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So what's the library got that Google aint got? --
an entryway to the invisible Web

Not having been born digital myself, I never cease to be amazed when a question occurs to me, I think, "I'll Google it," and a minute later I'm reading an answer within the first couple of links off the results page. Is this pretty incredible or what? I've always been a "let's find out" kind of person, not really content not knowing (ok, there's beginner's mind and all, but I never really was much good at that, despite having tried). Google and Yahoo are able to satisfy my curiosity about 99% of the time. When they can't, I usually don't have to care too much about it. A lot of my questions don't really have to be answered.

But I have other kinds of questions that do have to be answered, and that aren't so easy because what I need to answer them is buried in the invisible Web, the networked mass of information that's not living on the surface, like Web pages and blogs, but resides a level below that in structured forms like databases. By most estimates, the invisible Web exceeds the size of the visible, searchable Web by maybe 10 times. Most search engines don't reach these resources directly, but they are there, on the Web. Your library probably knows about and has access to tens of millions of dollars worth of databases full of information that might very well be of interest to you, or more than just of interest, that might contain just what you need to answer a tough question, but you won't know it unless you take the time to learn more about the invisible Web.

Ironically, you can Google the words, "invisible Web", so you can learn about it, but the actual invisible Web can't be accessed that easily. You need specialized search engines in some cases, and in other cases, you need to know how to search smarter. Still, in other cases, if you're smart, you'll get the help of an invisible Web specialist, an information specialist. They're not scarce or expensive -- their plentiful and cheap -- in fact they're free. Free for the asking.

The other day I needed to know the answer to what seemed like a simple question, but Google couldn't help me. The question was, "what are the top ranked journals in the field of nursing?" Simple enough, right? Well, the answer is there, it's just not in the visible Web. It's in the invisible Web, in a database that, if I knew the name of it, I could Google that, and then query the database. But I didn't know the name of it or even that it existed. Simple thing. I needed an invisible Web expert. Lucky for me, I know one. Her name is Roxanne Bogucka and she had my answer for me, and I'm not kidding, in about 45 seconds.

Can anyone ask Roxanne a question and will she know the answer to everything? Well, no. She's a subject matter specialist in nursing and nutritional sciences, so those are the invisible Web resources she's got a handle on. But there are about 40 others just like her, each with his or her own subject matter area, and you can SMS them, you can email them, they do chat, or you can even actually go see them if you want to. They are your librarians. But you already guessed that, didn't you?

So Google to your heart's content, but if you're the least bit curious about what Google and other search engines might be missing that could give you even more to work with, ask an information specialist for a lesson in searching the invisible Web. You'll be glad you did, and you can really impress your professor, maybe even your friends, certainly your mom and dad, the next time they act like the visible Web is all there is.



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The Copyright Crash Course © 2001, 2007 Georgia K. Harper