The chapters in this book were first published as columns in "Internet Express" and retain this stand-alone quality. What brings them together is the personality of the author and this comes through in a most engaging way. Her approach is individual, entertaining and fun, unlike so many how-to books on this topic. The book is American in bias but there are a range of sources and what really counts is the enthusiasm which this books encourages in the reader. Before becoming an information professional, the author was a comedienne and theatre director and maybe this explains her highly interactive approach.
The breadth of the topics covered is vast - from using the Internet as a reference tool to teaching related skills. All the wisdom gathered in here is based on the author's practical experience at the reference desk of a public library. However, it would be wrong to assume that this is a book for those working in public libraries, or even for librarians alone. There is something for everyone - it is simply an indispensable and wonderful reference tool. Its approach and the energy of the author can inspire even the most seasoned Internet user and there is so much to learn.
The author sets her objectives clearly: "to offer you, in an easily digestible format, some of the lessons I have learned using the Web at work and at play". The chapters are not simply lists of sites with comments, there are opinions, stories and gems of information you didn't even know you wanted to hear, but you do. A good librarian always tries to include this extra bit of knowledge, not always entirely relevant, but a pity to waste.
There are chapters on searching and meta-searching; using the web to find people, news, quality reference, sites for kids, full text, medical, financial and shopping information. It is all there, side by side, with common-sense advice on how to approach a search and what is a 'reasonable' time to devote to it. There are stories about the author's family and friends but they do not dilute the text, just make it more readable. The author tells us how to evaluate pages, how to register a domain name, and how to cover up our tracks.
There are general resources and portals for the humanities, social sciences, economics and politics, business, law and science, engineering and medicine. She also covers full-text sources including literature, non-fiction and even the psychology of shopping.
Librarians have views on everything: access, use policy, system security, multimedia use, privacy, censorship, and the Web debate has just made them more vocal. There are resources listed that we know and like, but never quite understood why they work so well. Irene McDermott explains why. There are those we never even thought we needed but she persuades us we do and we will be going back to them.
The last six chapters cover teaching clients about the Internet and are suitable for both those who believe in supporting users for self-help and those who like more traditional approaches to user education. The chapter on web page creation is encouraging to the beginner and provides tips on everything from editing to use of colour and even a glimpse of Unix especially for librarians. There are tips on how to keep up to date. and on troubleshooting. The advice is simple, straightforward and always full of this librarians-can-do-anything attitude. There are even ideas on how to clean up your mouse and keyboard without putting them in the dishwasher.
When a colleague of mine saw the book on my desk, he remarked that he never understood why people write about the Web, since everything is so transient. To me that seems as obvious as asking why people write about politics. My answer is - because they feel passionately about an issue and need to share their views and because what comes tomorrow very much depends on what happens today. There is a lot of stability on the Web and good sites remain where they were yesterday and in the meantime might have become even more exciting.
As any book which covers a wide range of topics, this one only scratched the surface. The author is the first to admit that as she agrees that the only constant on the Internet is change. Nevertheless, this is as good a start to the subject as any I have seen in some time.