Libraries 'better than the Net for all research information'

October 10, 1997

Libraries are more accurate sources of information than the Internet and children are not receiving a "well-balanced" education if they restrict their school research to the net, according to research published this month.

David Schwartz of the school of business administration at Bar-Ilan University in Israel compared source materials found in three major libraries: the United States Library of Congress, the New York Public Library and the British Library, with the results of Internet searches.

In all cases, there were sharp decreases in quantity, quality and general representation of net information compared to library sources.

After comparing different "information equivalencies," he concludes that the Internet is a biased information source, with a tendency towards popular information and science-related items.

Dr Schwartz writes in today's issue of the Journal of Internet Research: "Teachers must be made aware that by encouraging students to conduct research on the Internet, they may be causing the de facto censorship of certain subjects.

Parents, who help their children to choose a topic for a school project on "My Hero," may take the path of least resistance, when relatively little on Mahatma Gandhi (1,502 hits on the Infoseek search engine) comes up on the Internet and may direct their child to switch topics to Arnold Schwartzenegger, who has 7,625 hits.

"Even if we correct information bias by combining all library resources with the Internet, and provide Internet access to all library collections, we still need a way to ensure that searching for information finds things that are relevant," he says.

His idea of designing a cataloguing system that will combine the Library of Congress' cross-reference (LCXR) terms with any HTML editor, was an attempt to counteract this problem of bias on the Internet. "X-DEX" will introduce a form of indexing and search standardisation to give a more accurate picture of what information is available and what that information relates to and is useful for.

"During the course of web page development, the system would automatically select the relevant categories which are assigned to the LCXR (Library of Congress cataloguing system) hidden variable inside the HTML code. While far from solving the problems of information bias inherent in the Internet, the use of an indexing standard such as the LCXR brings us a step closer to federated information resources and strengthens the link between library-based knowledge sources and those of the Internet.

"Until real solutions can be implemented, we must institute policies that will guide the use of the Internet as a primary resource reference. The misconception that everything can be found on the Internet, must be rectified through education. Educational institutes, for example, should require students to include references from both the Internet and traditional library sources."

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