By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 1997, The Syracuse Newspapers
What's the best Web site you've ever visited? My vote goes to Margaret Vail Anderson's superbly indexed site, "Digital Librarian," at http://www.servtech.com/public/mvail/.
"Digital Librarian" has no frames, no Java, no images, no background music and not a single banner ad. What is does have is a collection of thousands of intelligently organized links to the most useful Web sites in the world.
Yahoo! (http://www.yahoo.com/) used to be that way until it turned into a Yuppie gathering place. What Anderson does better than Yahoo! and all the other index sites is clear as soon as you start browsing her lists: Nearly all the links, once you get past the master category list on the main page, are annotated. Sometimes the annotation merely lists the author of the site, especially where the name of the site provides enough information, and sometimes the annotation is detailed.
Because the descriptions are done by an intelligent human rather than by a robotic computer program, they convey both information and insight. Here are two examples—one from the "Mythology" section and one from the "Search Tools" page:
"Norse Mythology Web Page—Nicole Cherry's site includes sections on gods and goddesses, creation, nine Norse Worlds, Ragnarok (Norse doomsday), comparisons between The Saga of the Volsungs and The Nibelungenlied, and links to other resources."
"HotBot—Wired Magazine search engine allows you to limit by date, location and media type, and gives up to 100 results per screen. Provides a form to add URLs as well as a detailed and helpful FAQ page. Although HotBot claims to update its entire Web index every two weeks, experience has proved this not to be the case."
Anderson's main category list is heavy on the research side, as you'd expect from a librarian's perspective, but it includes many classifications you'd have a hard time finding elsewhere. You'll see an immediate link to a Native American site index, one to an index of Marine Sciences sites and another to a list of sites specializing in Judaica, for example. Also on the master list are indexes for Consumer Resources, Movies, Parenting, Railroads and Waterways, Statistics and dozens of others. (The main category list numbered nearly 100 the last time I visited the site.)
You'll also see links to a New York State index and a Central New York index. They are on the main page in tribute to Anderson's roots—she is also a "real" librarian in Cortland, south of Syracuse—and are perhaps the best ways to locate information and lore about the state and the CNY region.
A treat for local history buffs is a new link in the Central New York index that leads to a pamphlet originally published in Syracuse in 1969. It's an account of the discovery of the Cardiff Giant, a stone figure of what was claimed to be an ancient man, long buried in a field in southern Onondaga County. It turned out to be one of the most famous hoaxes in all of science.