Internet versus the library...

monique at monique at
Mon Oct 7 10:10:11 EST 1996

>> What I notice happening is students sending very basic "topical" queries 
>> to appropriate discussion lists in place of (I believe) the "old fashion"
>>library search. 
>>I guess I have 4 questions:  First, have others noticed such a trend?

Yes.  I see lots of posts on several plant newsgroups, and get lots of 
personal e-mail asking questions that could have been answered in the library.
(I think my homepage comes up first under "botany" on one of the major search 
engines...)  I thinks it's part of the "instant gratification" mentality so 
common today, i.e. "Why should I work out the answer if I can get you to tell 
me?"  You can usually tell from the posts who has already tackled the library 
and wants to fill in the holes in their knowledge and who has started with 
the net, hoping the whole answer will materialize.
>>Second, assuming this trend exists, do you think the value of getting
>>students to use the internet for research purposes sufficiently great
>>enough to risk a decrease in our future students' ability to use library
>>resources efficiently/effectively?

I think students need to know how to use BOTH types of resources.  What 
irks me is when someone says they've been told to get the answer only from the 
net or to find a particular image on the net--implying that their instructors 
believe everything is in cyberspace already.  Students and teaches need to 
know that not everything is on the net.  The library is still a good place to 
> My fouth question is tangential:  Do you think the internet
>>will eventually make libraries obsolete?

Goodness, I hope not!  I'd hate to be deprived of the tactile 
gratification of handling books.  And even if journals go to electronic 
publication, who is going to put all of the obscure the hundred-year old 
journals on line?  I still use them, and I know others do, too.  Sometimes 
nothing suffices other than an original document--sometimes you are even lucky 
enough to get addes bonuses, like penciled-in comments in the author's own 
handwriting.  (I once had that treat--one of Asa Gray's 1840's articles 
describing new species from Texas--signed and annotated in his own hand!)

I also wonder about access.  As the net becomes fuller and fuller, access 
times get longer and longer.  Case in point:  Texas A&M has really gone 
on-line in the last two years, with ethernet connections in lots of the dorms, 
large servers, and easy dial-in access.  Today it can take up to an hour to 
just log into the system from off-campus.  Until you can make the net as fast 
and dependable as it needs to be, it's going to be frustrating.
>>Any thoughts or discussion you have regarding these questions (or their
>>inherant assumptions) would be most welcome.  I would very much like to
>>to hear both instructors' and students' views on this topic and my

Here in the Botany section of the Biology Department at A&M, we have worked 
very hard to develop web-based instructional materials that SUPPLEMENT 
information that can be found in a library.  This includes an image gallery of 
native and cultivated plants, course syllabi, lab tutorials, virtual botany 
field trips, searchable databases for plant classification, nomenclature, and 
distribution, plant distribution mapping projects, and so on.

I think this is where the net can truly be useful--serving up information that 
can be changed or added to or searched.  Electronic information is inherently 
mutable.  I would like to see more interactive sites, more user-updatable 
databases, more raw data, and more application-based sites on the web.  I'd 
like to see the net community focus on what is NOT already available in 
standard texts and journals.

Just my opinions as a lab coordinator, graduate student, web-page developer, 
and bibliophile.

Monique Reed
Biology Department
Texas A&M University

check out our botany site jumping-off page with H. Wilson's background du jour!

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