The University Record, September 24, 1997

Library teaches students how to evaluate Web information

The Shapiro Library is the place to go to learn research techniques. The Library helps thousands of students find the resources they need through its orientation and continuing instructional programs. Photo by Bob Kalmbach

By Joanne Nesbit
News and Information Services

If it's on the World Wide Web, it must be true. Right? Not necessarily, says the staff at the University of Michigan Library. Just because information appears on the Web doesn't mean it's accurate, timely, non-biased, from a scholarly source, or appropriate for a research paper.

"Students come here with a lot of technical savvy," says Deborah Tenofsky, coordinator of Instructional Services and Programs at the Shapiro Undergraduate Library. "But they lack experience evaluating and relating what they find to their information needs."

That's where the Library's instruction program steps in. "Librarians are excited to help students navigate and evaluate the Web," says Laurie Alexander, a librarian at Shapiro. During orientation for new students and throughout the year, Shapiro's librarians conduct sessions to develop students' critical thinking skills starting with the question, "Why would you use this information?"

Before participating in the session, students generally answer, "Because it's on the topic" or "It's interesting." By honing critical thinking skills, the two librarians say, students can not only find information pertinent to their topic but also can evaluate it. Some of the questions students learn to ask are: Who wrote or developed the Web page? Does that person have credentials? Is the Web site biased? Does the writer offer contact information?

The U-M's incoming students often are overwhelmed with a library system holding more than six million volumes that is ranked seventh nationally as a research library. The Shapiro Library is the place to start, the librarians say. There, staff work with students, helping them discover resources that will back up or refute the stance they have chosen for their research topic.

Does all this orientation and continuing library instruction pay off? Alexander and Tenofsky report that librarians have received chocolates from a student as thanks for helping, that hugs are not unusual, and that some even come back to show off their grades. More than 4,000 new U-M students have been through the orientation process this year, and more will take advantage of the ongoing opportunities for guidance throughout the academic term through the Shapiro Library's Research Consultation Program, a free program open to all undergraduates.

To make arrangements for a research consultation session, call 763-4141, or check the Library's Web site at