What might a librarian call a ‘quality’ source?

In order to find out why people within the information industry pay for information I got 14 librarians to complete a self-completed questionnaire. This post identifies what makes quality information*.

What makes subscription services better?

There is no single answer to this question. The responses seem to suggest that paid, subscription services offer better quality information. So, what makes quality information? The following (ordered) list addresses what MMU Librarians suggest is quality information. In parenthesis (round brackets) the number indicates how many librarians shared this view within this survey.

  1. Peer reviewed (8)
  2. Academic (4)
  3. Authoritative (4)
  4. Better quality (4)
  5. Relevant results (3)

What makes quality information?

From a personal viewpoint, a good search is a search which is relevant to the search query. But defining quality can be a little tricky because there are so many words to describe quality.

From an interface viewpoint
There is less clutter on subscription services. Furthermore, this interface is uniform (i.e. it does not change for certain users).

From a search engine results pages’ (SERP) viewpoint
Quality results are: in date, accurate (because they match to the search query), indexes bigger selection (possibility because the deep web is used in their resources), relevant results (because each hit is related to the search query), and, more focused.
From a creators’ viewpoint
Subscription services offer editorial / scholarly resources. This has an impact on quality control. For this reason, subscription services are unlikely to have completely irrelevant hits. It is also worth noting that anyone can publish on the Surface Web.

Do paid services offer better quality information?

The short answer is yes. Paid subscription services are more likely to be relevant to a search query. It is worth noting, though, both paid and unpaid services produce irrelevant hits within their SERPs because the current algorithms do not calculate a positive or negative outcome for accuracy.

In other words, if a search engine thinks a document is a little relevant, it will show in the SERP, even if a relevant term is contained within a document in a completely different context.

*This is not necessarily a librarians viewpoint. This study was completed in Manchester Metropolitan Universities’ largest library, the Sir Kenneth Green Library.

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