In his most recent work, The Future of History (2012), historian John Lukacs listed his predictions and concerns for history in the digital age. In particular, he has concern for the ease of access to sources, stating,
There are entire “data banks” where important things, including the very existence of certain books or articles or other materials, are absent–and will continue being absent. Of this many (if not most) people using computers are ignorant (consider only students relying on texts or quotes or references from computers for stuffing these into their papers). (152-153)
While many of us benefit from the ease of access on the Internet, Lukacs concludes,
“Retrievable” and “reliable” are not the same things; and what, after having pressed some buttons, appears on the computer screen is not necessarily “real.” (153)
I would add that what appears on the computer screen is not necessarily complete.
For these reasons, students, especially those pursuing online education, must be prepared to venture away from their computers in search of sources. The locations will include places such as libraries, used bookstores, museums, archives, conferences, and battlefields to list a few.
At a minimum, students without access to these should take advantage of interlibrary loans. Never accept a book’s lack of accessibility on the Internet. Find a way to get access to what you need.
The important thing to remember is that although you may be pursuing a degree online, your learning should not be limited to what is accessible online. Instead, use the Internet to learn about all sorts of sources and then figure out how to access them.
Online Learning Tips, Student Contributor