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Web & Information Evaluation

First, I would recommend that you read My article on quality evaluation both on the Web and other information.

Here are some other readings excerpts you will want to consider:

(from Sherlock's Fortnightly Tip on Web Use)

May 25, 1998

"Mr. Holmes recognizes that there is a wealth of information on the Internet. It's also true that separating the wheat from the chaff is difficult. Once you've used a search engine to find what you're looking for, how do you know that what you've found is true?

"In the search for valid information, the information professionals - librarians - are again at the forefront. There are several guides to evaluating web resources which might help evaluate the content you find.

"Esther Grassian, UCLA College Library, has two checklists for thinking critically about web resources. The first is a set of general guidelines for all pages, the second targets evaluating sites in specific subject or discipline areas.

"Ms. Grassian makes some good points about source, conflicts, and currency. Including accessibility and design criteria is really outside the question of evaluating the site content, but may have some impact on usability issues.

"Hope N. Tillman, Director of Libraries, Babson College, has an excellent - and continually updated - article on evaluating quality on the net. It's easy to understand and makes comparisons between vanity, gray, and scholarly publishing in the print world and its equivalents on the Internet.

"Ms. Tillman also provides an overview of some of the ranked and categorized tools available to help searchers find quality sites. Sadly, some of these tools are no longer updating on a regular basis and fail to include newer or recently reworked sites.

"Finally, for those who want to do a full review of the issues and opinions involved, Mr. Holmes recommends the extensive links maintained by Alistair Smith as part of the World Wide Web Virtual Library. It contains the sites referenced above as well as many other rating and evaluation materials. "

(from Esther Grassian's article on using Web Resources Critically0

Thinking Critically about World Wide Web Resources

by Esther Grassian, UCLA College Library

The World Wide Web has a lot to offer, but not all sources are equally valuable or reliable. Here are some points to consider. For additional points regarding Web sites for subject disciplines, see Thinking Critically about Discipline-Based World Wide Web Resources.

Content & Evaluation

Source & Date



Created by Esther Grassian, UCLA College Library, 6/95. Last updated 10/98. © 1997 Regents of the University of California.
Permission is granted for unlimited non-commercial use of this guide.

(from Esther Grassian's second article)

Thinking Critically about Discipline-Based World Wide Web Resources

by Esther Grassian, UCLA College Library

The World Wide Web has a lot to offer, but not all sources are equally valuable or reliable. Thinking Critically About World Wide Web Resources offers some basic points to consider. Here are additional points to consider regarding Web sites for subject disciplines.

Content & Evaluation

Source & Date



Created by Esther Grassian, 10/10/97. Copyright © 1997 UCLA College Library.
Permission is granted for unlimited non-commercial use of this guide.

(from Hope Tillman):

Evaluating Quality on the Net

Consider the continuum of information on the net as opposed to the continuum in print. Is it really any different? And if so, what makes that difference?

In print: vanity to very scholarly/specific
On the Net: vanity to very scholarly/specific but with more variation and with the inclusion of promotion/advertising which may be more difficult to differentiate on the net than in print or mass media/television.

The "home page" may be nothing more than a form of vanity or self publishing. Within what I might characterize vanity would be the sites where an individual decides to share working papers or information they have been working on for a dissertation. Many home pages have been through a rigorous review process and should not be equated with the term "vanity."

Vanity publishing A vanity work may be a very specific document that has information of great value but it hasn't been through the peer review process intrinsic to scholarship or it hasn't been disseminated by the trade publishing industry. Heretofore, vanity and short-run specialty publishing has been possible in print and can be "quality" in nature, although its value may not be as easy to determine without analysis. It will not have some of the visual clues which facilitate the viewer's critical analysis.

My grandfather had my grandmother's childhood memoirs published and distributed to family and friends. I always thought of it as a very entertaining and pretty well written story of a little girl growing up as part of an acting troupe in the midwest. The title was "A Little Girl Goes Barnstorming." Reading it, it belongs in the history of the American stage 19th-early 20th century. How did it really differ from regular publishing? It was carefully edited but no publisher was involved. We look to publishers to give us assurance of added value and provided quality control -- both editorial review and adherence to standards.

While the term vanity press is a derogatory one, the content of what comes out of a vanity press may not be bad. But it is, from an information professional's standpoint, much more suspect. It lacks any of the trappings that scholarly publishing affords.

Grey literature is another category - pamphlets, preprints, technical reports -- I am not sure the Internet is any better or worse in its indexing than were the subject based vertical files of my early library career years. ERIC has played a valuable role of giving us access to some of the gray literature for the education and library profession. I would think anything that is submitted to ERIC today probably could find its way onto the Web as well, and probably should.

