27 August 2009

Module 6 - Topic 3


During the course of our work we see many different types of resources and make quick decisions whether those resources are relevant/useful to the needs of our patrons.

Criteria for evaluating information sources

Whenever we evaluate sources to see whether it is appropriate for the patron's needs we use the standard criteria of:
  • Audience - who had the author in mind when this was written?
  • Purpose - why was this written? This criterion is closely related to the intended audience.
  • Authority - what is the expertise and reputation of the author?
  • Content scope or coverage - is it comprehensive or narrowly focused; in-depth or broad discussion?
  • Currency/Timeliness - Does it represent the latest facts/views/research findings? Is timeliness important to the patron's query?
  • Accuracy - is it based on facts which could (and should) be verified? Can you clearly distinguish opinion statements and are the opinions supported by a well structured discussion/argument. What viewpoints are presented?
The web is a relatively new publishing medium and has grown exponentially over the last decade. Ultimately when we select websites we use the same criteria listed above to evaluate sources, but usability (or ease of use) becomes an important factor. There are other reasons too which makes evaluating websites more complicated:
  • There is an overwhelming amount of information on the web.
  • There is a lot of duplication of information.
  • It is easy for anyone to publish information on the web, but not always so easy to establish their credibility.

Websites have unique features that make it different from other information sources:
  • Websites can have a mix of media - text, graphic elements, sound and video files
  • Hyperlinks - create ways for users to navigate in a much more random way inside a document than with other more traditional media.
  • In many websites there is an interactive component (enabled by the hyperlinks) that adds (or distracts) to the media experience.
  • Through the use of search engines you can land anywhere in a website, so that you often see information out of context.
  • Sometimes you need specialist software to access the files on the website.
  • The web is inherently unstable - links are broken (changed) ever so often, access to pages are denied or the server is down, etc.
  • Web pages change all the time, especially in the web 2.0 era. You may have noticed that many websites are perpetually in the beta development phase - a hall mark of web 2.0.
  • Advertising on web pages can be so intrusive it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between content and advertisements.
UC Berkeley Library's Evaluating Web Pages: Techniques to Apply & Questions to Ask is a well known guide to evaluating websites. It gives guidance on what to look for and which questions to ask. This is especially relevant to websites we use to find information.

Types of Websites

When evaluating websites the type of website should be taken into account. (The type of website is related to the purpose and intended audience of the website.) There are many types of websites:
  • Organizational & company websites
  • Information web sites - providing information with different levels of coverage and scope of topics
  • Educational websites - schools and other educational/training institutions
  • Commercial website - Online shopping, Auction websites
  • News and Journal Websites
  • Entertainment websites - Online Games
  • Personal websites, including blogs and online diaries
  • Social networking sites - promote interactions amongst the users. Facebook, Twitter, dating websites, forums.
  • Collaborative websites - e.g. wikis. Groups work together to create content on a specific topic or for a specific goal.
  • Search engines, web directories, portal websites and yellow pages - websites that list/refer to other websites.
  • Online Web tools - Web 2.0 web sites - web sites that offer a particular service. The purpose of these web sites can be varied - information storage, communication etc. Examples: Flickr, Google docs, del.icio.us.
  • Blogs and online diaries - The content of blogs vary widely from general musings to detailed and specific information on technical subjects.
Your approach to evaluating the different types of websites will vary depending on the purpose and intended audience of the type website. Of course, in reality you will find many websites that are a blend of the types described above. The Library of The University of Albany has a guide on what to look for when evaluating the different types of websites.

Since Wikipedia is such a popular source of information on the web with our students a very useful brochure was developed by Otago University Library about the use of Wikipedia for a research project - Why not Wikipedia? - which gives guidance on how to evaluate Wikipedia articles.

Websites that spread misinformation
Every now and then you might come across information that sounds too good to be true or too weird and wonderful for words! This should arouse your suspicion that it could be misinformation or a hoax. If this is the case you should always investigate by doing a search on the Internet and also looking at sites that expose these hoaxes (look under Further Reading for a list of these sites).

The web offers a wonderful source of information but, as with any source, we need to have a careful look to see if it is relevant to the needs of our patrons and is useful for them. It is always a good idea to verify the information found on the web by using a variety of sources, including print and audio visual media.

If the Comments section below is not open .... click on the link to find participants' comments which could be helpful for this topic.




  1. This article: "Internet and email hoaxes and scams and why we believe them" (http://www.testfreaks.com/blog/information/internet-email-hoaxes-scams/) explains why it is so easy for us to fall for some of the outrages hoaxes.

  2. Here is another good article on Wikipedia articles: "How to evaluate a Wikipedia article" (http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/1/16/How_to_evaluate_a_Wikipedia_article.pdf)