Queens Library Web site helps novices search ’Net

By Courtney Dentch

For experienced computer users, searching for information on the World Wide Web can be a frustrating and sometimes fruitless endeavor.

For those just learning to navigate the Internet or those just learning to read, these searches are more often exercises in futility.

The Queens Borough Public Library is hoping a new Web site, www.firstfind.info, will change that by allowing users to search sites that have already been approved by librarians as credible and easy-to-understand sources of information.

“Firstfind is a very exciting development in library technology,” said Gary Strong, director of the Queens Library system. “The Internet is geared to people with an advanced education. Many more find it a daunting and intimidating task. It’s important to keep in mind that not everyone is at the same level.”

Firstfind, which is available to anyone with Internet access, was officially unveiled in Queens Monday at the Central Library branch in Jamaica, but the Web site has been operational since September. The site is a cooperative effort among the Queens Library, the Brooklyn Public Library and the New York Public Library, and it is spearheaded by the Westchester Library System.

Firstfind is a collection of about 700 Web sites, categorized by subject, that directs users to the information they are seeking by using topical prompts. For example, to learn more about asthma, visitors would start by clicking on the “Health” link, then “Illnesses and Diseases A – E,” then “Asthma.” The end result is a handful of Web sites that provide information on asthma.

“Firstfind will certainly become an indispensable tool for the majority of our customers,” Strong said.

Firstfind also links users to local government and community Web sites, allowing them to use what they learned on topics in other areas of the page in their everyday lives, said Mary Conwell, director of the branch libraries for the New York Public Library.

“What a find this really is for so many of our customers,” she said. “This is so well suited to help New Yorkers find the relevant information they’re looking for in a clear, easy-to-understand way.”

All the Web sites featured on firstfind have been reviewed by librarians to ensure the content is accurate, up-to-date and easy to understand, said Robin Osborne, from the Westchester Library System.

The site is also geared to novices, whether they are learning computers, English, or just to read. The Web sites on firstfind must pass a series of criteria, including comprehensible vocabulary and sentence structure, as well as simple page navigation, design and layout. Sites that were heavily commercial or had pop-up advertisements were not included, Osborne said.

Firstfind helps users get more from the Internet, and it allows librarians to extend their reference services with the technology, said Maurice Freedman, director of Westchester Library and current president of the American Library Association.

“There is so much out there,” Freedman said of the Web. “You’ve got to be able to find the information, qualify it and organize it. Without that, people are going to be lost. They won’t be able to find what they’re looking for.”

The site is also aimed at helping users, especially adults, become more literate in both computers and language, said Bruce Carmel, director of adult learning at the Queens Library.

“We just started to show it to our students,” he said. “They get very interested and excited when they see what they can do. It’s very promising.”

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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