The Universe at Your Fingertips
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Brave the Wave: Using the Internet for Student Research

Elizabeth Saliba
Federal Documents Librarian
Mesa Public Library

Kellie Shoemaker
Young Adult Librarian
Mesa Public Library

Copyright 1997, Elizabeth Saliba and Kellie Shoemaker. Used with permission.


This paper offers practical help to the busy professional who lacks the time to search the Internet for authoritative and appropriate information. The intended audience for this presentation ranges from upper elementary to junior college school librarians, public librarians, and teachers who are interested in using the Internet to help students with reports and homework assignments. The focus is on hard-to-find information, and the factors that were considered in selecting the sites were currency, availability, reading level, language, source reliability and subject popularity. All the sites that were selected for the presentation were evaluated by librarians who work in a large public library, using guidelines established by professional sources.


The Internet is not an easy tool to use at a reference desk. While offering seemingly limitless information, search results are not always comprehensive, readily found, or easily validated . Speed of connectivity and a lack of organization also present challenges. However, what makes it worthwhile in the reference arsenal are the benefits it offers over traditional sources: breadth (not aways depth), currency, statistics, and primary sources. Consequently, a busy library must determine how to use the net's strengths without being snared in its problems. One answer is to impose a structure based on your organization's reference needs.

At the Mesa Public Library, a large public library system serving 300,000 people, we determined that students would be a perfect target group for Internet use . These patrons often present the greatest challenges to both adult and youth services reference staffs. Many students are assigned the same topics at the same time, and their research often requires numerous sources in different formats. Because of this, students often encounter significant obstacles to completing their work. Materials are frequently checked-out, current information may not yet be published, and budgetary restrictions can limit collections, especially at branch libraries.

To assist librarians, we compiled a comprehensive hypertext bibliography covering the most common and frustrating questions posed by students. Three steps were involved in compiling these internet resources: assessing which subjects to cover, searching for sites, and evaluating those sites for inclusion in the bibliography.


The subjects included below were selected after surveying reference and youth services librarians in the Mesa Public Library system. They were asked to list topics that students commonly needed but were unable to obtain due to high demand, specialized subject matter or limited availability. Some subjects that fit these guidelines are not included in this list, however, because we could not find an adequate resource on the web. Dinosaurs, marine life, the Vietnam and Revolutionary wars, and adoption are a few examples of subjects for which we could not obtain comprehensive, informative web sites. In most cases, we attempted to locate "one-stop" resources - web pages that provided a wide scope for the topic covered, but we often list more than one citation for each area because each site added a little something that the others lacked.


Our research required many hours using search engines, virtual library links, and specialized online subject bibliographies. We also used web evaluation tools, including books like Internet Kids Yellow Pages (Polly, 1996) and Internet 101: a College Student Guide (Glossbrenner, 1996) as well as online sites like Cyberhound and Lycos' Five Star Sites. Search engines and subject bibliographies were the most helpful in assessing sites. Most evaluation tools available on the internet itself were not helpful, since they frequently overrate colorful sites while neglecting less visually interesting pages containing more substantive information.


It seems as though everyone has a web site these days. There are pages for businesses, the government, organizations, associations, universities and your next-door neighbor who wants to show off his new car. How does an information professional decide which internet sites offer helpful and accurate information for the student who needs it? In many cases, the criteria used to evaluate web resources is the same that is used to judge reference materials, but the very nature of the internet makes evaluating it as a reference source difficult and time-consuming. Many sites don't list the author, let alone the sources used to compile the page or the organization that sponsors it. At the same time, the ease and accessibility of the web make it an exciting and innovative resource for information that has not previously been available to the vast majority of us.

