Research: When The Web Beats The Books

Bad news for advocates of traditional, book-based, brick-and-mortar library-centric research: the Web may be a better place to get your answers. A new study conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan compares the efficacy of on-line and off-line search methods, with on-line search providing answers a greater percentage of the and with 2/3 less time invested. From the study’s introduction:

Using a random sample of queries from a major search engine, we evaluate the amount of time participants spend when they use a search engine versus when they use the library without access to Web resources; any quality differences in the information found from the Web versus non-Web resources; and any differences in affective experiences between online and offline search processes.

Here is what the researchers found:

Searchers are significantly more likely to find an answer using web search. Of the 305 questions, 99.7% are answered in the web treatment, while 90.2% are answered in the non-web treatment.

Web search yields significantly more positive affective experiences than non-web search.

Online search takes significantly less time than offline search. Online search takes on average 1/3 of the time of offline search.

Searchers under the web condition looked at and used more sources than those under the non-web condition.

While non-web sources are judged to be significantly more trustworthy and authoritative than the corresponding web sources, web sources are judged to be significantly more relevant and more likely to contain enough information to answer the question. Furthermore, the accuracy of answer source is not significantly different across the two treatments. Balancing all factors, the overall source quality is not significantly different across the two venues.

I feel it necessary to point out a caveat to these conclusions, which even the researchers recognize. The research questions underpinning the study were all gleaned from the Web, with the implication that the Web would be the best place to answer Web questions. It is not certain that the same results would obtain for research questions first posed in a library setting. Nonetheless, the study certainly is sufficient to point out that for a subset of questions, the Web is definitely the place to go.

But, I still love libraries. 🙂

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The First Thing We Do, Let's Kill All The Books

With all apologies to Shakespeare and Ray Bradbury, I am not talking Fahrenheit 451 here. I am talking the new Engineering Library, opening this August, at Stanford U, now with 85% fewer books! Apparently, the reduction is due in some measure to lack of interest – many volumes hadn’t been checked out in five years or more. To combat literary overcrowding, the new library will be lean and mean with 10,000 physical volumes representing the library’s most popular books, compared to the prior, more than 80,000 dusty tomes crowding the shelves. The materials will still be available in searchable, digitized form and brows-able from laptop or “other” mobile device.

Library administrators foresee a time when the library will hold no physical books at all. Engineering is a rapidly changing field. Thus, the material upon which engineers rely must change quickly. Sound familiar, lawyers? Faculty already embrace e-books, which are more responsive to these changes. And faculty and library staff can see how students’ interactions with material have changed dramatically, as new students rely more heavily on virtual information for  reading, research and composition.

Stanford is not alone in this. Quoting from the NPR Digital Life article (link here), where I found this story:

And while it’s still rare among American libraries to get rid of such a large amount of books, it’s clear that many are starting to lay the groundwork for a different future. According to a survey by the Association of Research Libraries, American libraries are spending more of their money on electronic resources and less on books.

Lawyers, law librarians, and legal publishers, take heed. The paper book, as a research or reference device, may well be on its way out and practitioners will welcome the ability to scan and search treatises online. It’s the wave of the future.

You can listen to the NPR story here:

NPR Digital Life

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You Don’t Need To Hack Into MIT’s Library

You can just point your mobile browser at  http://m.mit.edu and get a page optimized for iPhone (with other phone optimization on the way) offering access to many of the library’s services. You can view library hours and locations, pose questions or set up a meeting with a librarian, and read news about the library on the MIT Library blog.

Whether or not you have a Student ID, you have to appreciate MIT’s steps towards connecting library resources with the mobile mob. Great example to follow for other reference and content providers.

Hat tip to Resource shelf.

You Don't Need To Hack Into MIT's Library

You can just point your mobile browser at  http://m.mit.edu and get a page optimized for iPhone (with other phone optimization on the way) offering access to many of the library’s services. You can view library hours and locations, pose questions or set up a meeting with a librarian, and read news about the library on the MIT Library blog.

