A veteran user of both the Dewey Decimal System and the Internet, Research Specialist Jennifer Harbster detangles the World Wide Web and offers engineers effective web research tips.
Present position: Research Specialist; Science, Technology, and Business Division, Library of Congress
Education: B.A., Univ. of California, Santa Cruz; M.L.I.S., San Jose State Univ.
How you describe what you do at cocktail parties: I'm basically a reference librarian. I help researchers, scholars, government agencies, and the general public find information on a variety of topics that relate to science and technology.
What are some common misconceptions about the web? People think that everything is on the web and they can get it all for free.
What are some of the limitations of search engines? Most search engines look for word occurrences and index pages, not relevancy and quality of content. So, often, the sites are indexed based on popularity. Search engines can access only 16% of the web, while the remaining 84% of the web includes proprietary sites that require a subscription, as well as the "invisible web"—that is, company databases, and web pages that lie deep within a website, for example.
Advice for conducting web searches? Use more than one search engine and use directories. Directories are human-mediated and organized by topic. They tend to be more focused, so you're not getting something that is irrelevant. Also, use more than one word, add quotation marks to search for phrases, and try including the type of specific information you want (e.g., "automotive safety statistics"). Some search engines also allow you to define your search by limiting it to '.gov' or '.edu' sites (e.g., "laser site:gov").
For more hints from Jennifer, click here.