Professional associations have played a historical role in the indexing of hard-to-find materials within their scope. For instance, in 1972 the American Gas Association formed the Library Services Committee to participate in information sharing among members, including the preparation of bibliographies of concern to the industry, a directory of gas industry libraries, and a union list of reference tools and services. (Shirk, Virginia R. and Davis, Marc L. "Gas Libraries: An industry-wide network," Science & Technology Libraries, vol 1 no. 2 (1981), 15-22). Distribution of those tools was limited to members of that association not so much by their choice but by feasibility.

Today, a group of professionals such as the Australian Firenet can share their information with the world, for better or worse. Firenet, hosted by the Australian National University, is a cooperative set of World Wide Web servers for discipline specialists in the field of fire management and fire ecology. In this case librarians have not been involved. FIRENET's specialized publications are locally mounted and managed and distributed via the Internet. Among other awards, they have been honored with the 911 Fire Police Medical Web Page First Alarm Site Award. In this case, I would consider a professional award much more telling than one from one of the many Internet awarding bodies.

The role of professional associations can already be seen. Contrast FIRENET with the American Mathematical Society, which I would put on the scholarly end of the spectrum. Access is provided to MathSciNet, a web-accessible subscription database of the data in Mathematical Reviews (MR) and Current Mathematical Publications (CMP), which index and review the mathematics research literature from 1940 to the present. Bibliographic data only is available from 1940 to 1979, and from 1980 to the present both bibliographic data and review texts are available. Items listed in the annual indexes of Mathematical Reviews but not given an individual review are also included. Those in Mathematical Reviews appear first in Current Mathematical Publications. Institutional site licenses are the primary way that users get access. The cost for an individual can be steep, but MathSci Online is offered via commercial services such as Dialog, CompuServe as an option. In this case the web is integrated with the association's publishing program and can be seen as just another distribution medium, to meet the needs of their customers.

(from Alistair Smith's WWW Virtual Library article)

Criteria for evaluation of Internet Information Resources

Alastair Smith, VUW Department of Library and Information Studies, New Zealand.

This is a "toolbox" of criteria that enable Internet information sources to be evaluated for use in libraries, e.g. for inclusion in resource guides, and helping users evaluate information found. Comments are welcomed by Alastair Smith.

Other resources providing criteria are listed in the Evaluation of Information Sources section of the Information Quality WWW Virtual Library
Another version of these criteria are at:
Smith, Alastair G. (1997) Testing the Surf: Criteria for Evaluating Internet Information Resources. The Public-Access Computer Systems Review 8, no. 3



What items are included in the resource? What subject area, time period, formats or types of material are covered? Is the scope stated, e.g through meta information such as an introduction, or only implied? Does the actual scope of the resource match expectations? Aspects of the scope include:


Are all aspects of the subject covered?


To what level of detail in the subject does the resource go?


Is the information in the resource limited to certain time periods?


Are certain kinds of Internet resources (for example telnet, Gopher, FTP) excluded?


Is the information factual, or opinion? Does the site contain original information, or simply links? Sites can be useful both as information resources in themselves, and as links to other information. However users can be frustrated by lists of resources which look promising, but turn out to simply contain more links.

Is the resource an integral resource, or has it been abstracted from another source, perhaps losing meaning or links in the process?

Specific aspects related to the content include the accuracy, authority, currency and uniqueness of a resource.


Is the information in the resource accurate? You may wish to check this against other resources, or by checking some information about which you have special knowledge.

Are there political or ideological biases? The Internet has become a prime marketing and advertising tool, and it is advisable to ask "what motivation does the author have for placing this information on the Net". Frequently the answer is that the information is placed to advertise, or support a particular point of view.


Does the resource have some reputable organisation or expert behind it? Does the author have standing in the field? Are sources of information stated? Is the information verifiable? Can the author be contacted for clarification or to be informed of new information?

Examing the URL can give clues to the authority of a source. For instance a tilde "~" usually indicates a personal web directory, rather than part of the organisation's official web site.


How frequently is the resource updated, or is it a static resource? Are dates of update stated, and do these correspond to the information in the resource? Does the organisation or person hosting the resource appear to have a commitment to ongoing maintenance and stability of the resource?

Browsers may allow you to view the date of creation and modification of a file (in Netscape View|Document Info). Remember that this may not be the date that the actual information was created or reviewed.


