By Billie Peterson, Baylor University
Dear Tech Talk--
My colleagues and I are involved in an ongoing
discussion over evaluating Internet resources. Do we use
"traditional" criteria for evaluating and adding them to a
library's "virtual" collection, or is that inappropriate
and impractical criteria for Internet resources?
Recently a significant amount of information on this issue has appeared on the Internet and in a number of journals. In particular, readers with Web access might want to examine Nicole Auer's page, "Bibliography on Evaluating Internet Resources" and Alastair Smith's page at the WWW Virtual Library, "Evaluation of Information Sources,". This column will present some evaluation considerations which have been culled from a variety of Internet and journal resources.
Verifying the authority of a Web document is one of the most challenging and important aspects of evaluating Internet resources. In looking for authority, consider the following:
- Examine headers, footers, and the site address to see who is producing or sponsoring the document;
- Be aware of misleading URLs; (e.g., "www.whitehouse.com" or "www.mit.com" would not be likely URLs for official pages from the White House (a government agency) or MIT (an educational institution) since the ".com" implies a company domain);
- Look for an "About This Page" or "About This Company/Organization" link;
- Look for a link back to a home/main page or an individual author's home page;
- Enter the URL for the site, excluding the path information, in order to go to the top level of the site to see who is hosting the resource; (e.g., given the URL: http://www.aspca.org/this_dir/ file.html, use the URL: http://www.aspca.org/);
- Look for a "date stamp" to see when the information was created or last updated;
- Send an e-mail message to the creator of the page (if an address is provided), and ask the author about his/her experience, education, background, etc.
- Is there reason to believe that this person/organization/company/ institution would be an authoritative source for this kind of information?
- Were you referred to this resource through another trusted Internet resource or a person whose opinion you trust and respect?
- Has the resource been rated or given any awards and, if so, what criteria was used for the ratings/awards?
Examining an Internet resource for scope and content is more straightforward. Consider:
- What is its purpose: to provide new information; to link to additional information; to explain; to persuade?
- Who is the intended audience: adults; children; teenagers; people with specific interests (either professional or non-professional)?
- How comprehensive is this resource; and how important is comprehensiveness to this area?
- How current is the information; and is currency important for that prticular topic?
- Does the information appear to be presented as "fact" or "opinion"?
- Does the affiliation of an organization/company/institution to the resource present a potential for bias, or does it lend more credibility to the content?
- Are there other resources that present the same information
and, if so, how do they compare with this one?
In evaluating design, both the aesthetic and functional aspects of how the resource is displayed should be considered.
- What navigation tools are provided within the resource:
links that help navigate through a page, such as a table of
contents or "return to top"; links that return the user to
other important pages associated with the resource; a
search engine specific for that resource, etc.?
- How readable/printable is the information displayed?
- Does the use of graphics, animated gifs, java scripts, sound files, etc. enhance or inhibit the use of the resource? Are there text-based alternatives for the graphics?
Are consistent and helpful design features used throughout
This area of evaluation focuses on the "Internet" characteristics of the site and includes the following issues:
- Is the server frequently busy or unavailable?
- Are the pages, content and design, changing constantly, making it difficult or unreliable to use?
- Do links to other resources appear to be regularly maintained?
- What is the impact of graphics, animated gifs, etc. on download time of the pages associated with the resource?
- What additional plug-ins or helper applications are necessary in order to make the most effective use of the resource?
The number of vendors now delivering information over the Internet to libraries is increasing almost exponentially Access to these resources via the Internet can be expensive; ultimately, an individual cost vs. benefit analysis should be included in any evaluation process for such resources.
The resource has the potential of being available anywhere, anytime, any place, for any qualified patron; it can be platform (DOS, Macintosh, Windows) independent, especially if it uses a Web browser; the information provided is often updated more frequently; there may be less upkeep at the library's end.
The search interface may lack
sophistication; problems associated with providing assistance to remote users; there is less control over the system's availability since it's no longer maintained locally; there may be technical issues that have to be addressed/resolved at the library's end; Some questions to ponder when considering the addition of an Internet resource to a "virtual library" might be:
- Would this resource be of interest to and used by the library's primary clientele?
- Is this a better way (more convenient, easier to use) to provide this information?
- Are there other resources (not necessarily Internet ones) that provide the same information, and if so, how do they compare with this one? Using a form or checklist to evaluate Internet resources can help maintain consistency in evaluations, especially if the evaluations are done by a variety of people. Some examples can be found at:
Alexander, Jan and Marsha Tate. "Teaching Critical Evaluation Skills for World Wide Web Resources." http://www.science.widener.edu/~withers/webeval.htm
Brandt, D. Scott. "Evaluating Information on the Internet." Computers in Libraries (May 1996): 44-46.
Ciolek, T. Matthew (maintainer). "WWW Virtual Library: Information Quality." http://coombs.anu.edu.au/WWWVL-InfoQuality.html
Collins, Boyd R. "Beyond Cruising: Reviewing." Library Journal (February 15, 1996): 122-124
Demas, Samual, Peter McDonald, and Gregory Lawrence. "The Internet and Collection Development: Mainstreaming Selection of Internet Resources." Library Resources and Technical Services (July 1995): 275-290.
Ertel, Monica. "Brave New World: What a Working Librarian Should Know about Living on the Internet." Searcher (March 1995): 28-30+.
Grassian, Esther. "Thinking Critically about World Wide Web Resources:" http://www.ucla.edu/campus/computing/bruinonline/trainers/
Ryder, James and Tom Hughes. Internet for Educators. Upper Saddle River, J: Merrill, 1997. Chapter 3, "Internet Resources: Evaluating and Instructing", pages 85-122.
Kirk, Elizabeth. "Evaluating Information Found on the Internet." http://milton.mse.jhu.edu:8001/research/education/net.html
Makulowich, John. "Quality Control on the Net." Database (February 1996): 93-94.
Ormondroyd, Joan, Michael Engle, and Tony Cosgrave. "How to Critically Analyze Information Sources." http://urisref.library.cornell.edu/skill26.htm
Pratt, Gregory F., Patrick Flannery, and Cassandra Perkins. "Guidelines for Internet Resource Selection." College and Research Libraries News(March 1996): 135-136.
Rader, Hannelore, Billie Reinhart, and Gary Thompson. "University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Guide to Information Literacy." http://www.lib.utc.edu/info.html
Rettig, James. "Putting the Squeeze on the Information Firehose: The Need for 'Neteditors and 'Netreviewers." http://www.swem.wm.edu/firehose.html
Santa Vicca, Edmund F. "The Internet as a Reference and Research Tool: A Model for Educators." The Reference Librarian (no. 41-42 1994): 225-236.
Scholz, Ann. "Evaluating World Wide Web Information." http://thorplus.lib.purdue.edu/research/classes/gs175/3gs175/evaluation.html
Schrock, Kathy. "Kathy Schrock's Guide for Educators." http://www.capecod.net/wixon/eval.htm
Smith, Alastair. "Criteria for Evaluation of Internet Information Resources." http://www.vuw.ac.nz/~agsmith/evaln/index.htm
Stepno, Bob and Bob Henshaw. "Quality of Information... and Disinformation Online." http://blake.oit.unc.edu/~rbstepno/disinfo.html
Tillman, Hope. "Evaluating Quality on the Net." http://www.tiac.net/users/hope/findqual.html
As always, send questions and comments to: