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Q&A
Madhavi Acharya

Where can I get smart answers to stupid questions?

 
Sources Publisher Barrie Zwicker

Of course, there's no such thing as a dumb question.

But why take chances when help may be only a few key-board strokes away.

Learn2.com (www.learn2.com) understands that common sense is not so common.

Need to know how to darn a sock, clean your bathroom or set a table?

The Web site explains each with step-by-step instructions, usually with helpful diagrams. Other tutorials include how to lease a car, pack for a business trip of balance a chequebook.

Go Ask Alice (www.goaskalice.columbia.edu) is a site developed by Columbia University that focuses on health, sexuality and relationship questions.

The Y? National Forum on People's Differences (www.y.forum.com) tackles thornier questions about race relations and ethnicity. People are encouraged to “ask people from ethnic or cultural backgrounds the questions you've always been too embarrassed or uncomfortable to ask them.”

We also asked Barrie Zwicker, publisher of Sources, a Canadian general reference publication, to share a few information searching tips.

While it’s often difficult to find Canadian sources of information on the Internet, Zwicker says, of the search engines he’s tried, he usually gets the best results using Yahoo.

Most of the federal government Web sites are good, he adds. Provincial ones are also a good resource, but he finds they tend to vary in their depth and user-friendliness.

But as any credible researcher will tell you, “your local public library is perhaps the first and best resource for anyone. And they deserve support in these days of general privatizing and stripping away of government services,” Zwicker says.

He is also a fan of the Metro Toronto Reference Library’s Intellisearch service.

Intellisearch offers searches of more than 1.5 million books, 450 commercial online databases, annual reports, business directories, more than 6,000 periodicals, 250 newspaper titles, the Internet, city directories from all over the world, Statistics Canada publications and federal government documents.

Research fees are $20 for 15 minutes and document charges are extra. Staff can usually get started on a search within 24 to 48 hours.

“I've used them a couple of times because I wanted to find information and test them out at the same time,” Zwicker says. “I found they were really quick and friendly.”

Once you get the information you need, the next step is making sure it is reliable, he adds.

“All people at all times should be skeptical of the information they receive, whether it comes at them in broadcast form or whether they've sought it out.”

But the Internet has other potential pitfalls. People or organizations may not be easily accountable for the information they've posted because “they're in other jurisdictions, they don't give their right name, or Web sites come and go,” he adds.

“People shouldn't be panicky about information they find on the Internet, but I think extra caution is called for, that's all.”


June 26, 1998


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