Rewarding Resources: Evaluating Internet Sources

I taught a class this morning that I occasionally offer here at the library on accuracy of information on the Internet.  Evaluating Internet Sources is intended to give some tips to help Internet browsers determine what is and what is not good info.  The following is the handout I use in teaching that class.

If you have questions you can always seek me out at the library.

Keith L Greenawalt

Public Services Manager 

Evaluating Internet Sources:

What’s the Problem?

The Internet is a great source of information, but not all of it is accurate.  There are a number of reasons for this.  It requires little skill or resources to publish online, meaning nearly anyone can say anything on the Internet.  It’s easy to push a particular point of view, often anonymously.  Information online can be out of date as well.  There is a lot of information out there and it can be difficult to sort out the good from the bad.  

Tips: How Do I Know I am Getting Good Information?

It is fairly easy to find information online, whether you went to a website there directly, were linked there through another website, or found it through a search engine.  The following tips are intended to help you determine whether information is credible or not.  Unfortunately, none of the following tips are absolute truths.  You are going to need to rely on your own common sense to determine the value of information.

Domain Names – The main part of a web address is called the domain name.  These can be used to gauge accuracy.  Look at the ending of the domain name.  You can learn a lot just from this.

Ending

Type

Example

.edu

Educational

http://www.millersville.edu

Millersville University

.gov

Government

http://www.pa.gov

Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

.org

Organization

http://www.ephratapubliclibrary.org

Ephrata Public Library

.com

Commercial

http://www.google.com

Google search engine

Domain names ending in .com is the most common domain name and are the least likely to provide accurate information.  There is a lot of crossover between these types of domain names, for example the Borough of Ephrata’s web address is http://www.ephrataboro.org.

User Names – Many companies will provide space for, or host, others’ websites.  These websites will have the domain name of the hosting site, followed by a user name: http://www.domainname.com/username.  If a website is hosted at a site like yahoo.com or google.com it should be looked at carefully.

Currency – Information that is out of date can be dangerous.  Does the website indicate when the information was published or place on the Internet?

Authors – Does the website list an author?  Are those authors credentials listed?  Are they an expert, either through education or experience, in the field they are writing on?

Purpose – Ask yourself why this information was put online.  Who put it online and why do they want you to look at it?  Do they have a purpose for putting that information online?

Special Cases

Wikis – Wikis are user created websites that allow contributions from a large group of people.  The foremost example of this is Wikipedia.org, an encyclopedia that anyone can edit. 

Blogs – Blogs, is short for weblog, allows authors, or bloggers, to easily post opinions and other information online.

Search Engines – Search engines rank results using different formulas.  Some websites are designed to appear at the top of any list of search results.  Search engines also post advertiser websites around search results.

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Rewarding Resources: Affordable Care Act

I have been reading up lately on the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare.  It is confusing and complex to say the least.  It is also highly controversial for many different reasons that we will not cover here.  I work for a public library, my job is answers that are accurate and unbiased.

Therein lies the rub of information on ACA and its ins and outs.  Due to its charged nature, trying to find non-partisan and unbiased can be difficult.  Many people have some skin in the game and want this to succeed or fail for a variety of different reasons that, again, I am not going to address.  I am going to take a crack at navigating the quagmire.

Do remember that open enrollment for health insurance exchanges begins on October 1.

The first place to start with sort of thing is http://www.healthcare.gov.  This is produced by the Federal government and is essentially their portal for all things ACA.  Normally I am I have full fain in government websites for accuracy and reliability, and I am not saying that this is not accurate or reliable.  What I am saying is that this is essentially the Federal government’s sales pitch for.  Take it at that.

They have a good piece called Health Care Law in 214 words (https://www.healthcare.gov/blog/2014-in-214-words).

Also, if you want to phone for information, that can be done by calling 1-800-318-2596.

I also really like a column WebMD does that seeks to answer questions regarding ACA.  It can be viewed here: http://blogs.webmd.com/health-reform-101/.

The Wall Street Journal has a central gathering point for its coverage: http://topics.wsj.com/subject/H/health-reform/1662.  They also have nice video here: http://www.nytimes.com/video/2013/07/15/health/100000002338178/demystifying-the-affordable-care-act.html.

The non-partisan Henry J Kaiser Family Foundation has a good healthcare reform website: http://www.kff.org/health-reform/.

Consumer Reports has a decent portal to its information, some of which requires a paid subscription: http://consumerreports.org/cro/2012/06/update-on-health-care-reform/index.htm.

