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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Summer 2004

Book Reviews

Biology Resources in the Electronic Age and Biosciences on the Internet : A Student's Guide

Catherine Jeanjean
Life Sciences Librarian
Kansas State University

Biology Resources in the Electronic Age. Judith A. Bazler. Westport, CT : Greenwood Press, 2003. xiii, 286 pgs 1573563803 $49.95 hardcover.

Biosciences on the Internet : A Student's Guide. Georges Dussart. New York : John Wiley and Sons, Ltd., 2002. xv, 326 pgs, b&w illus, 0471498424 $25.00 paperback.

Students and parents are turning to the World Wide Web more and more frequently when seeking biological information for homework, class projects, or personal use. Since the web is an open-access publishing site, it is often difficult for the layperson to know how best to find relevant, accurate information. Judith Bazler and Georges Dussart address this issue in their books.

Bazler's book Biology Resources in the Electronic Age is aimed primarily at upper-level high school students, teachers, and parents of those students. She focuses on providing an extensive list of reputable sites relevant for this audience. Bazler also touches on basic web information, and includes sites for locating biology supplies and sites on careers and summer programs.

Dussart's Biosciences on the Internet : A Student's Guide is a more general work, designed to help university and high school students incorporate biological web-based information into their work and scientific reports. Dussart is from University College in England, so some of his information pertains specifically to the UK. He identifies and addresses what he perceives as the major challenges to researching on the Internet: coping with information deluge, searching efficiently, honoring copyright, and evaluating information. He also covers the basics of Internet use, web site evaluation, e-mail, and how to prepare biology assignments. Detailed examples of searches and an eclectic list of biology web sites make this a well-rounded resource.

Bazler, an Associate Professor of Science Education at Monmouth University, opens her book by providing background and practical information about the Internet. This includes a brief history, a description of the type of resources available in the electronic age and how to access them, and a comparison of various search engines. She mentions plagiarism and provides links to citation guidelines for web documents. Web site evaluation is thoroughly discussed and an easy-to-use evaluation chart is provided. Quite a bit of attention is given to the formulation of search statements; especially the progression from general concept to specific keywords, which students should find very helpful. The biggest problems with this section are that a lot of the information is out of date and no specific citation guidelines are included.

The first part of Dussart's book covers basic principles of using computers and the Internet, such as e-mail, how to search, and how to manage files. The language is fairly technical, but concepts are well explained and clearly illustrated by diagrams and screen prints. Other strengths of this section include an excellent description of URLs -- what they mean, and how to break them down if a web address has changed or a site cannot be found. Since web sites move frequently, the inclusion of this type of information increases the useful life of this resource. Unfortunately, Dussart does not go into sufficient detail on evaluating web sites. His guidelines are general and he seems to assume that readers already have basic evaluation skills.

Dussart devotes one chapter in this section to a discussion of copyright rules and proper citation techniques. He provides guidelines on the types of information covered by copyright and a list of web sites outlining citation techniques for web-based documents, most of which are still viable. Of note is a section entitled the "Ten Commandments of Citation" which lists basic rules for citing web sites.

The most interesting part of Dussart's book is its discussion of cyber monitoring. He takes pains to point out that computers in academic and work settings are monitored, so that both what you look at and e-mail are not private. He encourages students to be aware of this and to not do anything "naughty" such as "... downloading pornography or trying to hack into the Pentagon from a network-controlled computer."

Both Dussart and Bazler include a section on biology web resources. In the Bazler book it is quite extensive-she has about 500 sites. The web sites constitute almost the whole book, especially if you consider the reference, careers, museums, and supplies sections. Dussart covers roughly the same number of sites, but not in nearly as much detail. Both authors arrange sites alphabetically by topic. Neither Dussart nor Bazler explains how they chose their sites or why they were included in the list, nor do they provide definitions of each topic. (The glossaries in each book only cover the computer technology terms.) Hierarchical arrangements of topics in Bazler's book would have made terms easier to find, especially as some of her topics are redundant (i.e., Evolution, Origin of species) and other basic topics (i.e., Zoology, Fungi, Botany) are missing.

Bazler provides detailed annotations of each site, as well as the site name, intended audience, search engine used, and key search words. The annotations are the strength of the book; they are well written and each one accurately describes the site and points out special features. Keywords relevant to each topic enable readers to conduct their own searches and build on their skills, although this might have been more effective if the keywords had been listed under each category, rather than under each individual site.

Dussart provides limited information for his sites; only the URL, date accessed and a brief annotation are provided. The major drawbacks of this section are the absence of site names and the brevity of the annotations. Site names should be included, so that if a site moves, the information can still be located. The addition of key words relating to specific topics would have made this list more useful.

Dussart also includes a list of sites chosen specifically for the school curriculum (in the UK). These sites are arranged by topic and displayed in chart form. No annotations or site titles are included and the topics are not arranged in any particular order, making it difficult to locate specific terms.

Sections on biology supplies, careers, and museums and science centers conclude Bazler's book. These sections include lists of sites arranged alphabetically. Each entry includes the site name, URL, grade level and an annotation. The navigation tips and pointers are generally helpful. The museums, science centers and summer programs section provides links to related sites, although the author never makes it clear why they are worth searching. The careers section is aimed at upper high school and college students and consists mostly of research jobs. Most of the sites are from academic institutions or professional organizations. General information such as useful keywords or locations likely to have job ads would have been useful.

Dussart concludes his book by describing several search strategies and explaining how to create bioscience assignments. The bioscience assignments section is particularly useful. Dussart clearly distinguishes between excellent and mediocre papers and gives students concrete advice for researching, writing, and preparing successful assignments. This section covers papers, practical reports, posters, and oral presentations.

The search examples are less useful. Dussart begins with a general topic and shows how to locate information on the web. Unfortunately, no time is spent on developing the search strategy so it often appears as though the searcher is moving aimlessly from one site to the next with no goal.

Although the titles of these books are similar, the content is not. Dussart is concerned with teaching readers how to integrate the Internet into the research process and how to conduct research in the biosciences. He is more focused on critical thinking and encouraging students to analyze information themselves. Dussart's book will likely be the more long-lived as it contains primarily practical, rather than site-specific information. This is an excellent resource for academic libraries.

Bazler's work is more content driven, providing sites which could be used immediately by students, school teachers, or parents. Her annotations are clear and insightful and they point out the best features of each site. Since the selected sites are aimed primarily at elementary and high school students and teachers, this book would be of most interest to school and public libraries. Student teachers would probably find it useful, as a lot of the sites had information about lesson plans and simple experiments that could be done in classroom settings. It is not especially useful for college and university libraries.

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