First of all, it's important to emphasize the need for knowledgeable professionals to evaluate internet resources. The quantity of sites alone, estimated to be anywhere from 400,000 to over one million, makes it necessary to sift, deselect and choose the most likely-looking candidates from any hit list. This can take hours using different search engines and search terms, pursuing links, and reading lists. In his article, "Beyond Cool: Analog Models for Reviewing Digital Resources," James Rettig concludes that the reviews and relevancy rankings many search engines and directories provide is uneven and superficial, based mostly on levels of "coolness," which is usually not defined (1996). Print review sources provide good information about web resources, but the number of available reviews falls far below the number of sites that need evaluation. Children and young adults are even more short-changed. The review sources for youth generally discuss fun, unusual or "cool" sites without considering the helpfulness for their research and homework needs.

As stated earlier, most web sites are reviewed with the same criteria used to evaluate print materials, with some modifications to allow for the importance that graphics, access and ease-of-use have for this particular medium. Boyd Collins summarizes these criteria in six standards that have been developed for his reviewing of internet sources: content, authority, currency, organization, search engine, and accessibility (1996). Carolyn Caywood also judges web sites with these criteria but groups them in three general areas: access, design and content. Caywood, however, allows for more flexibility by stating that "few sites meet all criteria, so the benefits must be weighed against the lacks" (1996). It is certainly true that we demand more from the internet than it is able to provide, so "good" sites are simply the best we can find on a needed subject at the time.

The wonders of cyberspace lead to a discussion of the many possibilities inherent in the medium itself and how this impacts the criteria used in reviewing internet sites. In the past, publishers served as gatekeepers of information because they decided how, when, and even if materials would be published. Authors were screened, books were edited and reviewed and articles were given to peers to be checked before they were even available for the general public to review. The internet has changed the way we get our information because authors can now bypass publishers and reviewers, making their ideas, views and opinions available to us all. Although this, in fact, is what makes evaluating web resources all the more necessary, it brings up an interesting element to the reviewing: alternative viewpoints. Whether these are minority voices, revisionist history proponents, religious zealots, left-wing militants, or cultural elitists, they contribute much to a free exchange of ideas in our diverse society. The Native American and Social Problems are two examples of areas that have typically been censored or misunderstood in the publishing world. They are also some of the most needed subjects for student research. See each section for a detailed description of the special challenges in evaluating them.

When we selected the sites to help with students' research questions, we primarily looked at several criteria: content, authority, currency, organization, search engine, accessibility, graphics, and extra features on the site (see Appendix A). Not every site fit every one of the components, but we tried to find the best site possible for each subject listed. We divided the subjects into twelve general categories: Careers, Geography, Government, History, Literature, Mathematics, Medicine, Native Americans, News, Science, Social Issues and Statistics. The sites were selected and intended for students in upper elementary grades through junior college for use with homework and research needs.

Internet Sites for Student Research


Most career sites on the internet focus on resumes, career guidance and job searching, but these give helpful summaries of specific careers that students need for reports.

1996-97 Occupational Outlook Handbook
The first choice for government information about a variety of careers.

About Work: Career Database
Whatisit like to be an accountant or a baseball player? Find out on this site, which provides plenty of careers to choose from.

JobSmart--Specific Career Information
Links to internet sites for specific career guides. Some are more useful than others, but the variety of jobs is good.

Michigan Occupational Information System - Careers by Cluster
Similar to the OOH, but this has some careers not listed there, including many unusual jobs.


Our goal in isolating sites was finding the most comprehensive single site for a topic. If this was impossible, we attempted to locate a combination of sources which provided balance to the subject. An example of this is found in the "Geography" category. Here, the different sources provide complementary information on countries, which should yield comprehensive reports. Background Notes and World Information (which links to the CIA's World Factbook), provide current and concise governmental, economic, and social information. In comparison, the Library of Congress's Country Studies are compiled by scholars and contain in-depth information regarding history, societal, and political structure for more than 70 countries. Under the category "Culture", Berkeley Public Library's links are a good place to investigate the religion, social customs and arts of a particular region. Global Gastronomy produced by Yale University provides direct access to information on food and recipes for most nations. Finally, the Census International Database provides demographic and socio-economic statistics for countries of the world. The Census Bureau compiled information from various governments' censuses and surveys in providing current, historic and future population counts.

