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Doing Research on the Web Library vs. the Internet

Return To: Doing Research on the Web

We live in the information age, where access to many wonderful Internet resources is just a few quick clicks away. For this reason, you might be thinking, "Cool. I don't have to go to the library. I can do all my research online." Not so fast. The Internet is not a substitute for the library. It's a tool best used in addition to to traditional research sources.

Why use both? Because each has resources, benefits, and limitations that the other does not. Examine the pros and cons of both the library and the Internet below.

  Library Internet

  • Uses universal cataloging systems that classify and organize all resources.

  • Houses professional books, newspapers, magazines, and other resources that have been edited and reviewed prior to their publication.

  • Provides free access to journals, magazines, newspapers, encyclopedias, and other print reference works.

  • Often has archived materials—newspapers and magazines—that date back many years.

  • Offers a free Internet connection and other electronic resources, such as reference CD-ROMs.

  • Has knowledgeable reference librarians to help you locate resources.

  • Online resources can be accessed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

  • Web sites can be constantly updated to provide breaking news and timely information.

  • Provides opportunities for two-way communication through e-mail, LISTSERVS, and newsgoups.

  • Provides access to many newspapers, magazines, journals, and encyclopedias.

  • Some sites feature rare books, documents, and special collections that traditionally have only been available in libraries.

  • Offers a complete multimedia experience, with text, video, interactive features, audio, hyperlinks, and graphics all in one place.


  • Resources can be checked out by other patrons and, therefore, may not always be available.

  • A library's publications cannot provide up-to-the-minute news and information the way Web sites can.

  • Closes after hours.

  • Has no system that catalogs and organizes all resources.

  • Anyone with an Internet connection can publish a Web site.

  • Reliability of information is not guaranteed.

  • Archived materials might only date back several years.

  • Some electronic resources are only available through a subscription.

  • Internet access is often not free.

  • Does not have knowledgeable librarians who can help you find resources.

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