Understanding and Using the Library and Internet Research

What is Library? A library is a collection of sources of information and similar resources, made accessible to a defined community for reference or borrowing. It provides physical or digital access to material and may be a physical building or room, or a virtual space, or both. A library’s collection can include books, periodicals, newspapers, manuscripts, films, maps, prints, documents, micro-form, CDs, cassettes, videotapes, DVDs, Blu-ray Discs, e-books, audio-books, databases, and other formats. Libraries range in size from a few shelves of books to several million items.

What is Internet Research? Internet research has had a profound impact on the way ideas are formed and knowledge is created. Common applications of Internet research include personal research on a particular subject (something mentioned on the news, a health problem, etc.), students doing research for academic projects and papers, and journalists and other writers researching stories.

Research is a broad term. Here, it is used to mean “looking something up (on the Web)”. It includes any activity where a topic is identified, and an effort is made to actively gather information for the purpose of furthering understanding. It may include some post-collection analysis like a concern for quality or synthesis.

A third approach to generate new business ideas is to conduct library and Internet research. A natural tendency is to think that an idea should be chosen, and the process of researching the idea should then begin. This approach is too linear. Often, the best ideas emerge when the general notion of an idea, like creating casual electronic games for adults, is merged with extensive library and Internet research, which might provide insights into the best type of casual games to create.

Libraries are often an underutilized source of information for generating business ideas. The best approach to utilizing a library is to discuss your general area of interest with a reference librarian, who can point out useful resources, such as industry-specific magazines, trade journals, and industry reports. Simply browsing through several issues of a trade journal on a topic can spark new ideas. Very powerful search engines and databases are also available through university and large public libraries, which would cost hundreds or thousands of dollars to access on your own. An example is IBIS World (www.ibisworld.com), a company that publishes market research on all major industries and subcategories within industries. IBIS World published a 30-page report on the solar power industry, for example, in March 2011, which includes key statistics (about industry growth and profitability), a complete industry analysis, and an outlook for the future. Spending time reading this report could spark new ideas for solar powered devices or help affirm an existing idea.

Internet research is also important. If you are starting from scratch, simply typing “new business ideas” into Google or Yahoo! will produce links to newspaper and magazine articles about the “hottest” and “latest” new business ideas. Although these types of articles are general in nature, they represent a starting point if you’re trying to generate new business ideas from scratch. If you have a specific idea in mind, a useful technique is to set up a Google or Yahoo! “e-mail alert” using keywords that pertain to your topic of interest. Google and Yahoo! alerts are e-mail updates of the latest Google or Yahoo! results including press releases, news articles, and blog posts based on your topic. This technique, which is available for free, will feed you a daily stream of news articles and Blog postings about specific topics. Another approach is to follow business leaders and experts in the industries you’re interested in on Twitter. The best way to locate people on Twitter you might be interested in following is by typing into the search bar labeled “Who to Follow” relevant keywords preceded by the “#” sign. For example, if you’re interested in solar power, type “#solar power” into the search bar. All the results will be people or companies who tweet about solar power topics.

Once an entrepreneur has an idea, it often needs to be shaped and fine-tuned. One way to do this, in conjunction with the suggestions made previously, is to enlist a mentor to help. An explanation of how to use a mentor in this regard, and where mentors can be found, is described in the “Partnering for Success” feature.

Library VS Internet Research

Many people are confused about what constitutes library research versus what constitutes Internet research. Some people argue that effective research is never conducted on the Internet, that one needs access to the resources of a library to conduct thorough investigations. People in this camp argue that institutional libraries pay significant sums to provide access to proprietary databases to their customers that is, databases that offer abstracts, bibliographical information, and, oftentimes, full texts of articles published in scholarly journals. Also, research purists may argue that documents published on the Internet lack the authority of research that is peer-reviewed and published by major publishers. Something important to consider is the difference between an Internet resource and an academic resource accessed via the Internet. For example, if I simply Google “research method,” one of my first search results is from about.com – a good resource, but not necessarily an academic resource. Although I can glean about.com for useful information about the generics of a topic like “research methods,” for the purposes of an academic research assignment, it may be wise to use the Internet to access my library’s databases (like Academic Search Premier, JSTOR, etc.) for online access to a plethora of information pertaining to my search term. The Internet hosts a variety of resources, some of which are useful for casual, everyday references (like about.com) and others which are more appropriate for an academic research assignment (like my library’s databases: Academic Search Premier, JSTOR, etc.)

Because of a misunderstanding about the way in which the Internet serves both purposes (casual, everyday research and formal, academic research) some students report they never use their library’s resources. Studies of the research processes of students have found that many students limit their investigations to search engines such as Google, paying especially close attention to the first eight or so hits on any search. Unfortunately, students who conduct research in this way often end up with sources that they later realize aren’t useful in crafting informed, thorough, formal academic research and/or arguments.

To conduct effective research, you may need to use both the library and the Internet. Limiting yourself to the library cuts off some very innovative work that may not yet be accessible for your library’s periodical indexes and abstracts. In turn, relying solely on the Internet is like trying to dig a hole with your tongue rather than a shovel: extremely counterproductive and a waste of time.

Information junkies know arguments for using either the library or the Internet are out of touch with reality. As research libraries increase the number of electronic resources they subscribe to, many traditional resources are now accessible via the Internet although passwords may be required. In other words, distinctions between the library and the Web are blurring.

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