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Luminary Lectures @ Your Library

Surviving the Internet: Strategies for the High-Tech Reference Desk

Irene McDermott, October 25, 2002

In this presentation McDermott discussed methods for adapting traditional reference skills to a digital environment and addressed the sudden appearance of the World Wide Web the at the reference desk and will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of this new technology for librarians. She also suggested a number of sturdy and reliable Web sites that can be used to answer reference questions.

About the Speaker

Irene E. McDermott is a Reference Librarian and the Systems Manager at the San Marino Public Library in California. Before she received her library degree from UCLA, McDermott served as Associate Research Editor for Salem Press for over ten years. During that time, she worked at night to hone her skills as an actress, comedienne, and theatrical director. McDermott abandoned the theater for a career as an information professional because she was so excited by the possibilities of the emerging World Wide Web. McDermott lives in Pasadena with her husband and son. Her column, "Internet Express", appears monthly in Searcher magazine. Her book, The Librarians' Internet Survival Guide: Strategies for the High-Tech Reference Desk External, was published in September by Information Today. [last update 2002]

Lecture Handout - Surviving the Internet

By Irene E. McDermott, San Marino Public Library
10/02 [email protected]

Three Basic Web Survival Tools

  • Google []
    This is an uncannily precise search engine. Use for almost everything, including spell checking and finding quotes.
  • Librarians Index to the Internet []
    You need quality information from the Internet? You will find it here, searchable, classified, annotated, and signed.
  • []
    Here is a great place to get the hobbyist's view of "popular" topics on the Web.

Ready Reference

  • The Internet Public Library (IPL) []
    Every link in this searchable collection have been carefully selected, cataloged, and described by a member of the IPL staff. Use their reference section for current links to quality resources. Visit "Youth Resources" to answer those pesky homework questions.
  • InfoPlease Almanac []
    This is a great destination for quick answers to many questions. Find maps, definitions, and brief biographies here.
  • Merriam-Webster []
    It's a dictionary and a thesaurus. Keep it open always.

People Finders

  • SuperPages []
    Use Verizon's interface to do nationwide searches of white and yellow pages.
  • []
    Click into the phone books of over 235 countries through this interface.
  • The Ultimates []
    The Ultimates will run a name through several telephone directories without forcing the user to retype.
  • Search Systems []
    Here is a directory of links to over 1,250 searchable, freely accessible public record databases.
  • KnowX []
    Search its business, people, and professional license databases for free. If you find your person, pay a minimal fee to view detailed results.

Full Text Online

  • On-line Books Page []
    This definitive, searchable directory to books freely readable over the Web will help you find any copy of a classic you might need.
  • []
    Need articles? Search this free archive of full-text articles dating back to 1998 from more than 300 magazines and journals.
  • []
    MagPortal collects and classifies links to those newsletters and magazines that offer current, interesting, yet free content online.

Business Information

  • Hoovers Online []
    This is the best site for reliable, and often free, business information on the Web.
  • Thomas Register []
    In return for a free registration, find out who manufactures what where in the U.S.
  • Yahoo! Finance []
    This is a comprehensive portal for current and historical company data, investment information, stock quotes from major U.S. and Canadian exchanges.
  • CorporateInformation []
    Register for free to find information about companies in 65 countries.

Law Resources

  • Nolo []
    For 30 years, Nolo Press has been "putting the law into plain English". Use their "Law Centers" for free information on everyday legal topics.
  • FindLaw []
    This is the first-stop, premier law resource on the Web. It features a legal subject index, access to cases and codes, information about law schools, law reviews, and legal associations and organizations.
  • Legal Information Institute at Cornell University []
    Find state laws, federal laws, and laws from around the world. This is the research tool of choice to find the text of laws.

Medical Resources

  • The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy []
    Completely searchable, this online publication lists the causes, symptoms, and prognosis of just about everything that can go wrong with you. Too hard to understand? Check out its sister site, The Merck Manual Home Edition [].
  • []
    The famous Mayo Clinic in Minnesota offers this portal for reliable, general information about many different ailments and conditions.
  • InteliHealth []
    This consumer health site from the Harvard Medical School aims to offer you the Web's most comprehensive collection of consumer health information from the best possible sources. Features the Merriam-Websters Medical Dictionary online [].
  • MEDLINEplus Health Information []
    The National Library of Medicine has assembled its resources onto one attractive portal designed for general health consumers.
  • []
    RxList lets you search by drug name, imprint code, or keyword then offers direct access to Taber's Medical Encyclopedia from the result page.


  • FedStats: One Stop Shopping for Federal Statistics []
    More than 70 agencies in the United States federal government produce statistics. This site provides easy access to the full range of statistics and information produced by these agencies.
  • University of Michigan Documents Center []
    This is central reference and referral point for government information, whether local, state, federal, foreign, or international.

Sites for Students

  • []
    Use this site to "search over 25,000 of the greatest lives, past and present."
  • Science Fair Central []
    Visit the Discovery Channel's guide to science fair projects. Get guidance to the steps required in an experiment, get ideas, and search their links and suggested books for data.
  • QuickMath
    Type in an algebra or calculus problem and have the MathScript server calculate results for you.
  • FinAid: The Financial Aid Information Page []
    Here is a comprehensive page of student financial aid links.

Travel Sites

  • QIXO []
    Here is a metasearch engine for travel, a "bot" that aggregates data from at least 27 independent travel sites, including Expedia, Orbitz, the airlines' own sites and smaller sites specializing in travel to certain destinations.
  • MapBlast []
    MapBlast, was one of the first mapmakers on the Web. If you know the address, you can get a map and directions for over 200 countries, including the Slovak Republic.
  • How Far Is It? []
    Type the names of any two cities into the search boxes on this Indonesian travel site, and it will tell you the distance between them (as the crow flies) in miles, kilometers, and nautical miles (in case you will be swimming).
  • []
    Get your current and historical currency conversion rates here.
  • Weather Underground []
    This site offers forecasts where others fear to tread. Cuba, for example.

Other Useful Links

  • ConsumerSearch []
    Need to buy a new "durable good"? This site pulls consumer advice from various consumer review sources into one place. Read their "Full Story" report or jump to the "Fast Answers" section.
  • Kelley Blue Book []
    Find the value of old and new cars on this site.
  • Internet Movie Database []
    Visit this site for an amazing amount of information about everything cinematic.

Keeping Up With Changes

  • Librarians' Index to the Internet: New This Week []
    Sign up for LII's current awareness service for keeping track of great new Web sites! Every week, the Librarians' Index to the Internet will e-mail you a list of the best ten to twenty Web sites newly added to this high quality, searchable resource.
  • Yahoo! What's New []
    Get the scoop on new, hand-picked sites added to Yahoo! in the last week.
  • ResearchBuzz []
    Tara Calishain covers the world of Internet research. Have her entertaining newsletter sent to your e-mail weekly.
  • SearchDay Newsletter []
    Chris Sherman, Associate Editor of Search Engine Watch, keeps us informed about Web searching trends in a companionable way.
  • BusinessWeek Online: Technology []
    Designed so that non-technical managers can stay abreast of helpful new technologies by investing fifteen minutes weekly reading these stories.

If All Else Fails

  • LibDex []
    Need to direct remote patrons back to their home turf? Search LibDex to find the Web pages of libraries around the world.