Evaluating Internet Resources

Table of Contents
The information on this page is adapted from Billie Peterson-Lugo's "Tech Talk" column which appeared in the December 1996 Library Instruction Round Table Newsletter.

Authority

Verifying the authority of a web document is one of the most challenging aspects of evaluating Internet rescues. Unlike most "traditionally" published resources, anything and everything from virtually anyone is potentially available on the Internet. In looking for authority, consider the following:

  • Examine headers, footers, and the site address to see who is producing or sponsoring the document;
  • Be aware of misleading URL's; (e.g., "www.whitehouse.com" or "www.mit.com" would not be likely URL's for official pages from the White House (a government agency) or MIT (an educational institution) since the ".com" implies a company domain);
  • .edu, .org, .gov, and .mil domains are more likely to have higher quality information than .com domains
  • Look for an "About This Page" or "About This Company/Organization" link;
  • Look for a link back to a home/main page or an individual author's home page;
  • Enter the URL for the site, excluding the path information, in order to go to the top level of the site to see who is hosting the resource; (e.g., given the URL: http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/cat-care/, use the URL: http://www.aspca.org/);
  • Look for a "date stamp" to see when the information was created or last updated;
  • Send an e-mail message to the creator of the page (if an address is provided), and ask the author about his/her experience, education,background, etc.
  • Is there reason to believe that this person/organization/company/ institution would be an authoritative source for this kind of information?
  • Were you referred to this resource through another trusted Internet resource (such as InfoMine, the IPL2, the World Wide Web Virtual Library, WorldCat, or a person whose opinion you trust and respect;
  • Has the resource been rated or given any awards, and if so, what criteria was used for the ratings/awards?

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Scope/Content

Examining an Internet resource for scope and content is more straight forward.

  • What is its purpose: to provide new information; to link to additional information; to explain; to persuade?
  • Who is the intended audience: adults; children; teenagers; people with specific interests (either professional or non-professional)
  • How comprehensive is this resource; and how important is comprehensiveness?
  • How current is the information; and is currency important for the particular topic?
  • Does the information appear to be presented as "fact" or "opinion"? How do you know?
  • Does the affiliation of an organization/company/institution to the resource present a potential for bias, or does it lend more credibility to the content?
  • Are there other resources that present the same information, and if so, how do they compare with this one?

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Design

Thought in design and functionality implies the creator cares about how the user interacts with the web page or web site. In evaluating design, both the aesthetic and functional aspects of how the resource is displayed should be considered.

  • What navigation tools are provided within the resource: links that help navigate through a page, such as a table of contents or "return to top"; links that return the user to other important pages associated with the resource; a search engine specific for that resource, etc.?
  • How readable/printable is the information displayed?
  • Does the use of graphics, programming scripts, sound files, etc. enhance or inhibit the use of the resource? Are there text-based alternatives for the graphics?
  • Are consistent and helpful design features used throughout the resource?

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Functionality

This area of evaluation focuses on the "Internet" characteristics of the site and includes the following issues:

  • Is the server frequently busy or unavailable?
  • Are the pages, content and design, changing constantly, making it difficult or unreliable to use?
  • Do links to other resources appear to be regularly maintained?
  • What additional plug-in's or helper applications are necessary in order to make the most effective use of the resource?

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Cost

The number of vendors now delivering information over the Internet to libraries is increasing almost exponentially Access to these resources via the Internet can be expensive; ultimately, an individual cost vs. benefit analysis should be included in any evaluation process for such resources.

  • Advantages -- The resource has the potential of being available any where, any time, any place, for any qualified patron; it can be platform (DOS, Macintosh, Windows) independent, especially if it uses a web browser; the information provided is often updated more frequently; there may be less upkeep at the library's end.

  • Disadvantages -- The search interface may lack sophistication; problems associated with providing assistance to remote users; there is less control over the system's availability since it's no longer maintained locally; there may be technical issues that have to be addressed/resolved at the library's end;

    Some questions to ponder when considering the addition of an Internet resource to a "virtual library" might be:

    • Would this resource be of interest to and used by the library's primary clientele?
    • Is this a better way (more convenient, easier to use) to provide this information?
    • Are there other resources that provide the same information, and if so, how do they compare with this one?

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Checklists and other Resources

Using a form or checklist to evaluate Internet resources can help maintain consistency in evaluations, especially if the evaluations. Some examples can be found at:

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