Unlock the Internet with Open Web Collection Development Tools

Developing, curating, and assisting patrons with print and electronic collections are ingrained in the daily work of a librarian. As more patrons turn to web resources for research, what is a librarian's role? One tactic is to build a collection of free or low cost web research tools that meet your community's informational, educational, and recreational needs.

Open Web Collection Development

Open web collection development isn't all that different from the collection development librarians already do. Essentially, it is adapting the principles and practices of print and electronic collections for the open web (meaning free or low cost web-based tools).  

Gary Price at Library Journal's INFODocket has been writing about open web collection development for the past few years. He argues that making better use of free or low cost web tools can help your library free up funds to purchase additional fee-based tools.

Tools to Check Out

At Library Journal's The Digital Shift: Reinventing Libraries virtual conference, Price suggested a few tools for building up your web collection:

  • WebSite-Watcher is a fee-based tool that lets you monitor web pages, forums, RSS feeds, and indexes. You can bookmark you library's own personal archive of pages to keep tabs on how they change overtime.  So for example, if you're monitoring certain government resource pages, you'll know immediately whether they've added new information.
  • Twitter's advanced search features for finding timely (though not always accurate) information, such as searching by hashtags or keywords.  Fun fact: Twitter's search engine supports basic and complex operators. For example, if you search for "library :)" you'll find positive tweets containing "library." Conversely, a search for "traffic :(" brings up tweets containing "traffic" with a negative attitude. 
  • Press release services, like BusinessWire or PRNewswire (disclosure: I once worked as an editor at PRN), provide free access to archives of press releases from major corporations, government agencies, nonprofits, sports franchises, and more.
  • Documentcloud is a web-based software platform created for journalists to allow the searching, analyzing, annotation, and publication of primary source materials.
  • NewsExplorer aggregates government news resources from the European Union.  
  • Naturally, Price also plugged his site INFODocket as being a valuable web collection resource – and I agree! INFODocket provides news about search engines, web tools, and libraries.  INFODocket's sister site, FullTextReports provides access to new and free reports from think tanks, governments, research institutes, academia, and more.

In my experience as a journalist, curator, and library student, I have a few tricks up my sleeve that I think might be useful for libraries. Here are a few tools I use:

  • Scoop.It is a content curation tool. At TechSoup, we've built Scoop.It pages around specific topics, but it is also a handy way to find articles on specific topics.
  • SweetSearch is a search engine designed for students. The search engine claims that every site that turns up in search results is evaluated by research experts. SweetSearch also offers some helpful subsites for finding specific information, such as SweetSearch Biographies and SweetSearch social studies.
  • Need to find specific information on a policy, bill, or government agency? USA.gov is your go-to tool. You get access to national, state, and local governments as well as access to the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian, and more.

Designing an Open Web Collection Development Plan/Policy

Just like your physical and electronic collections, it is a good idea to have one for your web collections. The Southfield Public Library in Michigan created a policy to describe the library's method and criteria in choosing web-based resources. The library made a list of factors considered when evaluating sites. The criteria falls under three categories: Access, Design, and Content.

Building out some sort of plan for evaluating and sharing web collection tools will ensure that you pick the most accurate and useful resources for your patrons.

Does your library have a web collection development plan? Or do you recommend any web search resources? Share with us in the comments.