Is the information in this resource available in other forms (for example other sites, Gopher, WWW, print, CD-ROM)? What advantages does this particular resource have? If the resource is derived from another format, for example print, does it have all the features of the original? Have extra features been added? Does it complement another resource, for instance by providing updates to a print source?

On the Internet, redundancy may be valuable - a particular site may not be available when required, and an alternative or mirror site may have to be used. Also, some users may not be able to access certain types of resource, for example telnet or image-based web sites.

Links made to other resources

If the value of the site lies in its links to other resources, are the links kept up to date, and made to appropriate resources? Are the links made in such a way that it is clear that an external site is being referred to. There are potential copyright issues with sites that, for instance, enclose an external link in frames so that the source of the information is unclear.

Quality of writing

Is the text well written? While hypertext linking and multimedia are important elements of the Web, the bulk of the information content on the Web still lies in text, and quality of writing is important for the content to be communicated clearly.

Graphic and multimedia design

Is the resource interesting to look at? Do the visual effects enhance the resource, distract from the content, or substitute for content? If audio, video, virtual reality modeling, etc are used, are they appropriate to the purpose of the source?

A related criteria to graphic design is navigational design, mentioned below in the context of browsability and organisation.


What is the purpose of the resource? Is this clearly stated? Does the resource fulfill the stated purpose?


Who are the intended users of this resource? At what level is the resource pitched: a subject expert, a layperson, or a school student? Will the resource satisfy the needs of the intended users? Does the user group have the connectivity to access the resource? Does your user group correspond to the intended audience?


What do other reviewing services say about the site? The use of reviewing journals has been a mainstay of collection development in print collections; librarians in the Internet environment will need to become familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of the range of sources reviewing Internet resources.


Is the resource convenient and effective to use? This is the area where criteria for Internet resources differ most from print sources.

An issue in providing access to electronic documents is whether a library should just provide links to the originating site, or "acquire" the publication for local access. Poor workability may indicate that the library should store the data locally, if intellectual property considerations allow this.

Aspects of workability include:

User friendliness

Are any special commands clear? Is help information available? Have user interface issues been addressed, such as menu design, readability of screens, etc.

Required computing environment

Can the resource be accessed with standard equipment and software, or are there special software, password, or network requirements?

Has the resource been designed to work well with one software and user interface (for example the latest Netscape release on a T1 connection) but be difficult to use with others (for example Lynx at 2400bps)? It is useful to test resources with a variety of browsers and connections. Telnet resources may pose problems to users who have not installed a telnet client. Images and other multimedia may create problems if users have not installed the correct viewer.

While the extent to which older browsers are still used is a source of argument, there are still Lynx only users, frames challenged users, visually impaired users out there, and sites should attempt to cater for them. This criteria is less important where users are in a defined computing environment, such as a library's inhouse terminals.


How effectively can information be retrieved from the resource? Is the resource organised in a logical manner to facilitate the location of resources? Is the organisational scheme appropriate, for example chronological for an historical source, or geographical for a regional resource? Is a useful search engine provided? What operators and ranking features are available? Is the search engine interface intuitive? Does the search engine index the whole resource?

Browsability and organisation

Is the resource organised in a logical manner to facilitate the location of resources? Is the organisational scheme appropriate, for example chronological for an historical source, or geographical for a regional resource?


Where interactive features such as forms, cgi scripts etc are provided, do these work? Do they add value to the site?


Can the resource be accessed with standard equipment and software, or are there special software, password, or network requirements? Can the resource be accessed reliably, or is it frequently overloaded or offline? Is a local mirror site available, or do international traffic charges have to be incurred?


Currently Internet information resources are perceived as being "free". However costs do exist, and are likely to become more important. Costs can be divided into (a) costs of connecting to the resource and (b) costs associated with the use of the intellectual property contained in the resource.

In terms of (a), users paying traffic charges are already having to consider the costs of connection, and may want include this in criteria for selection, for instance to favour text based rather than image intensive sites, if the image content is the same.

Increasingly we will see sites where (b) is a consideration, and a charge is made for the intellectual content of the site. Of course, libraries have been dealing with charged online services such as Dialog for many years, but the Internet has created an expectation and an opportunity to make charged services available to end users. Libraries have a role in negotiating subscriptions and site licenses for organisational access to charged services. If online transactions are used to pay for information, the security of these transactions at a site may become important. Charged services may be available with limited functionality, or for trial periods, for free; librarians will need to decide whether to provide the enhanced or the limited version.

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Please send comments to: Colby Glass, MLIS

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