Students typically search only the most obvious parts of the Web, and rarely venture into what is sometimes called the “Dark Web,” the walled gardens of information accessible only through specific databases, such as Lexis-Nexis or the Oxford English Dictionary. And most old books remain undigitized. The Library of Congress has about 19 million books with unique call numbers, plus another 9 million or so in unusual formats, but most have not made it onto the Web. That may change, but for the moment, a tremendous amount of human wisdom is invisible to researchers who just use the Internet.
“For a lot of kids today, the world started in 1996,” says librarian and author Gary Price. —Joel Achenbach
Of course, the archives of the Washington Post are part of the “dark net” — most of the articles disappear behind a pay-per-view firewall after a few weeks.
Most of my students are working on their short midterm papers now, and a few have complained about the research exercises I have asked them to complete. I’m asking them to supply, in varying combinations, a sample thesis statement, quotations from their primary sources, a brief annotation of and quotations from secondary sources, a bibliography, and a revised thesis statement (showing how they have incorporated their research into their thesis statement). While students in my freshman comp class can expect me to read and comment on a complete rough draft, I can’t supply that service to all my classes — but the one- or two-page research & thesis exercise is still an excellent opportunity to provide feedback.
I have seen far too many student papers ruined by students who mistakenly trusted bad sources; some students first write an essay based on what they already believe, then they treat the research phase as if their goal is simply to “find quotes that support my opinion.” Hint: if you’ve already written your opinion before you looked at outside sources, then you’re not writing a research paper.
Writing is not easy.