From Ann Riedling’s chapter on geographical references sources (from the book Reference Skills for the School Library Media Specialist: Tools and Tips, 2nd Edition) I looked at two websites she recommended in the light of her evaluation criteria.
The first site was the Historical Altas of the 20th Century. When I first looked at this website I immediately dismissed it as a no go and moved on. For some reason I went back and tried to look beyond the unappealing amateurish look of the site and the fact that it had not been updated since 2004 (yes it is historical). I was trying to look for anything useful for an elementary of middle school student. I was surprised to find the General Trends maps very informative and interesting. These maps give world snapshots for every 25 years of the 20th century on themes such as living conditions, war, and population. All of these maps would be excellent discussion starters and quick reference sources.
Seeing that the site looked like a hobby or home project I checked out the FAQ section to learn about the origins of the site and the source of its information. I chuckled when I found out that the person identified themselves as “no one in particular” and someone whose “educational credentials are pretty slim” while listing his occupation as librarian. The FAQ goes on to warn that everyone should double-check the information they get from any website. He says all his information is from public sources and gives a pretty impressive bibliography. I think the FAQ file and the letters to the editor section alone are worth a visit and could serve as an excellent resource for an activity about website evaluation. With all the warnings in the FAQ about the author’s lack of educational credentials it is fascinating to read that the website maps have been published in several books and the website has been cited in at least 45 books and 80 scholarly articles.
All the above said I am quite surprised to see at tacitly recommended by Riedling since it would seem to fail some of her evaluation and selection criteria. It would not pass publisher authority due to the lack of author credentials. It would also fail her format criteria as the site is very crude with quite small print and long lists as the only method of navigating the site. These long lists along with no keyword search feature might not make this site the best indexed (another Riedling criteria). All that said I really think looking at the FAQ and letters to the editors would be extremely worthwhile to helping one grapple with the complicated nature of website evaluation and the evaluation of some reference works in particular.
Another novel website I looked at was Peakware World Relief Maps. This is not really a resource that would have a lot of curriculum connections but it shows what kind of specialized geographical resources can be developed by a community of interested users (in this case mountain climbers) and drawing on existing resources such as GoogleEarth and even Wikipedia. This resource has information on over 3600 mountain peaks around the world and gives maps, climbing information, photographs and weather information. It is well indexed and allows multiple methods for organizing information (i.e. peak name or by peak elevation) and allows for visual search by map or by index list or by keyword search. In the case of this website authority may be an issue since there are many contributors to this resource.