The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) has produced a nice website regarding ACA that can be found here: http://www.aarp.org/health/affordable-care-act/.  Do note that AARP has endorsed the new health law.

Fact-checking website Politifact has a topic for health care: http://www.politifact.com/subjects/health-care/.  Many of these are ACA related.

I hope some of these sources will help you make up your own mind on these important issues.

Keith L Greenawalt, MSLS

Public Services Manager/Reference Librarian

Rewarding Resources: Hiking Trails

I recently did a program at the library focusing on the hiking trails of central Pennsylvania.  I included a list of links that are useful in finding trails.  The following is that list:

http://www.explorepatrails.com – Useful in find trails in Pennsylvania
http://www.railstotrails.org – Rails to Trails Conservancy website
http://www.lancastercountyparks.org – Lancaster County Parks maintains a number of regional parks and two rail trails
http://www.dcnr.state.pa.us – Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources maintain state parks and forest lands.
http://www.nps.gov – National Park Service maintains national park lands including Valley Forge, Hopewell, and Gettysburg
http://www.schuylkillrivertrail.com – The Schuylkill River Trail is a network of existing and proposed trails along the Schuylkill River
http://www.nwrt.info – The Northwest River Trail is a network of existing and proposed trails along the Susquehanna River in northwest Lancaster County
http://www.lancasterconservancy.org – The Lancaster County Conservancy maintains wildlife preserves throughout the County, mainly in the southwest along the Susquehanna River.
Keith L Greenawalt, Public Services Manager

Rewarding Resources: Summer Travel Reviews

Summer is here and many families will soon pack up and head off on all sorts of family vacations and day trips.  There are many ways to find places to stay, eat, or visit,  The newest way to find great places to spend your both your time and hard earned dollar is online.

I am a history and museum geek.  I’ve done library programs about museums.  I created a learning guide about museums.  It is how I choose to spend my free time and hard earned dollar.  My problem is that I have run out of places to go.

I use travel review websites like Yelp and TripAdvisor.  These sites allow users to review and see reviews of airlines, restaurants, hotels, and attractions.  I primarily use it for the attractions.  I find places that I may not have otherwise ever heard of and often get a good idea what other people think of them.  Some sites even provide the business a chance to respond.

Now, you need to keep in mind that any review is a subjective thing and experiences can vary greatly.  The things that I am looking for in a business or attraction are going to be different than others.  My version of a 5 star review my be different from another version.  

The best reviews are always the bad reviews.  I think some poor reviews are petty.  One of my favorite historic sites got a poor review because the reviewer thought it should be free.  Another got a poor review because of the on-site restaurant.  I also firmly believe where there is smoke there is fire.  If a business has lower reviews, I am less inclined to patronize it.  (I stayed at a motel once and had a poor experience and then read the many bad reviews.  My mistake.)

I hope you find these sites useful and rewarding!

Keith L Greenawalt, Public Services Manager

Rewarding Resources: LearningExpress Library 3.0

LearningExpress Library, a comprehensive source for test preparation, will soon roll out its Version 3.0.  The Library System of Lancaster County is one of 4 libraries nation-wide that has been chosen to be a beta test site.  That means that we get to test it before it is introduced nation-wide!  The new version features improved content and navigation.  It is also touch screen friendly.  You can access Version 3.0 through the Library System of Lancaster County online database portal here.  You do need your Lancaster County library barcode number to access this and all of our other databases.  Just scroll down to LearningExpress Library section of our database list.

LearningExpress Library wants to hear from you and what you think of the new and improved service.  They are offering a chance to win an iPad mini if you fill out a short survey by July 8 about your experiences using Version 3.0.  This is your chance to offer suggestions and improvements!

The older Version 2.0 will still be accessible, but only for a limited period of time.  If you use Version 2.0, I would highly recommend that you finish any courses, tests, or tutorials there as soon as possible and register for Version 3.0.  Unfortunately, any account information you may have in Version 2.0 will transfer to the new Version 3.0.  Basically you will be starting fresh with Version 3.0.

If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact me!

Keith L Greenawalt, Public Services Manager

(kgreenawalt@ephratapubliclibrary.org)

Rewarding Resources: Discover Earth

In honor of the opening of the Discover Earth exhibit appearing in Ephrata from May 18 to July 11, I thought it would be good to look at some of the sources out there for looking at wildlife in Pennsylvania.  These are resources that are available to the general public that will lead you to the wonderful world of science.

