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Books Vs Internet Essay

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Is the internet killing proper research?
Time was, preparing a novel meant months in libaries; websites now offer instant insights. How profound they are is another matter. As a child I dreamed of a giant machine that could store every personal memory and event that had ever taken place, so that I would never forget anything. I knew it couldn't be a computer because that was the screeching wailing box in my dad's study that took 15 minutes to load up the thrillingly-titled "tennis game". I was thinking more of a database in which all information could be stored and shared. Yes, at the age of four - circa 1980 - I invented the internet - but was too busy planning a trip to the moon to establish the idea. This story has a point. Which is:

Recently I have been attempting to write a novel that I have decided should take place in a small village in Romania; nowhere else will do. Yet, I've never been to Romania. I also have no disposable income to pay for a trip there, nor a benevolent publisher who might cover the cost of the trip under the guise of "research". In days gone by, this would have caused a problem. To accurately portray a country as unfamiliar as Romania is to me, I would have had to spend weeks, months even years in libraries digging out facts about population, geography, cultural preferences, history and so forth in order to create a believable backdrop against which to set the story. I might have spoken to people from that country, or those who had visited it; maybe sampled indigenous foods, listened to music - anything to get a better feel for the place. That process is changing. Nowadays, thanks to the internet and its many search engines writers can conduct their research at a much-accelerated pace. Chief among the millions of web resources is its most frequently-visited encyclopedia, Wikipedia. Wikipedia means no more hours spent in dimly-lit library backrooms, shoulder deep in dusty books. Research has now been boiled down to a few hours on a laptop at a crumb-flecked table in an overpriced coffee shop. This may not necessarily be a good thing.

For starters, Wikipedia is an ever-changing and resource reliant on the accuracy of its contributors (who, for all we know, cut and paste their facts from other websites) and the moderators who police the site. It has made for some amusingly false and libellous accounts. Of course, any writers worth their salt should cross-reference and check their facts, but why believe one anonymously-written internet site over another? Sooner or later you're going to have to drain your coffee cup, brush away the muffin crumbs and check these facts in more reliable resources. Like, books. In libraries and that. The other problem is, research only presents the cold facts. The smell and feel of a place, for example, can never be fully conveyed via the internet. The Wikipedia entry on Romania, for example, contains 6,804 words, the length of a large newspaper article but less than a student dissertation - and certainly way too short to document the entire history and experience of a country. Yet so far - I'm ashamed to admit - Wikipedia has been my prime source. The days of laborious research to produce credible fiction are disappearing. More and more, writers simpley click a link, skim-read an article, and extract the (questionable) facts. Clearly there is an argument then that far from keeping us informed and up to date, the internet and sites such as Wikipedia are in fact making writers lazy, unconvincing and inaccurate. I hope I'm not one of them. (Ben Myers, 2007)

"Now we've got the Internet, why do we still need libraries?" A.B. Credaro ©2001-2002
Many thousands of web pages exist, comparing the advantages and disadvantages of using the Internet instead of a traditional library. Many of these are personal opinions, with the authors ranging from commercial sites to professional organisations. However, educationally-valid research on this topic has been ongoing for over a decade, with results compared over 3 continents so far. The findings prove conclusively that academic achievement - how well students perform at school - has a direct correlation to the quality of a school's library services. Click here for some details of this research. The popular press in Australia a few years ago came to the conclusion that the "best predictor of academic performance was the students' postcode". However, this correlation was drawn from HSC results for particular schools. When the quality of the school's library services is examined, a further correlation becomes apparent - the schools in the more affluent areas had a higher quality school library services. Research has shown that developing good library services - even in economically disadvantaged areas - improved students' achievements in standardised tests. So how does one define an exemplary school library service? It does not depend only how many books (or even computers) are in the school library, but refers also to the structure of the library programs, the number of qualified staff, the degree of meaningful access, and many other more technical aspects of library operation. One example of this exemplary school library practice is that of keeping information technology in context with information literacy. In the recent past, school library book budgets have dwindled, as "technology" budgets have consumed a greater slice of the budget pie. Direct observation, supported by anecdotal evidence, has witnessed a plethora of students undertaking research via the Internet, without any reference to print-based resources. However, classroom teachers have noted that the "quality" of the information has decreased with an increase in access to the Internet. Many students mistakenly believe that "everything" is available on the Internet. Whilst there is much valuable information out there, consider that: * There are over 4 billion unique, publicly accessible websites * Only 6% of these have educational content

* The average life of a webpage is 75 days
* Google, the largest search engine, has indexed less than 18% of the available pages * A great deal of the Internet is not able to be indexed by traditional search engines, and remains hidden from them. This is known as the Invisible, or Deep, Web. * Anyone can publish a web page - no-one checks that the information is correct, current or able to be authenticated * And yes, there are unpleasant sites on the Internet, although these make up less than 1% of all web pages. Consider comparing the above list with the resources in the school library: * The resources have all been individually selected by a trained professional, to cater specifically to the school's educational programs * A catalogue of the library resources exists, so that anyone can find everything in the library * As the Teacher Librarian is a qualified teacher, as well as a trained librarian, there is always someone on hand to help find the information, interpret difficult concepts, and locate information from beyond the physical library. The Internet is an incredibly powerful research aid, but can be time-consuming, frustrating, or misleading. However, there are many advantages to using the Internet for research, such as: * The ability to access the very latest information. Library books take time to order, accession and be available on the shelves. * Being able to communicate directly with subject experts by email. Whilst students can phone local experts, or write to distant ones, electronic communication allows fast, and cheap, answers to questions. Some Internet sites provi...

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