I’ve been a news librarian for a long time and seen the changes in my profession from books and paper clippings files to Internet dependance and data research.
My mission here is to share a few tips and tricks to improve your research skills:
First books and old school reference materials;
The Internet thingy and how to squeeze more out of it;
Commercial databases at the end.
PRINT AND PAPER
Internet is great but the web page based network you youngsters are used to is less than 20 years old.
Yes there is current Canadian data on the Internet; and more and more every month and if you are lucky it is free to access but older data can be challenging. it takes time, money, will and mostly money to digitize old records and put them online.
And by older data I mean everything from 1921 census information to the cost of a pound of hamburger in Ottawa in 1944; to who was president of the Bank of Commerce in 1986; or what was Anne Murray’s husbands name or who won the Juno for best song in 1992 or who owned the property my current house sits on 1917 (a Smith – pure coincidence. according to old property records); or what street did Wayne Gretzky grow up on in Brantford.
They provide pieces of information/data in some organized and authoritative way.
They can provide basic information like a definition or succinctly explain a concept; describe and identify people or places.
The books are not meant to be read cover to cover – even too nerdy for me – just consulted for something specific.
Criss-cross directories. Example my field trip to the LAC to track Russell Williams life through street addresses. Show a book.
Canadian Periodical Index. Print titles ceased publication in late 1990s in favour of a subscription database. But grouping references by subject is a powerful way to research.
specialized encyclopedias. On just about any topic. One distinct advantage over a web based equivalent is AUTHORITY. Explain the concept. Ask them how the verify the accuracy of a website.
Almanacs. Gold mines of trivia and facts. No Canadian title has been published for years. There is no web equivalent in one convenient location.
RIP Canada Year Book published by Statistics Canada.
Canadian Facts and Dates. book I use for editorial calendar items like Gretzky turns 50.
Canada News Facts. 1967-2001. RIP. I still use them every few months. Will never give them up.
Quotation books. Bartlett’s the book is still easier for me to use than http://www.bartleby.com but the website does have the full text of the bible and Shakespeare online.
Even if the data you want is on the Internet, you may not be able to find it. 60 per cent of searches made by people who couldn’t find a result they felt was relevant enough to warrant a click through to the website, according to James Murray in a 2012 blog post. How often do you click into the second or third page of results?
Limitations of search engines
Search engines do not search every corner of the web. They tend to focus on webpages and sometimes struggle with file formats like .pdf and .ppt
The web crawlers are often confined to home or index pages.
They cannot search databases, or pages that launch applications.
Some websites deliberately block the search engines out. Privacy settings
Paywalls only let you in so far. Newspaper and magazine websites
The page may not have good SEO – search engine optimization – so even though it’s brilliant, search engines cannot find it.
Search engine optimization
This where you try and guess how the search engine ranks pages so you as a creator of web content can use headlines and keywords based on the likelihood of placing higher on the results list. In the news business it’s all about making sure the person’s name or product brand is in the headline so it’s “Harper” instead of “prime minister” and “Toyota” instead of “car”
Don’t judge a website by its’ pretty face
Don’t forget about authority of a website. A government site can be trusted to have quality information. So can a university or well known business. If a site doesn’t have a clear “about us” page that explains who they are and offers contact information that includes an address and telephone number, your spidey senses should tingle.
How do you evaluate the authority of a website? Let’s compare these two sites
Google Advanced. They hide it, too bad
Navigation bar on the left
Google Scholar. There’s an advanced search window if you click the “down” arrow.
Google News and Archives. The archives section, also hard to find.
Friggin awesome post about 20 ways to search Google from a mechanical engineer Gabriel Maestras that was posted to Quora. It’s from 2007, so it’s a tad dated but still awesome.
Not everything on the Internet is free or owned by Google
The web includes lots of databases with the full text of newspapers, magazines and academic going back decades. They cost money. Some sites let you pay as you go with a credit card. Others require you to subscribe and pay a monthly fee.
• FPInfomart.ca (Ottawa Citizen going back to 1985, dozens of Canadian titles going back 15 years or more)
• Factiva (Globe and Mail going back to 1979; business data)
• Cedrom SNI/Newscan (French language news sources)
• Lexis-Nexis (many, many American papers.)
• Jstor.org (academic articles for miles)
But wait, there’s more.
The Carleton Library likely has all these sources and much more at your fingertips. You can probably link in from home or from your dorm by using your student number. The public library in your town offers the same service, as long as you have a library card.
Ottawa Public library or your hometown library if you still have a valid library card.