First place I would highly recommend to start is the Discover Earth @ Ephrata Public Library.  This is a great start to find all of the activities and resources available through the Library.  Discover Earth is a traveling exhibit that is only visiting 10 libraries in the United States in 2012 and 2013.

If you have an interest in Pennsylvania wildlife, I would strongly suggest the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s website.  It has resources related to Pennsylvania wildlife and birdwatching.  They have a surprisingly large amount of material available.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission operates the Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area in northern Lancaster County.  It is world renown as an excellent place to watch migrating birds, particularly Canada geese, snow geese, and tundra swans, as they travel the Atlantic Flyway.

The Pennsylvania chapter of the National Audubon Society is also a great place to find birding information for Pennsylvania.

I consulted an 8th grade science teacher, who suggested the following links for general science resources:

Science articles:

  • Science News for Kids – http:// www.sciencenewsforkids.org
    • Offers a variety of different science articles or a variety of different topics.  The articles are current and deal with what is going on now in science.
    • Science News – http://www.sciencenews.org
      • The adult version of science news for kids.

Periodic table of element websites:

Biomes:

Random:

Science fair projects:

Visual dictionary:

These are just a place to start and do not nearly begin to cover all of the opportunities to get outside and experience wildlife this summer.  Of course, while you are out stop by the library and see the Discover Earth exhibit!

Keith L Greenawalt, Public Services Librarian

Rewarding Resources: Legislative Information

It is actually fairly easy to find Legislative information for the federal and state governments online.  The federal government had offered a number of resources available through the Library of Congress THOMAS database.  THOMAS went live in 1995 and the platform needed to be replaced with some a little more current and user friendly, hence that is being replaced by the new Congress.gov.  There are things that are not yet on Congress.gov that are still on THOMAS, so search both depending on what you are looking for.  Congressional biographies, the Congressional Record, legislation, and information on how the legislative process works can all be found at these sites.  Currently, Congress.gov only has legislative information going back to 2001.

Legislative information for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania can be found at the General Assembly’s website.  They have information on bills dating back to 1969-1970.

 

Rewarding Resources: LibraryThing

LibraryThing is an online tool that allows you to catalog your own book collection. I use it to keep track of my personal collection.  It is free to use for up to 200 books, after that there is a membership fee (either annual or lifetime).  I have an annual membership that is very affordable, especially that it allows me to see what I have anywhere!

I had run into a problem over the years that I would go to a bookstore or used book sale and would see a book that looked interesting.  I would sometimes not be sure if I had a title or not.  At one point I think I had three copies of the Warren Commission Report, which is probably three more than I needed.  If I am not sure, I just hit up LibraryThing!

It is some work to enter your collection, although it is fairly easy.  You can use ISBN numbers to import records from various sources (including Amazon and WorldCat).  If the book isn’t out there somewhere you can enter information manually, as much or as little as you want.  You can have collections and subject headings and tags!

So check out LibraryThing.  I think you will find it to be very useful!

Keith L Greenawalt, Public Services Manager

Rewarding Resources: Library of Congress Digitial Collections

One place that has a constantly growing collection of free digitized resources available is the Library of Congress.  The Library of Congress is the world’s largest library and holds some of the world’s treasures.  They also function as the de facto national library of the United States.

The Library of Congress has a wide range of resources digitized.  I pointed out LOC’s newspaper archive last month, but they have excellent resources in many other areas as well.  Their American Memory Project collection is particularly awesome.  They also have resources related to history, sports, music, art, and the environment, among many others. You can access their digital collections here.

I encourage you to look around and see what America’s Library has to offer!

Keith L Greenawalt, Public Services Manager

Rewarding Resources: More Online Newspapers

This month I am going to double up on the RR column.  I’ve previously discussed online newspapers, but I was made aware of a few more interesting sources for local papers.  Specifically, the Lancaster Daily Intelligencer and Lancaster Farming.

Lancaster Farming is one of the largest agribusiness publications in the country.  It is actually published right in Ephrata.  It is available through Penn State University Libraries: http://digitalnewspapers.libraries.psu.edu/Default/Skins/lancasterfarming/Client.asp?skin=lancasterfarming&AppName=2&AW=1362009719304.  

It is available from 1955 to 2003.

The Lancaster Intelligencer and many other papers are available through the Library of Congress’ Chronicling America newspaper archive: http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83032300/.  It is available from 1864-1922.

As always, remember the local history LibGuide: http://ephratapubliclibrary.libguides.com/localhistory

I hope you find these resources very rewarding!

Keith L Greenawalt, Public Services Manager