Christmas Around the World

Yahoo!- Christmas:Christmas Around the World
Some useful links can be found here, especially the "Christmas 'round the World" site.


Arizona Dept. of Commerce- Community Profiles
These 1-2 page reports describe the economy, history, population, and scenic attractions of the cities around Arizona.

County and City Data Book
Provides lists of city rankings based on population, housing, poverty level, education, etc.

Excite City.Net
A comprehensive site for cities of the world with a population of 100,000 or more.

Visit a City with CityLink
Here is a source which links to various cities' and chambers of commerce homepages. The information presented complements the coverage of CityNet and Arizona Community Profiles.


Background Notes - US Dept. of State
This source provides 3-5 pages of current demographic, political, historic, statistical and social information regarding various countries. Also available here are reports on global terrorism, human rights and international trade.

Berkeley Public Library - Cultures
Not just a culture stop, this site also provides excellent links to all aspects of the typical country report: history, government, and current events. Countries are indexed alphabetically past the "Cultures of the World" section.

Chiefs of State and Cabinet Members of Foreign Governments
Provides a list of current elected and appointed officials for various countries, including UN representatives and the US ambassador.

Census International Database
This is a source of demographic and socio-economic statistics for all countries of the world. The source combines country sources (censuses and surveys) with projections providing information from 1950-2050.

Country Studies / Area Handbooks
These are indepth reports written by scholars at the Library of Congress on various countries. Information includes extensive history, social structure, religion, education and regional issues. The dates for these publications run from 1988-present.

Flags of all Countries
Full color illustrations of flags from every country.

Foreign Governments
This resource is maintained by ALA's GODORT International Documents Task Force and Northwestern University Library. It provides links to various governmental bodies for other countries.

VirtualTourist II World Map
This is the map based interface to CityNet which is one of the most comprehensive regional information sources on the Web. By searching from the world map, one can obtain maps and information on government,culture, and tourism for different countries.

Web of Culture
This site has some useful, hard-to-find country details on topics such as currency, gestures and body language, travel advisories, as well as links to other international WWW sites.

World Information
This site contains links to World Factbook, world holidays, and a "country" search mechanism.


All of the Embassies in Washington D.C.
Country reports often require a description of the country, including its culture and places of interest for tourists. Embassies are an excellent source for these questions, especially for smaller countries.

Berkeley Public Library - Cultures
After the first section "Cultures of the World", this site is indexed alphabetically by country. It provides historical, governmental, and general country information links.

The Global Gastronomer - Cuisines of the World
This source links to recipe sites around the world. For those country reports on Cameroon or Guyana, look no further.

Yahoo!- Society and Culture:Cultures
An extremely comprehensive source which provides links to many different cultures. It is indexed alphabetically by country and can provide 3-6 pages of information on such topics as traditions, history, music, and food.


World Holidays Calendar
This source will list the dates and major holidays for each country.

Yahoo!- Society and Culture:Holidays
A great spot for information on the traditions and history of various holidays including Cinco de Mayo, Christmas, and Chinese New Years.

International Organizations

Background Notes - US Dept. of State
Background Notes can provide information on international organizations such as the United Nations, Organization of American States, and more.

Multinational Organizations
Provides information on G7 countries, Organization of American States, and more.

Northwestern Library's International Organizations
A comprehensive set of links to various significant political, economic, social and health organizations. This is definitely the place to start when looking for information about a particular organization.


How Far Is It?
Calculates the distance between places worldwide.

National Geographic Map Machine
A decent source for country and state maps but requires a laser printer for clarity when copying.


State Search- Sponsored by NASIRE
Provides links to many states' homepages. Also allow access to available state laws.

Statistical Abstract of the U.S.
Provides some state rankings regarding population, health, education, social statistics.

Yahoo!- Government:U.S. States
A great place to start looking for state government information. Contains links to various state governments' information sites.


