Class Objectives - Learn how to use search engines and subject directories, learn about the "deep web" and how to evaluate the websites you find.
Prerequisites - You should be able to use a mouse, scroll bars, and have some familiarity with web browsers.
Time - The maximum time allotted for the class is an hour and a half.
There are different ways to search the internet. Basically, you need to go to a website that accesses a pre-selected set of internet pages, which is composed of either a list of links or electronic copies of many internet pages. You access these pages either by going to a subject list or by using a search box to enter words.
Getting too much information from the internet is often a problem, so learning how to control the number of websites that you retrieve is a good way to control frustration and information overload. In this class, we will explain some useful techniques to help you do this.
The main feature that distinguishes search engines from subject directories is how their list of web sites is created and organized.
Popular search engines:
For more search engines, see the library's Search Engine page.
Find web sites on the following:
Advantages: Search engines' very large website lists mean there is a good chance of finding something on your topic.
Disadvantages: If you are not specific enough, you may get too many unrelated hits. Also, search engine web sites are not reviewed for quality or authority but are simply compiled by a computer program, so evaluating these websites is important.
To see reviews and comparisons of various search engines, check out Search Engine Showdown - www.searchengineshowdown.com.
There are specialized search engines for particular subjects:
There are thousands more specialized search engines out there, such as this list from Search Engine Guide. You can also do specialized searches on the general search engines as well, such as an Image search on Google or a News search on Yahoo.
Well-known subject directories:
Search the subjects:
Advantages: Since subject directories are categorized by people, you will almost always get relevant results. If the subject directory is selective or specialized, you can find authoritative web sites for important topics such as health, law, or education.
Also known as the Invisible Web, a large portion of the internet is not findable with search engines because the information on many web sites is in databases that are only searchable within that site.
Some examples of these types of web sites can be found on the library's Public Records Online page. For instance, records in the Washington State Charities & Commercial Fundraiser's Database would not be found by a search engine since they are "invisible" to it; the search engine only looks at the main search page, not the individual records in the database.
Many of the following search tools are similar to the specialized search engines above. Some good Deep Web search tools:
For more information on the Deep Web, check out this Internet Tutorials page.
The deep web includes subscription databases, such as the ones the library pays for. You must use them in the library or have a city resident card.
Why should you evaluate web sites? The top search engine results are not necessarily the most accurate or useful; they often just the most "popular". Also be aware that some sites pay to be listed more prominently.
The internet is mostly unregulated. This means just about anyone with access to a computer can put anything on the web, including personal opinions, hoaxes, scams, and content that may be illegal. So if the information you retrieve is important to you, you need to evaluate web sites for accuracy, authority, and reliability.
One way to find out about a website is to look at its web address. A web address is the unique location of each computer file on the internet. It is composed of several parts, but must include at least a domain name to work.
The domain name includes information about the organization that provides, creates, or sponsors the web site. It can give you a clue to the purpose of the web site.
Recently added domains: .aero, .biz, .coop, .info, .int, .museum, .name
See this Wikipedia article for a more comprehensive list.
Who? What? When? Where? Why? - These are all questions that researchers need to ask when determining the legitimacy of a resource.
What to look for:
A particularly useful web site: WhoIs - Who owns a domain name?
Watch for personal web sites - look for a name following a tilde (~), a percent sign (%), or the words "users," "members," or "people" in a web address.
You can find further information on web searching and web safety by checking out some of the following books: