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Library Databases vs. the World Wide Web

Why is it that when you go the Reference Office for help on locating scholarly articles for your research paper, the person there is always telling you to search for articles in something called a library database? Why don't they just use Google to look for articles?

Here's Why
The World Wide Web (or Web) contains millions upon millions of documents, images, movies, government information, and commerce sites. (See Figure 1 below.) However, just because something is on the Web doesn't necessarily mean it comes from reliable sources. A lot, sometimes too much, of the information on the Web is questionable and requires users to employ caution when selecting sites as sources for research papers.

Figure 1

Library databases, on the other hand, contain information that is often not found on the Web. Scholarly research papers, old newspaper articles, citations for literary texts, and academic reports are just some of the things one can access through a database. The library pays lots of money for these scholarly databases which means most of the information you'll get from them is of premium quality.

The Web is essentially free. From the Web you may be able to access Uncle Ralph's photos of last summer's family reunion, but you won't find it in one of the library databases. (To learn more about the FAU Libraries databases, go to the "Databases" module, or click here.

This is not to say, though, that ALL of the information on the Web is useless. Some museums and archives make digital libraries of World War II photographs and other documents available on the Web. (See Figure 4.) Many U.S. government agencies, in an effort to minimize the amount of paper being used, post numerous amounts of information on the Web such as the latest news about Medicare benefits or consumer protection laws. (See Figures 2 and 3.) One does not need to subscribe to a database to access these sites; they're all available on the Web.

Figure 2 - Website from the US Department of Health & Human Services
Government website
Figure 3 - Department of Veterans Affairs' Website
Image from a digital library
Figure 4 - A digital library on women's suffrage from the Library of Congress


Of course, with the good, comes the bad. ANYONE, who has access to server space can post information on the Web, and it doesn't matter what type of information it is. Pornography, defamatory and libelous information...it's all there on the Web.

So, if there's so much information out there, and not all of it is reliable, how can we be sure that what we find on the Web is something we can use? To do this we'll have to learn how to evaluate Web resources.


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