Library and Internet Research

As repositories of our collective knowledge, libraries and the Internet host our cultural heritage, the memory of our present and past civilizations. Admittedly, though, the cornucopia of information accessible via the Internet and archived in libraries can be overwhelming, particularly if you are just becoming accustomed to the research process.

Conducting library and Internet research helps you quickly find the information you need. This page provides useful suggestions about how to conduct Boolean searches, for instance, and offers advice about how to identify whether you should begin your research using the Open Web, the Gated Web, or the Hidden Web.

Research Libraries vs. the Web

Many people are confused about what constitutes library research versus what constitutes Internet research. Some people argue that effective research is never conducted on the Internet, that one needs access to the resources of a library to conduct thorough investigations. People in this camp argue that institutional libraries pay significant sums to provide access to proprietary databases to their customers — that is, databases that offer abstracts, bibliographical information, and, oftentimes, full texts of articles published in scholarly journals. Also, research purists may argue that documents published on the Internet lack the authority of research that is peer-reviewed and published by major publishers. Something important to consider is the difference between an Internet resource and an academic resource accessed via the Internet. For example, if I simply Google “research method,” one of my first search results is from – a good resource, but not necessarily an academic resource. Although I can glean for useful information about the generics of a topic like “research methods,” for the purposes of an academic research assignment, it may be wise to use the Internet to access my library’s databases (like Academic Search Premier, JSTOR, etc.) for online access to a plethora of information pertaining to my search term. The Internet hosts a variety of resources, some of which are useful for casual, everyday references (like and others which are more appropriate for an academic research assignment (like my library’s databases: Academic Search Premier, JSTOR, etc.)

Because of a misunderstanding about the way in which the Internet serves both purposes (casual, everyday research and formal, academic research) some students report they never use their library’s resources. Studies of the research processes of students have found that many students limit their investigations to search engines such as Google, paying especially close attention to the first eight or so hits on any search. Unfortunately, students who conduct research in this way often end up with sources that they later realize aren’t useful in crafting informed, thorough, formal academic research and/or arguments.

To conduct effective research, you may need to use both the library and the Internet. Limiting yourself to the library cuts off some very innovative work that may not yet be accessible for your library’s periodical indexes and abstracts. In turn, relying solely on the Internet is like trying to dig a hole with your tongue rather than a shovel: extremely counterproductive and a waste of time.

Information junkies know arguments for using either the library or the Internet are out of touch with reality. As research libraries increase the number of electronic resources they subscribe to, many traditional resources are now accessible via the Internet–although passwords may be required. In other words, distinctions between the library and the Web are blurring.

The Open Web, the Gated Web, and The Hidden Web

To conduct thorough research, you need to access information in three places: the Open Web, the Gated Web, and the Deep Web.

  1. The Open Web refers to the free information on the Internet that is readily searchable with an Internet search engine and accessible with an Internet browser, such as Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator.
  2. The Gated Web refers to information that requires a log-in and password for access. Information archived at the gated web tends to be copyrighted and accessible for a fee. To pay their expenses–including payments for authors, editors, and for salespeople who represent and market the work–publishers need to see a return on their investment so they do not simply post their publications to the Internet. Libraries pay publishers and database index companies significant sums of money so their users can access information via the Gated Web. When you use your computer to log in to your college or university’s library, you may be prompted to provide your name, social security number, or student identification number. After authenticating your information, the library’s computer server allows you to access the journals and databases to which your library subscribes.
  3. The Hidden Web, the Deep Web, the Invisible Web are terms that are used interchangeably to refer to Web sites and databases that contain information that can’t be found using top-level search engines like Yahoo or Google. The Deep Web includes non-html files, such as PDFs; gated sites that require log-ins; interactive tools like map directions or mortgage calculators; and dynamically created Web pages–that is, pages created by databases. The Deep Web is 500 to 700 times larger than the Open Web. According to Bright Planet, the Deep Web “contains billions of high-quality documents in about 350,000 specialty databases.