There are those who think that the Web is the only source of information. Want to find general information on a topic? Find a website. Ah, but how good is that information? Is it a reliable source? How about finding a newspaper article? Check online for the newspaper’s site. Okay, how about finding a magazine or a journal article? Several of those have websites and some of the articles are free to read online – if you don’t might putting up with ads.
Information is definitely available on the Open Web. However, there is also a great deal of information on the Invisible Web--what search engines can’t get to because the access is owned by proprietary databases.
There are several good free databases of information on the web, yes. Many of them are through the government, such as tax information and forms, education documents through ERIC, and medical information through PubMed and Medline Plus.
But another relatively cheap information resource is as close as your local library. As well as books (both paper and electronic), libraries provide access to databases of newspapers, magazines and journals - often both within the building and from home. Each state has a different mix of magazine, journal, and newspaper databases shared by their public, university and school libraries. In Minnesota, the shared collection is Electronic Library for Minnesota (ELM) and in Wisconsin, it's BadgerLink.
Want to read newspaper or magazine articles from the 1980s? 1960? How about the American Revolution or the Civil War? Local libraries often are great sources of regional information. Minnesota has Minnesota Reflections which provides images and documents of cultural history. My university library decided to fund the digitalization of our local town’s newspaper and make it available for free. The thought was that only people in Minnesota would be interested in what life was like in Winona from the 1800s – back when it was just a lumber town on the Mississippi River – during the Civil War and through the Vietnam War. Instead we've found people around the world have been reading the articles. It can be found at the Winona Newspaper Project.
Authors who wanted to find out how many libraries had their books used to have to go to their library to use WorldCat. Now there is a free version WorldCat.org .
When you start to research your next novel, don’t forget your local library.