by Philippe Cloutier
This image comes from the Wikipedia entry on the Project Triangle, which, in and of itself, is entirely interesting and an important consideration for project design. However, in library school I learned that the same triangle applies to online databases.
Take Google for instance. It is certainly fast, with search results literally taking less than a second to run. It’s also as cheap as it gets: free. Their business thrives on pushing advertisements towards the searcher/user. Google: home of the fast and cheap.
And on good, how would we rank Google? Are the results vetted in any way that places them on par with peer-review, government certification, or scientific proof of evidence? We have to weigh the results and the sources they come from. We can limit our searches to government resources, educational websites, and news sources, but even then, we have to be aware of results that slip in. A news website that is more opinion/blog than reporting, or an educational site that pushes a religious or social agenda are but a few things of which to be wary. Google can often take us to the good, if we are diligent.
Then we have databases like Lexis, Westlaw, CCH, BNA, Morningstar, etc. Searching is fast, and searching within searches is even faster. The information is good: it has been subjected to analysis, selected from trusted authorities, and compiled to become its own authority on a topic. Much of the time, it is information you can’t get anywhere else. However, we all know it isn’t cheap.
Like many things, there’s an exception to the rule: the public library. With one’s library card, access to good, fast, and cheap databases is enabled. The library is publicly funded, and the databases are not really free, in any sense of the word, yet the information is now available to those who would have never been able to enjoy the fruits of locked up information. As such, we are lucky that information isn’t relegated to a simple diagram that prohibits public and equal access.
Moreover, those of us with access to the expensive, fast, and good will always find tremendous value in public library database access. Perhaps saving on costs as well, whether we realize it or not.