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AccessMyLibrary, Squidoo, Know It Now, and Wikipedia: The Four Best Free Resources on the Web

Aug 17, 2007
The other day a friend of mine was talking about Wikipedia (http://www.wikipedia.org). He had just looked up something on the site and commented, "Why is this site so awesome? I mean, seriously, have you noticed that it is really the best way to find what you're looking for?"

At first, I wasn't so sure.

I have been, admittedly, a little hesitant to jump on the Wiki-wagon. After all, what is wrong with referencing your standard, tried and trusted, online encyclopedia? For years I had sought my information from the American Heritage free online dictionary, encyclopedia, and thesaurus with abandon. What could a user-influenced site like Wikipedia possibly offer me besides error-ridden, irrelevant data?

Comments like my friend's, however, made me wonder if I was missing out on something useful. All around me, people were talking about Wiki-this and Wiki-that; could there be benefit in searching amidst editable content?

The more I got to thinking about it, the more I realized that your typical run-of-the-mill encyclopedia descriptions are maybe a little too cliche' and outdated. What users are really looking for these days isn't so much a down to the letter exhaustive write-up on the platypus, but rather an interactive approach to supplying and receiving information. Users are drawn to Wikipedia because it allows users to showcase their individual expertise and inform the general public of their vast knowledge of what-have-you.

Squidoo (http://www.squidoo.com) is another site where users are responsible for the content therein. Built on the premise that "there ought to be a way for us all to benefit from what everyone else knows," Squidoo offers users a unique way of gaining and posting information. The same appeal that applies to Wikipedia, also applies to Squidoo. Essentially, what it seems to boil down to is this: users have something to say and site-permitting, they'll say it. Allowing John Doe to give his two cents about the Ohio State Buckeyes for all to see gives others a chance to see a "real" person's viewpoint, while giving Mr. Doe a boost to the ego. Better yet, let him tag other pages or "lenses" to his heart's delight and you've got a site indexed (quite accurately) by its users and a community built on technology and common interests.

Also of note is http://www.KnowItNow.org. According to the website,

"KnowItKnow is a live online information service provided free of charge for the citizens of Ohio by the State Library of Ohio and your local public library. Professional librarians are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to answer your reference questions and assist you in finding information. Once logged on with your Ohio zip code, you and a librarian engage in a "chat" session. The librarian "pushes" high quality, authoritative online resources to your screen. You can watch and participate as librarians skillfully navigate the Internet to find precise answers to your questions. At the conclusion of each KnowItNow session, you will receive a complete transcript of your session via email including links to all the online resources shared during that session."

Although KnowItNow is only available in Ohio, several other sites of the same ilk are popping up in quite a few states. Though it is under-utilized, KnowItNow is an important resource for several reasons. For example, it lets home-bound users benefit from library services and promotes internet awareness and education for the less than tech-savvy crowd. It also serves as an indication that libraries are staying on top of evolving technology and making efforts to integrate it into the services that they offer.

Another online site that is gaining momentum is AccessMyLibrary (http://www.AccessMyLibrary.com). This site functions as an online magazine/journal library and like Squidoo and Wikipedia, AccessMyLibrary provides valuable information through the medium of the internet. With over 16 million articles (and growing), there is literally something for everyone on this site. The content ranges from the obscure (Adhesive Technology) to the vastly popular (O, the Oprah Magazine) and is, of course, free.

While its number of articles is certainly impressive, it's actually the quality of the content that is the real show-stopper for many users (i.e. Macworld, The New Yorker, Allure, Booklist, and the list goes on from there).

AccessMyLibrary has proven to be a goldmine of sought-after content. With relevant articles on worthwhile topics for all interests, its appeal is widespread.

And all the while, web users are loving it. Free content - free access - freedom of (online) speech. Fundamentally, the internet is changing for the better.
About the Author
Laura Watkins is a contributing business writer for http://ecnext.com. ECNext works exclusively with information publishers who create business news, reference data and market research and financial analyst firms who publish reports and other valuable content.
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