Web search tools help students find answers

by Melanie Evans

Undergraduates returning for the new quarter can find some extra help preparing for papers online, thanks to two new World Wide Web search tools created by University librarians.
Outnumbered 4,000 to 1, University librarians, with the assistance of the Digital Media Center, and the Java and Web Services Group, developed two interactive software programs to answer student’s most frequently asked questions.
Research QuickStart and QuickStudy slipped silently onto the library’s LUMINA site just before finals fall quarter. The two programs guide students through North America’s 17th largest library system.
“It was an obvious need,” said Christopher B. Loring, reference and consultation team leader for University Libraries. “`Where to start?’ is a very common question.”
The programs’ mission is two-fold: serve more students easily and effectively, and teach the inexperienced to serve themselves, said Kay Kane, a University librarian and one of the project’s core developers.
“We wanted to make life easier for undergraduates,” Kane said.
Designed with novice researchers in mind, the two programs tap the available CD-ROMs, databases and government documents available through the University’s holdings.
The program also links to related Web resources. Because misinformation is a persistent problem on the Internet, Kane said University librarians evaluate each resource and link posted by QuickStart.
Kane said that more often, undergraduate students are turning to the Internet as their first source of information.
But most large academic libraries are still concerned with information literacy, Loring said.
He added that in an “information age” a well-rounded graduate knows how to find information. “It’s a skill students need to have in their pocket when they walk out the door.”
QuickStart teaches the unskilled to locate reliable resources quickly by outlining each step and defining the search process, Kane said.
Furthermore, going online opens a world of opportunities for librarians to reach a wider audience, Kane said. The tools are part of the libraries’ effort to “beef up their Web presence,” she said.
University Libraries began pushing toward a more Web-based service 10 months ago, said Thomas Shaughnessy, University librarian.
The Telnet sessions were too difficult to navigate for most Distance Education and University students, said Jim Stemper, the developer for the Web project.
With promised results for fall 1997, the staff garnered $80,000 from then-Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Marvin Marshak to create a more interactive interface for students.
Impressed with the prototype’s success, library administrators approved funding for the project through the next fiscal year, Loring said.
Kane said she hopes to work with focus groups of both faculty members and students to continue to tweak and add resources, Kane said.
Through winter quarter Kane also plans to introduce the programs to library information desks and University administrators.
Eventually, Kane said she hopes to also see the programs customized for Distance Education.