Friday, September 29, 2006

Most reliable search tool could be your librarian

C|Net : Most reliable search tool could be your librarian

Your child wants to learn more about Martin Luther King Jr. You might consider consulting a librarian instead of Google, AOL or Microsoft search engines.

Using the keywords "Martin Luther King," the first result on Google and AOL--whose search is powered by Google--and the second result on Microsoft Windows Live search is a Web site created by a white supremacists group that purports to provide "a true historical examination" of the civil rights leader.

Granted, there are sponsored links above the result on all three sites and a "snapshot" of links to related content on AOL above the link on that Web site. But given that many people rely on the information they get in the top few results, someone could come away with a skewed perception of the man.

That's where librarians come in. While the Web is good for offering quick results from a broad range of sources, which may or may not be trustworthy, librarians can help people get access to more authoritative information and go deeper with their research.

"There are limitations with the search engines," said Marilyn Parr, public service and collections access officer at the Library of Congress. "You can type in 'Thomas Jefferson' in any search engine and you will get thousands of hits. How do you then sort through those to find the ones that are verifiable information, authentic and not someone's personal opinion?"

Most people don't bother to look at results past the first page or spend much time evaluating the source of the material, experts say.

"There's a problem with information illiteracy among people. People find information online and don't question whether it's valid or not," said Chris Sherman, executive editor of industry blog site "I think that's where librarians are extremely important. They are trained to evaluate the quality of the information." ...

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