The Digital Researcher

I think of different people and how they find their information.  In the library world we refer to those who don’t use the Internet for research or don’t have access to the Internet as the Digital Divide.  Why don’t they have access?  It could be that they live in areas that don’t have anything built to allow the signals to reach the digital world, or because they have not learned how to use a computer, or because they haven’t found a financial way to get the technology into their homes.

Then there are those who have access to the Internet and use it, but only go to Google, Yahoo, MSN, AOL, etc… and read only what they access there; I call them Digital Comfortable. The scary thing here is that not everything found on the Internet can be called factual, true, the highest research available.  So as people practice using the Internet, they are going to the web sites that are easy to find and what their friends & family are using at the time.  Sometimes it’s the newest, hippest web site out there, which usually has a lot of advertisements and pop-ups. Fun to read and surf through, but for good, accurate information, not the best.

Usually, by using a library’s catalog, and asking assistance from a reference library, there is a better way to sort the sources to verify their authenticity and solid foundation as being a good resource of information. These folks I call Digital Savvy, because they know how to access the rich data through libraries through their library card. They understand that when they access their libraries’ many databases they are given the keys to an even wider, educational world.

The libraries pay for subscriptions to those hundreds of databases, with the funding they get through taxes, foundation, or non-profit sources.  Each database could represent a professional journal on many topics; health, psychology, engineering, computer science, history, English literature, and so on. Many categories of information at your fingertips! With a healthy society, people should have access to the best information, keeping them updated to what is really going on in the world, the new discoveries, and how to learn in today’s job market and so on.  The use of the libraries will cost you very little tax, and will require your time to access and study the information which is available to you. It is your choice if you use your local libraries or not, but there is good evidence that shows that those who use their libraries save money and enrich their lives.  How do they save money?  It can be that they don’t need to buy professional subscriptions to professional journals, or books (unless they want to). Often, what they need in their educational and research process can be provided by their local libraries and research libraries. It’s a good idea to find out if your library can get you the information you need instead of spending your money when you don’t have to.

Then there are those who research with Primary Sources.  Primary Sources are the creations of information during an event or time in history; the eye-witness account of the event written in diaries, journals, scrape-books, photo-albums, and first edition books. Sometimes these sources are available by the Internet because someone, usually an archive, library, or museum has digitized them.  In order to make them available to us on the Internet, they have to do the due diligence to find the copyright holder and request they give permission to digitize, unless the item is in the Public Domain.  Once they have the written permission to digitize the photos, or written materials, then they create the Metadata to add it to a digital repository. Once the digital items have been added to a digital repository, it is findable and accessible on the Internet.

But that’s not all, once any organization (archive, library, museum) has created the digital object, that object must be maintained and supported in the digital world.  This means that it’s never really free, but needs to be protected when software upgrades happen, when system software changes (Windows 7 to Windows 8, etc…) and hopefully supported to be available for years to come.  It is usually the mission for most archives, libraries, and museums, to preserve and make accessible the items in their collections, which is why they will always need financial backing to keep their doors open.

But most Primary Sources are not digitized, so then what do you do?  It is usual practice that these rare and special collections are accessible in your community.  Depending on the collection, you can simply stop by and ask.  Or perhaps you may need to schedule time to visit the buildings of these archives, libraries, and museums.  Once you have scheduled your time to visit, you can read personal papers, research notes, original articles, photos, etc… to find out information that was either forgotten, or was the building blocks for the information we use today.  Those who go through these steps I call Brilliant Researchers, because they have gone the extra mile to find information that not just everyone has thought about accessing.  Can you imagine, reading documents that have not been read for hundreds of years?  Perhaps someone in history got a notion wrong, and you have the proof in your hands because you took the time to see the paper archives yourself.

The truth is that there are millions of documents that will not be found on the Internet via web sites or databases for many years to come.  Why should they?  How can we as a society pay to have all of the world’s written information digitized, when we are already creating many times over new information daily? It is up to those persons who have found a topic to research on, and feel the need to look back in time, to follow up on what the specialists have said and are saying in today’s world.  Once a document or image is evident of its importance to understanding our world better, funds can be found to make it available in the digital world.

I am quite enthralled with what has been forgotten that could shed light on today.  Are you? If so, check out any special collection in your area and become amazed!

Published
Categorized as Art

By jcarmen52

Work at University of Colorado-Boulder. Finishing Master of Library Science. Married, live in Longmont, Colorado.

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