Good overviews of historical periods are hard to find on the internet, but specific topics are easier with search engines. Wars, either world or American, tend to focus on comrade searches or specific battles, which is why only the Civil War is included below. The US Civil War Center site has organized links for every aspect of the war, which makes it ideal for students with a wide variety of assignments. There are a few commercial sites included because they provide solid overviews of selected subjects.

Ancient Egypt

Ancient Egypt--Culturenet
Covers most aspects of ancient Egypt, including pyramids, religion, education, art, hieroglyphics and artifacts.

NOVA Online/Pyramids/Table of Contents
Cool graphics (including diagrams and tours inside the different pyramids) and lots of solid information on pyramids, hieroglyphs and ancient Egypt.

Ancient Greece

MEDEA, THE MUSICAL - Greek / Attic / Hellenic Links
Numerous links to ancient world, including Greece, divided into categories. Areas of special note: classical maps, museum collections, literature and mythology.

The Ancient Greek World Index
Daily life, economy, time periods, religion and mythology, athletics, death, and nice graphics of life in ancient Greece.

Black History

African American Pamphlets Home Page
Primary documents spanning 100 years from the early 1800s through the early 1900s. Language barriers make this more appropriate for high school and college students.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Papers Project at Stanford University
Solid biographical information mixed with King's writings and civil rights work. Helpful links to other black history sites, too.

Slave Narratives
Riveting first-hand accounts of slaves in the United States -- the writings of Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman are included.

The African-American Mosaic
Lengthy articles and original documents dealing with colonization, abolition, migration and the WPA.

The Faces of Science: African Americans in the Sciences.
Mathematicians, inventors, geneticists and oceanographers are just a few of the categories featured here. Both historical and contemporary biographies are included, some with pictures.

Civil War

The US Civil War Center
Hundreds of links to civil war information grouped by subject. Short biographies, flags, battles (by state), and three pages of general information links are included.

Colonial America

An Outline of American History -- The Colonial Period
12 chapters with information and illustrations. Links to maps and related terms and people are included.

Colonial Williamsburg Almanack
Biographies, trades and crafts, religion, food and other aspects of colonial life are explored here. Excellent graphics!

Plymouth: Its History and People
Information on Plymouth, the Mayflower, pilgrims, and biographical sketches of influential colonial people.


Good source for world history, timelines, people (with some portraits), maps, events, wars and more.

Index of Resources for History
More than 1700 links to history sites, arranged alphabetically by subject and name.

Notable Citizens of Planet Earth
Contains short biographical entries on over 18,000 people from ancient to modern times. Can be searched using keywords, dates or name variations.

US Historical Documents
Documents include charters, constitutional items, biographies, proclamations, treaties, and inaugural addresses, arranged chronological by century.


Holocaust Glossary: Terms, Places and Personalities
Short definitions of important Holocaust terms.

The Holocaust: a Historical Summary
This historical overview, from the Israel Information Office, provides the context and background for studying the Holocaust.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
For good historical information, see "Learning About the Holocaust" on the home page.

Middle Ages and Renaissance

Has direct links to sites relating to medieval studies, with information on architecture, literature, religion, music, law and art.

Society for Creative Anachronism, Inc.
See "Arts and Sciences," "Customs," and "Chivalrous Arts" for the most information relating to the Middle Ages.

Virtual Renaissance
See the Renaissance world through the eyes of different characters in this fun and informative site. Produced by students and teachers with full bibliography provided.


Salem Witch Museum Education - Salem, Massachusetts
Historical information about the witch trials, Roger Conant and Salem.

Salem Witch Trials Chronology
Also see links to the Salem witch memorials for pictures and more information.


Literature abounds on the Internet - and most of it can be downloaded full-text! Criticism, biographies, author pages, comparisons, essays, and more - and it's all relatively easy to find. We've isolated some of the most comprehensive sites to help the most-often asked questions from all ages of students.


