present information in such a way that it promotes both discovery and retrieval.


The problem of ephemeral URLs is very real. As you read the lessons in this course, chances are good that a number of the URLs listed have already disappeared or gone SOL. Although we conduct regular "sweeps" of the sites we list, it's impossible to keep up with all the changes. Unlike books with ISBN numbers, URLs often leave with no trace and no forwarding address.


Fortunately, many sites insert forwarding notes at their old addresses. These notes usually say something like this:

"This document has moved to http:// ... new address. Please correct your records or update your pointers/links/hotlists, etc."

Forwarding messages may be left in place for 30 to 60 days and then deleted; sometimes the forwarding page is created so that it automatically whisks you to the new location. While some site managers insist their servers cannot be locked in stone, others believe their site is responsible for maintaining a more permanent link to the new locations.


In the event a Web administrator has not set up a forwarding link, you are not without recourse. Try the following suggestions given by Carlos McEvilly on the WEB4LIB Listserv (March 1995):

When a URL (say, "http://foo.bar.com/pub/users/joe/docs/info.html") doesn't work, you can try the following, listed below roughly in the order of difficulty, easiest first:

  1. Reload and try again, in case the site was temporarily down
  2. Examine the URL for components with time significance, and if found, change them. For example, change:
  3. Take off the filename and directory name, to see if joe has some kind of index:
    This will load index.html in the /joe directory, if it exists. Otherwise it will show a listing of the files available for public access, or if the directory is not public, will give a message to that effect.
  4. Take off everything but the root server name to see whether the site has a main home page:
  5. Try the same thing without the trailing slashes:
  6. Since many hosts are creating new www machines and moving all the www documents there, try changing 'foo' to 'www':
  7. Use a search engine to find the parent organization of whoever created the resource, and try to find the resource through the links from the main page of that organization.
  8. Find a person who might know the current status and ask.


As more and more research is based, at least in part, on electronic resources, the question of how to properly cite on-line information is asked more frequently. As is the case with any source material, the goal is to credit the author and allow the reader to find the material. When the American Psychological Association published the 4th edition of its _Publication Manual_ in 1994, it included a brief section on citing electronic resources, based on Li and Crane's (1993) _Electronic Style: A Guide to Citing Electronic Information_; the editors noted that "At the time of writing this edition, a standard had not yet emerged for referencing on-line information."

A year later, in 1995, when the Modern Language Association published the 4th edition of its _MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers_, the section on citing electronic resources had grown considerably; standards had begun to take shape.

However, the same problems that have plagued electronic resources from the beginning are still with us. The Internet is dynamic; it changes constantly. Files that were located on one server yesterday might be moved to another site today, and totally disappear tomorrow. They can be amended, revised, destroyed, or completely altered almost instantaneously. How does one go about verifying sources such as these?

In the September, 1996, issue of _Internet World_, Michael Arnzen, professor of English literature at the University of Oregon, offers the following "survival tips" to students who wish to cite electronic information sources:

Professor Arnzen concludes his article with a comprehensive listing of URLs for electronic styleguides on the Web. Additional source material has been gathered together by the Penn State College Library staff under the heading, "Style Guides for Electronic Resources" and can be found at: http://www.uflib.ufl.edu/hss/ref/style.html. You will find more links listed in BCK2SKOL's Lesson 10 under the similar heading "STYLE GUIDES FOR CITING ELECTRONIC SOURCES."

As for the future, well, -- as you can see from the many sites you visit all over the Web -- everything is still very much "UNDER CONSTRUCTION."


Continue your explorations of the Web by visiting the sites mentioned in this lesson, and check out this general WWW info:


To keep up with new and newly discovered Internet resources of an academic nature, go to the Scout Report, at:


     Garlock, Kristen.  _Building the Service-Based Library Web Site:

       a Step-by-Step Guide to Design and Options_.  ALA, 1996.


     Gilster, Paul.  _Finding It on the Internet: the Internet Navigator's

       Guide to Search Tools and Techniques_.  rev and expanded 2nd ed.

       Wiley, 1996.


     Tauber, Daniel.  _Surfing the Internet with Netscape Navigator 2.

       Sybex, 1996.


     Thompson, Elizabeth.  _Reference and Collection Development on the

       Internet: a How-to-Do-It Manual_.  Neal-Schuman, 1996.


Remember, your FINAL EXAM is coming up in the LESSON 29; and, need I remind you ... NO CHEATING!

* "BCK2SKOL" is a free electronic library classroom created by Ellen Chamberlain, Head Librarian, University of South Carolina Beaufort, and Miriam Mitchell, Sr. Systems Analyst, USC Columbia. Additional support is provided by the Division of Libraries & Information Systems, University of South Carolina Columbia.

Your feedback and support for BCK2SKOL are appreciated; please email link upd updates, suggestions and comments to: eechambe@gwm.sc.edu

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Links checked 7 January 1999. See the BCK2SKOL homepage for course update details.
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URL: http://www.sc.edu/bck2skol/fall/lesson28.html