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Information Salvation

There's a lot of information to be found on the Internet; my friend Julie Madsen, for example, just wrote to tell me that Paris Hilton did, in fact, actually trademark the phrase "That's Hot!" But is that going to help you in making a decision about the fate of your city, state, country and the world at large? No (hopefully). You need information about the upcoming election--hard facts, up-to-date statistics and useful insights about the issues and candidates involved; but whom can you turn to for assistance? What bastion of credibility remains in this all-spin, all-the-time zone? Who will throw you a rope as you flounder in a smelly swamp of recycled soundbites and confusing polls? Answer: The same people who took your hand and led you out of the fourth-grade fog of I-have-a-book-report-due-next-week panic; or the not-so-different college fog of I-have-a-term-paper-due-tomorrow terror--librarians. They were there for you then and they're there for you now, with an hour-long presentation of the best sources for online election information, scheduled for noon Thursday, Oct. 21, at the Joel D. Valdez Main Library; 101 N. Stone Ave.

Librarians Mary Ann O'Neil and John Howley will run the event. "We're both such political geeks," says O'Neil; "we just love talking about these things."

The presentation is yet another installment of the library's Brown Bag Lunch Series, which takes place at noon on the third Thursday of each month and to which attendees are invited to actually bring food and drink into the library. (When's the last time you got away with that? A serious thrill for a Thursday afternoon.)

"The series is really intended to focus on the staff and resources of the main library," says O'Neil. "We're really good at inviting other people to speak, providing them with a place to talk, that we don't always get around to promoting ourselves. We (at the library) have all these talented, smart people and great resources, but not a lot of time to market them. The Brown Bag series is just a little peek at what we consider our most valuable resources."

This idea for this particular Brown Bag event came about because O'Neil and Howley "are spending so much time on the Internet answering so many questions that have to do with the election, voting, the political process, all of that, that we thought it would be nice to collect everything, make some picks, organize them and make them simpler for people," O'Neil says.

"We're really happy about the number of people who have called us asking about registration, just thrilled. The library is a distribution place of registration forms and it's just a thrill to see them disappear; it's really exciting for us. But we're still getting lots of questions about procedure, the Constitution, the Electoral College, district maps, 'why is this question on my ballot,' that sort of thing. So we're trying to present both official government sites like county, state and federal sites, plus places where they can monitor the results as they appear, and places where they can get candidate and initiative information. We're trying to be objective; although a lot of our sites are federal, there are also other clearly marked sources of information."

Their criteria for selecting the sites? "Ease of use," says O'Neil, "and the value of the content."

To those who initially thought that the Internet heralded the end to librarians (and perhaps to libraries in general)--ha.

"We love the Internet," O'Neil laughs. "It's a really fabulous way to disseminate information, but we're finding that it's overwhelming to people. There's too much, and they do need to use good critical skills to find reliable and credible sites. They have to be able to use the same skills they use to evaluate any other source of information. It's interesting, because we thought maybe this (the Internet) would take some of the traffic off of us, but in fact it just increased people's expectations. We get a lot of requests from people who have exhausted their Web skills and can't find what they need. People who are very sophisticated at using the Web don't realize that their search engine is not always going to give them what they want; they aren't going to be able to get the sort of filtered information that's already been organized in a good way.

"I really do think it (information) should be available easily and quickly, and sometimes people need a little help with where they're looking or searching; sometimes they need a whole new research strategy."

For more information about this free event, call Mary Ann O'Neil at 791-2647.

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