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Information Literacy 101

Know the differences between the open web and subscription databases

You've heard stories about cyber crime and other potential dangers of using the free Web - from pornography to violence and bomb-making. But the pitfalls of the free Web can be avoided by educating ourselves and, when appropriate, taking advantage of the credible, free and authoritative reference databases available through libraries. Here are some questions and answers:

What is the Internet?

The Internet is a collection of networks, linking million of computers worldwide. It's just the highway, or transportation system, that allows you to get to the information stored on computers. The Internet itself does not contain information; it's like a giant international highway.

What is the World Wide Web?

The Web, as it is commonly called, is a way of accessing information by using the Internet. This is what is referred to as being "online." The Web uses browsers, such as Internet Explorer or Netscape, to access Web sites or Web pages. There is no central index to information available on the Web, which means finding information is difficult. The Web also is plastered with ads, many of which pop up on your computer screen.

What is a Web site?

A Web site or Web page is a location on the World Wide Web that you get to by logging on to the Internet, which takes you to these sites.

What does it mean to be "online?"

This simply means using the Internet as a vehicle to access Web sites.

Who can create and post a Web site?

Anyone can create and post a Web site - any one person, group of people, organization or company.

Is there a government agency or some watchdog organization that monitors what is posted on the Internet?

Absolutely not. The Internet is not monitored at all, which is why many people liken it to the wild, wild West.

What is a browser?

A browser is the vehicle that allows you to get to the Internet, which is the transportation system. The destination is a Web site.

What is a search engine?

A search engine is a tool that, when you enter a word, looks for related Web sites in which this word is found. For example, if you type in Edgar Allen Poe, a search engine will find all Web sites that have this term in them, from sites that sell Edgar Allen Poe T-shirts to a travel writer Edgar Poe's Web site. And the first sites that appear in the search are determined by advertising dollars - the more advertising an organization buys on the search engine, the higher their site will appear in the search results. But if you are looking for accurate, reliable information to write a report about the poet and writer, Edgar Allen Poe, you have to sift through a lot of hay to find the needle.

What is a subscription database or premium database?

These are databases of accurate and authoritative reference information that are created by publishing companies specifically for reference and research. These databases are filled with easily searchable and verified information and are sold to libraries, schools and businesses. Libraries use tax dollars to purchase subscription databases, which are then available free to patrons and the community. It takes about one-half the time to conduct a search on a reference database than it does to use a search engine because all the information found in the database search is targeted and accurate. You don't have to weed through T-shirt sites and sites by self-proclaimed authorities to find the quality information needed.

Here's an example: Searching "Shakespeare" on the Internet produces more than 6 million results, the first of which is for T-shirts. Searching "Shakespeare" on a literary subscription database produced 8 biographies, 1480 literary criticism articles, 1000 articles from literature periodicals, 26 work overviews and 14 bibliographies, all accurate information written by scholars and authorities on Shakespeare -- no sifting or filtering required.

If I'm a student writing a report but can't use Internet sources, then how can I use these subscription databases?

The Internet is mostly filled with various sites from family photo albums, commerce sites, individual political viewpoint sites and pornography sites. This is the Internet-based information that you don't want to use. However, when you log on to the Internet and go to your local library site to access subscription databases, this is the content that you want in the report, not the first Web site that appears when you use a search engine to research Edgar Allen Poe.

What source of information would you rather use, or have your children use?

Subscription databases provide a safe research environment for everyone, especially kids. They are a source of authoritative information for people who need and want accurate information. Call or visit your local school or library to find out how to get access to subscription databases and information resources.

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