Beyond the MLA Handbook (Harnack/Kleppinger)
Gives the proper way to cite internet sources and CD-ROMs, including www, gopher, ftp, and more.

Book Stacks - Author's Pen
Need information about authors who aren't in standard sources? This site has links to more than 675 author pages.

Campfire Stunt and Skit Book
Contains complete scripts to five pages of lists.

Children's Authors & Illustrators, and their Books
The place to start for children's literature studies, authors and resources on the web.

Voice of the Shuttle: English Literature
Author information, criticism and texts of novels, short stories and poetry from works written in English, including British, American, Australian, Irish, African and more. Spans medieval to contemporary literature.

Mythology and Folklore

Bulfinch's 'The Age of Fable' - Table of Contents
The classic is now available on the internet -- with illustrations.

Greek Mythology
Another source for Greek mythology, this site has smaller entries and fewer illustrations, making it more concise and easier to use than some.

Mythology, Folklore, and a little bit of Religion
Links to everything -- grouped by country, region and theme, both for general and specific sites.

Of Gods and Men: the A to Z of Mythology and Legend
Encyclopedia entries encompassing many cultures and stories, with some illustrations. Excellent site for Greek Mythology.

The Encyclopedia Mythica
Mythology, folklore, legends and more, with short entries.


Mr. William Shakespeare and the Internet
A guide to Shakespeare resources including biographical materials, his works in full-text, criticism, the Renaissance, and Elizabethan performance.


Under the category " Mathematics", two sites help with a wide range of typical questions - from fractions to calculus - based on grade level. The History of Mathematics sponsored by the University of St. Andrews in the United Kingdom is especially useful for the information on famous mathematicians and common report subjects such as the history of prime numbers or the development of pi.


Ask Dr. Math
Indexes commonly asked math questions and answers by grade level: grade school, high school, and beyond. The information covers everything from fractions to calculus.

Mathematics Archives WWW Server
This site offers a search mechanism by which one can enter keywords to locate links to relevant sites. Each search result is designated by information levels, from high school through college in assisting with the ever-challenging math reference questions.


History of Mathematics
Sponsored by the University of St. Andrews in the United Kingdom, this source provides a wealth of information on the subject of the history of mathematics including basic subject such as pi and prime numbers. The most helpful sections include the "history" and "biography" search mechanisms.


Medicine is a challenging topic for the nonscientist and young students because the information generated, especially for uncommon conditions, often is extremely technical. Under the "Medicine" in this bibliography, some sites contain exclusively nontechnical sources, while others provide a combination of basic and technical material. The disease sites include three excellent links that often use simple language and trustworthy sources in explaining concepts. Jonathan Tward's Multimedia Medical Reference Library is a commercial site sponsored by a medical software company and compiled by a physician. The indexing is facilitated by an alphabetical index of medical categories and a general search mechanism for the site. Searching under the heading "comprehensive information", one can choose a category such as "infectious diseases" to investigate frequent student topics on subjects such as cholera, hepatitis, and AIDS. Furthermore, the information is provided by quality sources (medical school, hospitals, and governmental departments of health) often on a patient's reading level. The Kidshealth link is produced by a foundation operating the DuPont Children's Hospital in Delaware. The site links to fact sheets written for parents covering illnesses common to children (as well as younger students' report topics), such as chickenpox, measles, and ringworm. The World Health Organization complements the coverage of the previous two sources by reporting information on emerging and communicable diseases occurring internationally, such as the ebola virus or diphtheria.

AIDS - General Info. & Statistics

Center for Disease Control - AIDS/HIV
An excellent source of current AIDS information including both statistics and general information. However, many files require Adobe Acrobat PDF reader which can be downloaded free from the Internet.

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease
Provides good medical information on the subject of AIDS/HIV including vaccines, research, and treatment.

Dental Health

American Dental Association
Here are different articles dealing with general aspects of dental health such as nutrition, gum disease, and dental procedures.

