Hazel Johnson is a Reference Librarian in the Richmond office of McGuire,
The Internet is an excellent source of information that is very current or very historical, but there is a wide gap between those two periods.
During the ABA TECHSHOW held recently in Chicago, Genie Tyburski, Research Librarian at Ballard Spahr in Philadelphia and columnist for LLRX, and I explored and exploded a number of myths that are associated with the internet. Our presentation was an attempt to provide some boundaries for researchers venturing into the overwhelming and omnipresent world that the Internet has become.
Internet Myths: Everything is on the Web
One of the myths we discussed is the following gem: All information resides on the Internet. The difficulty exists in finding it. For anyone who has spent much time trying to locate a specific tidbit of information on the Net, this is obviously false. But can't we set some parameters of the types of materials that are frequently available on the net? How about information generated by a governmental body? Federal and state governments are embracing the internet as a delivery mechanism for information. Some do it better than others, but the efforts are increasing. The Internet is an excellent source of information that is very current or very historical, but there is a wide gap between those two periods. You can find the Magna Carta or a current Virginia statute, but you won't find the Code of Federal Regulations for 1990. If the information you seek is a hot topic in the news or of interest to an advocacy group or trade association, the internet is a very good source. The work of the South African Truth Commission, the Pinochet decision in Britain's House of Lords, and the status of Y2K litigation all have appeared quickly on the internet. If what you seek is factual (names, addresses, phone numbers) or involves public opinion or relates to technology, medicine, or other popular topics, the Internet is a very good resource. The reality in all this is that the Internet doesn't replace all your other resources yet even though there is a wealth of valuable material out there in cyberspace.
A second and very popular Internet myth is You do not have to pay for any information you find on the Internet. Again, a frequent researcher who uses Internet sources learns very quickly that the traditional philosophy of sharing information at no cost that guided the Internet in its early days has disappeared somewhat with the opening of the web to commercial entities in 1991. A very good discussion and time line of the growth of the use of the Internet by commercial entities can be found at PBS Net Timeline. With very few exceptions, the materials that remain free on the Internet can only act as a supplement for traditional research sources. The movement of commercial publishers to use the Internet as a delivery system has brought costs to the internet.