Answering Reference Questions Using the Internet
|Someone asks a reference question...|
Is it a ready reference question?
- Can the answer likely be found by checking one or two handy sources?
If so, try:
|If the question is more complicated or
Get a Handle on the Question
- Start in on the reference interview.
- Ask yourself , do I know exactly what it is I'm looking for?
Aspects to consider:
- subject area (get as specific as possible)
- type of information (statistics, articles, etc.)
- amount and scope of information
- date or time frame
- desired format
- user level
Select a Resource
- Based on your experience, where is the best place to look for the answer?
- Do you know of an individual or organization that produces the sort of
information you need?
- your library's collection (including staff members)
- referrals to outside agencies
- local museums, government offices, social agencies
- the Internet, especially the Web
|Undertaking an Internet Search|
Focus Your Efforts
- Start constructing a search strategy and search terms.
- The goal should be to increase search precision without inadvertently
eliminating potentially valuable resources.
Principal search terms:
- primary keywords, phrases or concepts
- secondary keywords, phrases or concepts
- necessary truncation
- synonyms, related terms, alternate spellings
- antonyms or excluded terms
Additional search qualifiers
- Boolean logic, proximity operators, nesting
- date restrictions
- host machine restrictions (e.g.: .com, .edu, .bc.ca)
- field searching (e.g.: title, URL)
- format (e.g.: text, image, sound clips)
- Try an educated guess as to where you will find the answer.
- Don't look for the answer per se, but rather consider where the
answer could probably be found.
- If you can't find a useful source in one or two guesses, stop.
|Specific Types of Information|
Recent or Breaking News
- Very current information is invisible to regular search engines.
- They can take up to several weeks to find and incorporate new information.
|Searching the Web|
- Is your goal to locate a few good sources of information to get you going?
- Do you need a general overview of a subject?
- Do you need to browse a subject area or narrow a broad topic?
- Are you after the answer to a specific question?
- Do you need to research a topic in more detail or collect information from a
variety of sources?
|And when all else fails...|
Tips and Tricks of Last Resort
- No luck? Nothing working? Desperate?
- check your spelling
- re-examine search terms and qualifiers
- use a variety of search tools
- Selete subdirectories from URLs starting from the right
- good for bringing life to dead links
- look for links to good (but not perfect) sites
- ask another librarian for help
- subscribe to Stumpers-L
- beware: this is a high volume group
Internet Sites for Reference Librarians
Internet Ready Reference Tools
Web-based ready reference tools still pale in comparison to their print
cousins. Trusted titles are generally best used straight from the shelf. If,
however, your library has a sudden unexpected need for an Estonian-English
dictionary, try the sites below. Yahoo!, it is worth noting, have
categories for common reference tools.
- easy-to-use quick reference guide maintained by Ramapo Catskill Library
- Martindale's The Reference
- can be a s-l-o-w loading site for anyone with dial-up access
- try "World Wide Overview" for a selection of ready reference tools
- Ready Reference Collection (Internet
- lots of ready reference titles sorted by subject
- includes a few Canadian sources that are hard to track down elsewhere
Go back to: Ready
Reference or Top of
Internet Directories (E-mail and Telephone)
It should come as no surprise that some of the best for reference work are
designed by librarians. These resources don't necessarily provide the answer;
rather they help point you in the right direction. Such sites are good for
finding links to frequently used and reliable sources.
- Digital Librarian
- comprehensive list of librarian-selected sites arranged by subject
- Lii.org / Librarians'
Index to the Internet
- works sort of like Yahoo! but developed by a librarian
Go back to: Rapid
Strike or Top of the
Internet News Sites
Some online newspapers provide full text versions of their print editions,
while others are much more selective. A few, such as the New York Times, require
free registration. Most have very limited archives.
- Links to hundreds of international publications
- links to newspaper sites around the world, including trade journals and
other speciality papers
Canada - Newspapers
- Canadian newspapers by province
Go back to: Recent or Breaking
News or Top
of the Table
Newsgroup (Usenet) Archives
Newsgroups have fallen out of favour in recent years, though they can still
be a good source of information. Unfortunately, there simply aren't many
archives to choose from.
- searchable archives of newsgroups
- remember the option of an advanced search interface
Go back to: Recent or Breaking
News or Top
of the Table
Broad Subject Directories
Specialized Directories and Engines
Finding specialized directories or engines can be time consuming if you don't
know exactly what you're looking for. Try the sites below for starters. Remember
that Yahoo! has country and city specific versions, as do many of today's search
- a directory of more selectively chosen sites than Yahoo (though watch out
for annoying pop-up advertisements)
- Invisible Web
- a great source for finding databases on the Web whose contents are not
indexed by search engines
- Complete Planet
- over 100,000 searchable databases and specialty search engines
Go back to: General
Searches, or Top of the
General Search Engines
Meta Search Engines
Unfortunately, meta engines aren't nearly as wonderful as they often claim.
Results can be inconsistent, especially if searching for multiple terms or for
phrases. But they can still be a lifesaver when regular engines like Google and
All the Web don't turn up much.
- retrieves and displays results from each engine separately
- searches engines, directories, news and MP3 files (separately)
- good, basic meta engine that attempts to remove duplicate results
Go back to: Specific
Searches or Top of the
This Web page was produced by Joel
Minion under the auspices of the British Columbia Library Association and
the Library Services Branch of the Ministry of Community, Aboriginal and Women's
Services, British Columbia.
Last Updated: 03 September 2002
Copyright 2002. All rights reserved.