Evaluating Web Sites
Remember, anyone can post
a web site, but not all sites are created equal. Because no single person or
organization controls the content of the Internet, quality varies widely from
Web site to site. It is extremely important for both librarians and their
patrons to learn how to evaluate each Internet site as you examine it.
Remember the criteria we
listed for evaluating all reference sources:
- Authority – reputation
and qualifications of author, editors or publisher
- Currency – date of
copyright and currency of content
- Audience – school
age/grade level, and, for adults, degree of technical level
- Accuracy – consistency
and reliability of entries
- Accessibility –
organization and ease of use
In addition, here are some
key points to bear in mind as you assess Web sites:
- Responsibility. Similar to authority, look for the
reliability and qualifications of the site owner or creator. Who
(individual, business or organization) created the Web site? Does the site
contain an “About Us” or “Contact Us” section if identifying information is
As an example, take a look at the web site for the Idaho Department of
Commerce & Labor, http://www.cl.idaho.gov/. Prominent
on the top of the home page is a navigation “Contact Us” button; it links
to a screen with the complete name, address, and phone numbers of the site
owner, the Idaho Department of Commerce & Labor. In addition, it provides linked
e-mail addresses for staff members.
To see how a creator can provide a wealth of information about a Web site, go
Scroll down the screen to check out the Web site’s contents. If you click on “About
find a vision statement, mission statement that includes a tour of the site,
criteria for site inclusion, and instructions on how to link to Refdesk.
The “Reviews, Honors and Awards” section gives a good indication of the
reliability of the site.
Is the site easy to use or confusing? To help you find specific sections or
pieces of information, does it include a search engine (which functions much
like an index) or a site map (which is similar to a table of contents)? For
example, look at the Library of Congress web site, www.loc.gov.
It includes a search engine and site
map, and also includes direct links to special
resources including “THOMAS” (federal legislation) and “American Memory”
(digitized collections of American history and culture).
does the Web site offer links to other useful sites? Ben's Guide to
Government for Kids, bensguide.gpo.gov teaches students how our
government works. It provides a variety of learning tools and links to other
federal web sites for K-12 students, parents, and teachers.
Are special software and adequate hardware required to access the information on
the site? Does it contain large PDF files, which will require Adobe Reader?
The Idaho Department of Commerce & Labor site is the best source for recent Idaho
population statistics; see their site at
www.cl.idaho.gov/. At the home
page choose “Statistics & Research” from the menu on the left; then select “Census” for a
list of current Census tables. To view all the tables you will need Microsoft
Excel and Adobe Reader loaded on your computer. C-SPAN
(www.c-span.org) and Discovery.com (www.discovery.com) are examples of sites requiring plug-ins. Check to see if the plug-ins you need can be
obtained free online; most are available and you will find links for installing
What is the objective of the site? To provide information? This is the
express purpose of the Library of Congress site and other federal Web sites.
To sell you a product or an idea? Countless businesses and non-profit
organizations have mounted sites on the Web in hopes of selling you
something. To convince you of a particular viewpoint? Students use the
to research the pros and cons of almost any subject. For example, a student
searching for information on gun control should examine a range of opinions
from sites such as the National Rifle Association (www.nra.org)
and the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence (www.bradycenter.org).
In summary, be critical of information you find on the Web and carefully
examine each site. Remember that all sites have some agenda or bias. Knowing
the type of site you’re inspecting will give you some clues as to its purpose.
The top-level domain (the suffix at the
end of the web site’s URL or address) indicates the type of organization that
posted the site. The following section will give an explanation
of top-level domains.
Click the arrow below to continue to the next page