Whether or not you have a Student ID, you have to appreciate MIT’s steps towards connecting library resources with the mobile mob. Great example to follow for other reference and content providers.

Hat tip to Resource shelf.

I’ll Have A Quarter Pounder, Large Fry and A Copy of Prosser on Torts, Please?

I just love innovative ways to stay relevant in the digital age! The Houston Public Library is implementing a new program called “HPL to Go” – a service which will allow library patrons of particularly traffic-burdened branches to receive their book order delivered right to their car! In conjunction with Info Quest and Info 24/7 (services permitting text queries and internet queries to reference librarians, respectively), the Library is seeking “ways to remain relevant in the iPhone era.”

To receive your order, simply reserve the books or other material via internet. Once notified that the materials are ready, you can then head to the library, call the librarian, offer the pertinent information including a description of your car and await your materials. While the HPL to Go program is tied to the HPL library system, Info Quest is a national resource offering the expertise of reference librarians across the country to answer questions around the clock.

Check out the HPL’s update on the Bookmobile: HPL Mobile Express is a van loaded with computers that visits under-served neighborhoods  offering computer classes and resume writing instruction.

Hooray for innovation in information resources!

Hat Tip to Resource Shelf

I'll Have A Quarter Pounder, Large Fry and A Copy of Prosser on Torts, Please?

I just love innovative ways to stay relevant in the digital age! The Houston Public Library is implementing a new program called “HPL to Go” – a service which will allow library patrons of particularly traffic-burdened branches to receive their book order delivered right to their car! In conjunction with Info Quest and Info 24/7 (services permitting text queries and internet queries to reference librarians, respectively), the Library is seeking “ways to remain relevant in the iPhone era.”

To receive your order, simply reserve the books or other material via internet. Once notified that the materials are ready, you can then head to the library, call the librarian, offer the pertinent information including a description of your car and await your materials. While the HPL to Go program is tied to the HPL library system, Info Quest is a national resource offering the expertise of reference librarians across the country to answer questions around the clock.

Check out the HPL’s update on the Bookmobile: HPL Mobile Express is a van loaded with computers that visits under-served neighborhoods  offering computer classes and resume writing instruction.

Hooray for innovation in information resources!

Hat Tip to Resource Shelf

Where Have All The Good Books Gone?

100-1116 Huey P Long Bridge Baton Rouge northwest
Image by Chris[topher] Lin via Flickr

Studio readers know that I love the internet. I adore it as a source of information and enlightenment, engagement and development. I truly appreciate what the internet offers to researchers and data gatherers and content junkies.

But I really must relate the experience that I had earlier today. It speaks to our growing reliance on the internet / Wikipedia as not just A source of information, but THE source of information. I am not sure this is the correct position for all applications and it certainly shouldn’t be the “be all and end all” of the researchers tool-kit.

Today, as my children and I were traveling by car, we passed over a bridge. My eldest son, a 9 year-old, relayed to me that a boy he met on the beach had told my son that he had traveled over the world’s longest bridge: a span running from New York City into the ocean and terminating on an island in the Atlantic. I replied that I did not think that the world’s longest bridge was in New York, explaining that I had traveled on a seven-mile-long bridge in the Florida keys.

I asked him where we could find information on the world’s longest bridge (“WLB”) and he answered that the 2007 (?) version of the Guinness World Book of Records would have the answer. I then suggested that we would be passing right by an honest-to-goodness library filled with reference books and that perhaps we should stop there for our answer.

So we did. A nice local library positively filled to the ceiling with real paper, ink and board books! We walked straight to the spacious desk bearing the grand sign – REFERENCE. The youngish, maybe-early-20’s gentleman behind the counter asked if he could help us. I explained to him that we were in the car talking about the WLB and decided to stop at the library to get an answer as to how long it is and where it might be located. He gave me this knowing wink and grin and immediately turned to his computer, located right in front of massive stacks of reference books. In under 20 seconds, he had found HIS answer to the question, and spent about four or five minutes printing several pages. I stared at him during this printing process and asked him “gee, if you were going to look in a reference book to find the answer, which one would you use?” He thought for a moment and answered “The Guinness Book of World Records. Or, maybe, an encyclopedia.” He glanced at his printed pages, explained the WLB was in Japan and proudly handed the sheets to me.

