Website Evaluation for Librarians: Evaluative Criteria

Introduction

The world has seen an explosion in the amount of information available, precipitated in part by the Internet. One thing to point out is the great value the Internet plays in the dissemination of scientific information. It really was the explosion in the field of science after World War II and the need for quick access to this information in the scientific community that formed the impetus for the web. Scientists use it and e-mail for the exchange of ideas and new discoveries. Websites are a really good place to start an investigation for scientific information, and science pages can be excellent sources. Librarians must still use caution when directing a patron to a scientific website. They must be able to critically evaluate websites for their patrons, something that is a relatively easy task if particular criteria are used in the process.

This paper will look at the development of such criteria and use them to evaluate and compare two sites - the Canadian Institute for Aerospace Research, a division of the National Research Council of Canada, and the American site of Aviation Operations Branch of NASA.

Evaluative Criteria for Institute of Aerospace Research (Canadian)

  1. Credentials of Author, or Authority -- Authority is unquestionable when it comes to this website because it is underwritten by the National Research Council of Canada, which has been the principal science and technology agency in this country for the past 80 years, with sixteen research branches working under its umbrella.
  2. Scope -- The scope is quite comprehensive, covering such areas as "Structures, Materials, and Propulsion", Aerodynamics, and Flight Research. There is also a great number of links to industry, governmental departments, and research organizations, as well as one to its newsletter.
  3. Currency -- Although the copyright date on this site is 2007, the presence of news releases dated 2009, and other recent publications, indicate that is regularly updated.
  4. Accuracy -- Accuracy is always hard to determine if the librarian does not have an academic background in the specific subject, and that is why directing patrons to sites with a high degree of authority is very important. At least this one is free of spelling and grammatical errors.
  5. Ease of use -- Very easy to use, with good workable links, and quick connectivity.
  6. Organization and Appeal -- Very high on appeal, with colourful layout, but minimal use of graphics. In addition, the organizational quality is high because there is an excellent site map which specifies everything that is located on the site, including links and general information of interest.
  7. References and Reviews -- There are no references or reviews as such, but it is apparent that with associations with CISTI and other highly regarded organizations, there is great care and thought put into the information one can access here. Peer review is not a factor on such a website.
  8. Searching Capabilities -- The searching factor is quite good on this site, and there is access to archived information. A number of practice searches brought up lots of good information that is easily downloaded and printed off free of charge.
  9. Navigation -- Moving around this site was very easy, with obvious labels, clearly marked hypertext links that worked, and an overall consistent and user-friendly interface.
  10. Quality of Materials and Learning Factor --There is a great amount of information available on this site that could satisfy grade school children, scientists, and all those groups in between. Students of science are also encouraged to continue exploring and using the research tools with the additional links provided.

Evaluative Criteria for NASA's Aviation Operations Branch

  1. Credentials of Author, or Authority -- NASA is the leading organization, bar none, of aviation and aerospace in the world, so the degree of authority found in the site must be highly regarded.
  2. Scope -- The comprehensiveness of this site can be said to cover everything from A-Z, including the latest research on human interaction with automated systems, fatigue countermeasures, the effects of automation on flight deck communication, aviation safety reporting systems, and high speed research.
  3. Currency --Currency is obvious throughout the site, from cutting edge research reports that are easily accessed, to documentation that the most recent update by the webmaster was January 2009.
  4. Accuracy -- Accuracy is always hard to determine if the librarian does not have an academic background in the specific subject, and that is why directing patrons to sites with a high degree of authority is very important. At least this one is free of spelling and grammatical errors.
  5. Ease of use -- Although the site is filled with interesting and informative facts and research, the first page or homepage is dark, actually black in colour with an abstract rendition of an airplane. There is very small print to connect the user to a few links. The other problem was that long waits were commonplace when moving around the site, however, that is a common problem when dealing with any site connected to NASA because of high hit rates.
  6. Organization and Appeal - Organization and appeal is much lower due to dark colouring, small print, slow modem access, and there is also no site map. High on appeal, with nice use of colour and graphics on some of the linking pages.
  7. References and Reviews - Appropriate copyrights are associated with the page, and it must be assumed that the peer review process is not an aspect to consider with this site since the information is highly scientific and sanctioned by the government.
  8. Searching Capabilities - Specific materials are easy to find through the search offered on the site.
  9. Navigation - Visitors can move around the website fairly easily.
  10. Quality of Materials and Learning Factor - There is an abundance of information available on this site, particularly useful for those working or specializing in the area of aviation.

Conclusion

There can be an overabundance of evaluative criteria to look for in every website, but the ones specified above are some of the most important, and fall in line with many of those that librarians have historically used in evaluating reference tools. That is what these websites are - simply another unique tool for accessing information for the public, and as long as there is caution used in directing patrons to the information and guidelines followed, the Internet really can open up a wide world of knowledge that historically, has never been available before on such a wide scale, or so easily.

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Reference List

Dilevko, Juris, and Elizabeth Dolan. Website Evaluation: Criteria for Government Sources.

Harris, R. 2007. Evaluating Internet Research Sources. Available at http://www.virtualsalt.com/evalu8it.htm

Tillman, Hope. 2003. Evaluating Quality on the Net. Available at http://www.hopetillman.com/findqual.html

IMSEnet. Evaluating Science WWW Resources. Available at http://www.ncsu.edu/imse/3/evalweb.htm


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