Words of Wisdom from Ed-Reference Librarian
July 27, 2010
Evaluating the Credibility of Online Resources
Like Superman, we too sometimes fight a never ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way! Therefore, I’ll suggest some tips about evaluating the credibility of online resources. Certainly, common sense is always helpful in determining the credibility of any informational resources. However, online resources can sometimes make the evaluation of information more challenging.
It helps to first remember the simple fact that there’s a difference between the Internet and the online subscription databases on our website. Subscription databases are published by established vendors and fees are charged. These publishers stand behind the reliability of their information and filter out what’s less dependable. Such publishers usually specialize in different subject areas. It’s a process that helps ensure the authority & objectivity of the information. Of course, many subjects, by their nature, are open to different interpretations. It’s much easier, for instance, to agree on the accuracy of a phone number than it is to agree on the causes surrounding a particular social or historical event. The more credible providers of information then seek to ensure the quality of their information by using various quality control measures.
The library databases on our website have such standards. These include such things as scope of coverage, currency of information, a professional editing process, expert authors selected for their scholarship, sources that are well documented, and experienced publishers of specialized information. In other words, these databases have systematic controls over the quality of their information. However, information on the Internet doesn’t have to pass through any filtering process or be verified. Instead, anybody can put anything on the Internet without a publisher, an editing process, or any evaluation standards what so ever. This doesn’t mean that the information on library databases is always excellent and everything off the Internet is junk. It just means you should evaluate information from the Internet more carefully.
One easy way to find quality websites is to select sites that have already been pre-selected by a trusted source. Many libraries, including ours, collect and categorize websites to make it easy for people to choose. MCPL’s pre-selected sites can be found by clicking the link to web sources located on our home page. Subject directories, like the Internet, Public Library, and www.ipl.org are another good source for finding pre-selected websites. Besides, including more websites than individual libraries subject directories employ standardized subject headings. They’re also good at finding information that is deeply buried on the web. Larger directories are often created mostly for university level research. Search engines too can be very helpful, but often bring up poor or useless information.
Another good general approach is to realize that a website’s address tells something about that website. The domain suffix .edu at the end of a web address means the site has an educational sponsor; .gov means a government sponsor; .org a noncommercial organization and a .com is a commercial site.
So it helps to look for who created a website, their credentials and how well constructed the information appears to be. Things to look for include an author or corporate name, contact information other than just an e-mail address, and any background information about those who created the site. Such info should be easy to find on a good website. Moreover, ask yourself certain questions when glancing over materials on either the Internet or library databases.
- Is the material well documented, clearly cited and current?
- Is it well written and does the author demonstrate a grasp for the topic?
- Is the subject adequately covered or is it overly simplistic?
- Does it appear to be objectively written or are there signs of bias?
- Does the use of any statistical data seem to be presented fairly?
Occasionally, even the experts might get it wrong or slant information. So, when in doubt you should try finding other information sources for comparison. Furthermore, many of the above ideas also apply when using printed materials. Finally, I hope these suggestions help you separate good information from that which is not so good. Thanks for reading this and good luck!Tags: databases, online resources