Why Review the Internet?

In the vast and unorganized world of information, regardless of format, librarians have always been there to help sift through the material. Creating bibliographies and selection tools, helping patrons, building and organizing collections that serve the needs of local user communities have traditionally been our role.

Several years ago (1993 to be exact) I was enamored with the idea of building a library gopher that would serve the needs of the local college community and serve as a guide to the every growing internet. Through discussions with collegues, and most noteable a student who did most of the actually serfing (sic), it became clear that the task was not unlike building a library from the ground up. Everything from basic collection development policy, to cataloging (how to arrange the items in a logical and meaningful way) to outreach needed to be addressed. During that period of time one of my daily mantras was "we need something like CHOICE to help us here". Thus was born the Internet Reviews.

...to be continued ... The original proposal was vast, a

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A NIGHT AT THE INTERNET

A Proposal to Cooperate in the 
Finding and Reviewing of Internet Resources

dreamed up by Nigel Kerr and Sara Amato

The essential problem of the Internet at present is that it is
disorganized.  Helpful and rigorous wells of information reside on the
Internet and other networks in various forms, but it is not immediately
evident as to where they are, how to access them, and what their contents
are.  Gopher, and more recently, the WWW, attempt to change this by
providing a more user-friendly interface to the Internet: gopher provides
a menu system for the user to easily navigate more or less seamlessly
across the net.  WWW adds the ability to create hypertext space on the net
in which to navigate, a more flexible and extensible format than gopher. 
In the last three years, these efforts have seen an explosion of resources
available, and made it possible for more people to access the Internet. 

Despite this, there are still problems with access.  A user cannot always
be assured to the validity of a resource she brings up on her screen; in a
library, books and magazine articles are placed in journals that have
specific reputations, and go through specific review processes.  One is at
least assured that someone else has read and criticized the piece at hand,
that it has had to suffer criticism and revision.  A publisher would not
publish a serious book it felt was inappropriate or non-sensical.  On the
Internet, however, there is no such process of review.  Anyone can
establish an electronic journal, make postings to newsgroups, distribute
mail, upload to an ftp site, or create an information structure through a
gopher or other server.  Everyone can be their own publisher, and don't
have to listen to any editorial comments if they don't want to.  To make
the Internet a dependable cornucopia, a review process is called for, some
method by which we can rate and recommend resources to patrons or to each
other. 

It is unreasonable to expect that anyone could get away with appointing
themselves Grand Inquisitor of the Net.  The Internet simply does not work
that way: the various smaller networks communicate and interact with each
other in a way that is non-hierarchical.  Authority as decision-making
power does not exist on a net-wide basis: administrators at the various
levels can effect the net in various ways, but there is no supreme
executive power.  Guidelines can be proposed and set, and thereafter,
people will generally treat you as your behavior would have you treated: a
site can be isolated if its users abuse the net, or a site can become a
hub of information and respect through efforts to organize information and
further cooperation on the net.  Likewise with individual users.  In our
efforts to review the net, we need a different model of reviewing and
disseminating information, that does not depend on hierarchies or chains
of command. 

Proposal: "Wanna hit the Internet Tonight?"

We propose the following: that the libraries and librarians of the
"Valleylink" Consortium, and other libraries as they wish to participate,
cooperate on reviewing electronic resources.  Individuals or libraries
with expertise in particular areas would volunteer time to seek out and
experiment with Internet resources in their interests.  These infonauts
would then send their reviews, both good and bad, in a standardized form
to be made available in various ways to the central archive of the
reviews.  At the central archive, the reviews would be stored to allow
searching and browsing by various means.  I envision a listserv archive, a
wais index (eventually to be registered), a browseable gopher menu, and
eventually a World Wide Web hypertext archive.  Users from those with the
most powerful of WWW browsers to those limited to e-mail will have access
to the collected efforts of the reviewers. 

This project involves three important resources.  First and foremost, the
reviewers and researchers of the Internet need to know how to go about it.
This project should not exclude anyone from participating, rather it will
be a way for librarians and others involved to explore and learn about the
Internet, sharing insights and strategies.  For those interested that do
not yet know much about the Internet, training and help will be needed. 
In the near future, I envision conducting an Internet Workshop for
interested Consortium members, designed to explain Internet tools, and
effective strategies for using them to locate and access information. 
Beyond these kinds of large-scale workshops, I also envision recruiting a
group of "gurus", people throughout the region of the ValleyLink
Consortium that are willing to answer questions, or point towards answers. 

Secondly, there must be computing resources and working time to support
the archive of reviews and the methods to access it.  The archive will be
most useful, and easier to manage if all the elements are located in one
place (although mirroring the archive at a later date is possible).  That
computer on which the archive is located needs to be dependable, and able
to absorb the added stresses of maintaining and processing such an
archive.  In the early stages of this endeavour, the archive and
browseable menus will reside on Willamette University's host machine,
jupiter.willamette.edu.  They will be accessible by Willamette
University's Gopher, in the Library Resources menu of the root directory. 
It will be named "The Internet Reviews Archives".  Ample warning will be
given if the menu will be moved or changed, in format or location, so that
everyone can stay connected.  The menu, archive, and the organization of
the resources will be the ultimately my responsibility, although I will
probably get by with a little help from my friends.  I will be at
Willamette working in the library until this coming August, and my hope is
to have the archive functioning smoothly at that point, and to pass the
torch to sufficiently interested parties, wherever they may be. 

Finally, this project requires that the participants have time which they
can spare from their other duties to explore the Internet.  Some of us
have more time than others, but this doesn't diminish the value of
everyone's contributions.  From the occasional tinkerer to those that
spend the majority of their time digesting the 'net, all contributions are
welcome and will be reflected in the archive. 

Details: "What do we do now?"

Within the week (29th November to 5th December), an informational posting
will be made to this same listserv, detailing how to access the reviews,
and how to get started reviewing.  I will have the minimal archive up and
running, and at least gopher access detailed.  I will also try to have
possible times for Internet workshops, to be held here at Willamette for
starters.  Any further announcements I will make on this listserv, and
posted directly at the gopher access.  Questions about any aspect of the
project can be e-mailed to me at library@willamette.edu or
ekerr@willamette.edu, or to Sara Amato at samato@willamette.edu.  Either
of us are generally available during business hours at (503) 370-6312. 

We are really excited about the project, and look forward to exploring the
Internet with you all in the coming months!

Nigel Kerr, Proto-Librarian           Sara Amato, Systems Librarian
   ekerr@willamette.edu                   samato@willamette.edu

     
                 Mark O. Hatfield Library

Last Modified:
samato@bowdoin.edu