Studies show that the “invisible web”, the internet’s deeper layers of content, is poorly exploited by university students, who continue to rely primarily on general-purpose search engines and “surface” resources. Like the fabled 90 per cent of an iceberg lurking below the ocean’s surface, the invisible web hides a vast expanse of scholarly resources within subscription databases, library websites and information deep within subject gateways, all of which require multiple and often advanced tools or knowledge to locate.
Survey data collected by Jane Devine and Francine Egger-Sider are at the heart of this discussion of the theory and practice of teaching the invisible web, which builds on their 2009 book, Going Beyond Google. Informed by research about how students engage in online information-seeking, they have surveyed educators and librarians in several countries with the aim of finding out which, if any, strategies information professionals and teachers are using to teach the invisible web. They also sought the views of experts on whether teaching the invisible web was necessary. After revealing that the majority of their respondents support the idea of teaching the invisible web to improve students’ research skills, the authors go on to offer practical suggestions to educators and librarians about methods of teaching it, whether in informal, one-to-one or classroom settings.
Devine and Egger-Sider make a convincing case in arguing that educators and librarians need to hammer home the importance of using a toolbox of search techniques rather than simply relying on one or two that only skim the web’s surface. One of the helpful techniques they identify in demonstrating this to students is to run two identical searches on the internet – first using Google and then using a scholarly database. By comparing results and using an evaluative framework to discuss the quality of those results, educators can show the value of tapping into the invisible web that is likely to hold the scholarly information that is specific and appropriate to students’ needs.
The authors’ survey is far-reaching, and it is noteworthy that major UK-based studies are listed in their roundup of relevant research. However, it is disappointing that most of the book’s annotated list of tools for exploiting the hidden web focus on locating US information, despite the global appeal and relevance of the material elsewhere in the book. Moreover, while technological advances (including Google Scholar, Google Books and the personalisation of searches) are covered, there is no mention of the now very popular “resource discovery” tools that many university libraries are embedding in their online resources. This is a technology that provides students with a one-stop search tool covering a considerable number of scholarly databases and other web sources, and it has greatly enhanced students’ ability to reach valuable academic information.
Although levels of confidence and competence in IT appear to be high among the “Google generation”, this confidence can be misplaced, and every opportunity to teach deeper information-seeking skills must be taken. The challenge for higher education continues to be how to inform students about these techniques, and take them beyond their reliance on just one or two basic search tools.
Going Beyond Google Again: Strategies for Using and Teaching the Invisible Web
By Jane Devine and Francine Egger-Sider
Facet Publishing, 192pp, £49.95
Published 23 October 2013