By Mike Linn
The story goes something like this: A graduate student logs onto the Internet to research a major paper, finds a site, quotes its content only to find out later the site’s information was gathered by a sixth-grader.
The tale is an example of the dangers associated with students using Internet search engines as their main gateway to academic research.
Clovis Community College public service librarian Kelly Gray said she heard the graduate student’s story at a recent conference of librarians.
“You just have to be careful. There are sites out there, they look like they’re good, but you don’t exactly know who is behind the site and if it really is reputable information,” she said.
Gray is one of many librarians nationwide who have seen students using search engines rather than the more traditional library research methods, The New York Times recently reported.
She said Internet search sites are great as a starting point, but students should double check the validity of the information.
Eastern New Mexico University chemistry professor Newton Hilliard agrees.
In some respects, search engines like google can provide “powerful resources” for academic research, but Web searches need to be verified in an academic library, he said.
Hilliard said a student in one of his biochemistry classes was supposed to do a report on rust, the biological version, which is a mold or fungus.
After researching the topic on the Web, the student turned in the report on the chemical version, the rusting of iron.
“Anytime a book has been published, many many people throughout the process have looked it over, proofread it — so there’s a fair chance what’s in the book is correct,” he said. “Google — I could sit down this afternoon and write Web pages … and there’s no control of the Web pages. It might be correct, it might not.”
Hilliard said many students — especially in low-level classes — don’t understand that content found on Web pages could be incorrect.
Even so, Eastern students in increasing numbers are using Web searches rather than ENMU’s Golden Library for research, said Brackston Taylor, a reference librarian at Eastern for eight years.
“They come to the reference desk less than they used to,” he said. “They come to me when they don’t find what they’re looking for (on the Internet).”
Taylor said students come to the library only when they are doing comprehensive research or want to use the full range of resources available.
For Golden Library Director Melveta Walker, google offers a convenient, yet biased form of information for students.
“There’s no authentication out there for the general Internet,” she said.
Fifteen years ago, she said students spent two weeks researching for a paper and only spent a few days writing.
Now, with electronic resources at local libraries, students can spend maybe four hours conducting research and have longer to write the paper.
“Then when google came along (students said) ‘That’s even easier, we’ll just go do that,’ not realizing that what we had been giving them in the automated area was authenticated,” she said. “They think anything they can get in electronic format has got to be good because it’s on the Internet, and that’s not necessarily so.”