Along the upper right hand corner was printed the Wikipedia URL. The title of the entry was longest suspension bridges.

A few thoughts:

  • why wouldn’t the reference librarian leap at the opportunity to teach children about the value of book research, an asset unique to libraries – institutions desperately seeking to maintain relevance in an increasingly on-line society?
  • why wouldn’t the reference librarian either ask the customer a few questions about what kind of information he or she was looking for before assuming that he or she is interested in the subset of suspension bridges, a decidedly shorter construction method than other bridge-building techniques?
  • if the reference librarian must use the internet, why wouldn’t he or she use Wolfram Alpha, rather than the sketchy likes of Wikipedia?

A good researcher is both an able detective and a willing educator. A good researcher is not content with the quick answer, although efficiency certainly is a desired trait. A good researcher takes advantage of the best tools available and prides himself or herself on keeping up to speed with the latest and greatest techniques, be they on-line or in the real world. A good researcher should never “come up short” and should seek to “bridge” the gaps between the question and the answer with the strongest, most comprehensive structure to be crafted with the tools at hand. And a good researcher should never forget the research “roots” – honest-to-goodness reference books!

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? – Txt Ur Librarian or Expert 4 411

This sticker seen in Paris satirizes the popul...
Image via Wikipedia

What a great idea for dispensing reference information in the digital age: MyInfoQuest.com. This website is a collaboration among fifty participating libraries, Altarama Information Systems and WebClarity Software, Inc.  The “collaborative text messaging” service permits patrons of the participating libraries to text questions to the service at number 309-222-7740 and receive a text response from a real, live reference librarian. The pilot program just started at the end of July and will continue through December, 2009. While standard text messaging rates apply, the service itself is free. Service hours are 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mon – Fri and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. On Sunday, the librarians rest.

Not a member of the MyInfoQuest consortium libraries and/or interested in help outside of their service hours? Try ChaCha – another free service offering 24 hours of “expert” answers to phone calls or text questions. You can call ChaCha at 1.800.2ChaCha (1.800.224.2242) or text ChaCha at 242242 (spells ChaCha). ChaCha routes the question to “the most knowledgable person on that topic in our guide community.” The answer is spit back out as a text message reportedly within minutes. I couldn’t resist – I followed a link to see what people were asking and came up with this list:

  • Are dolphins nice or mean to people
    1 min ago | Asked 3 times | in Animals & Plants
  • What is the biggest water slide in the world
    1 min ago | Asked 12 times | in Attractions & Destinations
  • Who does the voice of chris griffen from family guy
    1 min ago | Asked 2 times | in TV & Radio
  • If you switch birth control pills does it make you more likely to get pregnant for a while
    1 min ago | Asked 2 times | in Pregnancy
  • What is longest word in the english language
    1 min ago | Asked 90 times | in Literature , Definitions , Language & Lookup
  • Are there muscles in your fingers
    1 min ago | in Fitness , Biology
  • What does ‘Dulce et decorum est, Pro patria mori’ mean
    1 min ago | in Translations
  • What is the best way to preserve and dry a rose
    1 min ago | in Home & Garden
  • What is a foxtrot
    1 min ago | Asked 6 times | in Definitions
  • What is the number to nationwide insurance company
    1 min ago | Asked 2 times | in Demographics
  • How many people live in the US? How many people live in the US
    1 min ago | Asked 96 times | in Demographics
  • What movies has Alexa Vega appeared in
    1 min ago | Asked 13 times | in Movies
  • What are the basic rules of tennis
    1 min ago | Asked 6 times | in Tennis
  • What is the Chicago Whitesox stadium name
    1 min ago | Asked 2 times | in Baseball
  • What are the lyrics to “over the rainbow”
    1 min ago | Asked 10 times | in Music
  • What is the best way to get a girl to approach you
    1 min ago | Asked 2 times | in Relationships & Dating
  • What is the cheat code for Sims 2 Pets for the computer
  • Clearly, ChaCha is highly focused on pop culture and most answers appear readily obtainable from a basic Google search. I am tempted to run a legal question through the service and see what kind of response I get in return.