Healthtouch- Dental Health
This site describes general subjects from plaque to braces. Provides basic but useful information.


Internet Mental Health - Disorders
A comprehensive index of mental health disorders. Provides an in-depth definition, treatment, symptoms, fulltext article links and some pamphlets. On the average, this source can provide 3-5 pages of information for each illness.

Jonathan Tward's Multimedia Medical Reference Library
Absolutely the best one stop research site when looking for information on a particular disease. Select "comprehensive info," then "infectious diseases" for an alphabetic list which contains links to good sources of information. One could obtain 1-6 pages of information per topic.

Kidshealth- Childhood Infections
This is a place which provides information on topics from measles to chickenpox. Most childhood illnesses are covered here.

World Health Organization - Emerging & Communicable Diseases Surveillance and Control
Describes various emerging and communicative diseases worldwide, such as AIDS, Hepatitis, Yellow Fever, Influenza. Covers different diseases than the WHO main menu.

World Health Organization - Main Menu
Past the "general topics" section, this WHO site offers information on various "emerging" and tropical diseases.


Dept. of Agriculture - 1995 Dietary Guidelines for Americans
Provides the text of the nutritional guidelines produced by the Depts. of Agriculture and Health & Human Services. This site also links to other useful nutrition-oriented sites.

Dept. of Health & Human Services Consumer Information
This is a place which links to various health topics from AIDS to mentalhealth. The sites to which it links are informational sources within the federal government and will provide general and in many cases statistical information on health subjects of interest to citizens.

Mayo Clinic Library
Basic fact sheets are provided by the Mayo Clinic on many general health issues regarding diet, exercise, and health care. [Broken link removed 4/10/01 but note that similar information is available at {}]

Physiological Effects

Another popular, yet challenging, report topic is drug abuse. Under the "Medicine" category the comprehensive Web of Addictions links to fact sheets on the physiological and psychological effects of various illicit drugs produced by various reputable drug abuse organizations and research institutes.

Schick Shadel Hospital
Schick Shadel Treatment Center offers information on the many popular drugs of abuse. Articles are thorough in discussing the symptoms and consequences of abuse.

Web of Addictions
Contains fact sheets for drugs of abuse from the most esteemed organizations such as the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Addictions Research Foundation. The primary focus is on the physiological affects of drug use.


Nicotine and Tobacco Network
This site provides links to information regarding the health consequences of smoking. "Tobacco Library" is the best place to start. Potential source of 5-10 pages of information on the subject.

Native American

Native American culture is not a recorded one; most materials on our shelves are written by Anglos who have observed, studied or read about a culture that is not their own. There are very few Native Americans who have the credentials or the "authority" to write books about their own culture, so traditionally we have had to rely on information that many Indian tribes would not consider an accurate representation of their histories. The internet has enabled this group of Americans to organize, exchange and publish information about themselves, and the sites listed below are good representatives of this process. Their "authorities" are the tribes and people themselves. The Compact Histories site, for example, routinely sends data to specific tribes for revision and accuracy and invites visitors to the site to submit information for review .

Compact Histories
Although this site is not complete, it provides lots of tribal history and culture. A good place to check first for Native American info.

Indigenous Peoples' Literature
Biographies and stories abound on this page -- along with many links to North and South American Indian sites.

Native American Home Pages
Provides links to pages sponsored by each tribe or devoted to information about the tribe.


Christian Science Monitor
This site allows archival searching for those news events taking place from the present through the past year. This is especially helpful in covering the gap between standard CD-ROM periodical indexes and the current week-only Internet coverage provided by the popular news services (CNN, USA Today, etc.). The Monitor is best suited for events of international significance.

San Francisco Chronicle
Here is where to locate news events of a national focus taking place from the present back through the past year. Most of the stories covered take place in California or the US. This, too, is helpful in covering the gap between the current popular news sites which cover only the present week and the CD-ROM or paper indexes, which can be six weeks to two months behind.

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