    In any event, the model of ready access to an “expert” and receipt of an answer within minutes in mobile “txt” form is intiguing and appealing. I can envision legal reference professionals providing such a service to their attorney-clients and attorneys providing such a service to their own clients, subject to ethical guidelines of course. Innovation in a medium embraced by the masses seems is a winner in my book.

    Hat tip to ResourceShelf

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    Digital Immigrants Will Make Way For Digital Natives …

    … or traditional institutions will suffer the consequences. Yasar Tonta at Hacettepe University in Ankara, Turkey focuses his lense on libraries and stresses that they must “evolve or die” when it comes to digital technology and connectivity in his article Digital Natives and Virtual Libraries: What Does The Future Hold For Libraries?. Tonta initially explains the different styles exhibited by “digital natives” (those who were born and raised in a world surrounded by modern computing and technology) and “digital immigrants” (those who came to the digital realm from their previous analog existence). While recognizing that libraries must continue to cater to both groups, Tonta urges institutions to be mindful of the need to offer an experience catering to the digital native or risk “extinction.” Until such time as digital natives comprise 100% of the user base, librarians must run their show in both the real and virtual world.

    To this end, Tanto suggests that libraries forge relationships with their patrons that represent a give-and-take: offering bi-directional service and information flow back and forth between institution and client. Tanto speaks in terms of “diffusing” and “concentrating” services. Diffusion entails building relationships between people, applications and data through services like blogs, wikis and social networking, while concentration involves pulling users into major hubs of information, such as Google and Amazon.

    I found particularly compelling Tanto’s direction that libraries must move from being “resource-centric” towards becoming “relationship-centric”, emphasizing a more personalized service. Tanto also points out that technologies “converge” just as the facets of our lives converge – business, social, professional, personal. Thus, the library is tasked with effecting its own “convergence” by melding its own curated resources with the freely available resources of the Web and entering the on-line “hangouts” that digital natives inhabit. To survive, libraries must meet the more demanding needs of digital natives as they replace digital immigrants as clients.

    Finally, more is required of institutions than merely becoming digital destinations. Libraries must actively seek to enter the actual networks of digital natives and meet them where they live. Tanto closes with this quote:

    In libraries’ part, this requires “connectivity, communications, and content” (Social, 2009) so that library resources and services can be more visible and usable from within social networking systems. This seems to be the way forward for libraries if they are to tackle the impact of the convergence of technologies and the convergence of people’s social lives.

    I daresay that the reader could insert the name of just about any institution for the word “library” in this article and the same conclusions still hold true. Consider the plight of law firms as they experience pain from this compulsion to effect major change and are forced to  learn how to deal with both clients and new hires firmly inhabiting the virtual space. Firms that cater to digital immigrants will soon be as obsolete as their client base. Firms catering to digital natives not only will learn how to speak the language, but also will understand how to walk the walk along the highways and byways of the on-line world, stopping to socialize at all the best hangouts.

    Hat tip to Resource Shelf.

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    Follow The Librarians!

    Connie Crosby, a tech-savvy librarian from our neighbor to the north, mentioned on her blog today that the Online University Lowdown has created a list of the 50 best blogs for law librarians to follow. Why do I mention this? Anyone interested in research, writing, technology and reference management should make a point of finding web-friendly library scientists and reading their offerings religiously. I have several of these blogs in my reader and I never fail to pull interesting and enlightening information from them. My first exposure to many of the resources that I have adopted was from a blog entry authored by a researcher or librarian. My first exposure to Twitter came from blog posts by Connie and another professional mentioned in her blog above, Steve Matthews.

    Time is definitely precious, with all of the possible venues for information and engagement cropping up in our real and virtual worlds. If you have to budget time for information gathering, I recommend offering a little shelf-space to some of the fine resources mentioned in this list
    .

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