Syracuse University School of Information Studies (iSchool) Professor R. David Lankes is among the recipients of a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation award for the pilot development stage of a project to create a more credible web search experience that will benefit the community and librarians alike.

“Web searchers get to tap into the incredible skill and knowledge of the library community, while librarians will be able to serve users on a whole new scale,” said Lankes, who also serves as director of the M.S. in Library and Information Science program and the Information Institute of Syracuse.

Lankes will work with researchers from the University of Washington Information School, the non-profit computer library service and research organization Online Computer Library Center (OCLC), and professional web services firm Zepheira LLC to create a “credibility engine” system known as Reference Extract.

“The best search engines are great for basic search, but sometimes the web site results lack credibility in terms of trust, accuracy, and reliability,” said Mike Eisenberg, Dean Emeritus and Professor at the Information School of the University of Washington, Syracuse iSchool Ph.D. alumnus, and a lead on the project. “If a librarian recommends a web site, you can be pretty sure that it’s credible.

The goal of Reference Extract is to help users find credible information in the digital age. Unlike traditional web search engines that only represent the type of relationship wherein one web page links to another, Reference Extract is designed to capture web site URLs and references that librarians and other experts use in answering questions. This information, including data used to determine the most credible resources, is harvested, processed, and then made available through a variety of web environments, allowing information to be embedded into existing web sites.

“Reference Extract will take hundreds of thousands of librarian recommendations and use them to help indicate to end users which site is credible,” Eisenberg said. “We’re extremely fortunate to have the MacArthur Foundation’s support bringing together the right team to start to actively develop and showcase this work.”

The MacArthur Foundation has been funding the research and planning of Research Extract since November 2008 and will continue to fund the project as it moves into the pilot development stage.

“The only way this will work is by making a project of an entire community,” said Lankes, adding that the experience, skills, and knowledge of librarians will be used like never before.

For example, QuestionPoint, an OCLC virtual reference service supported by a global network of cooperating libraries and an infrastructure of software tools and communications with more than 6 million reference transactions and 10,000 participating librarians was a starting point for the service.

The researchers and developers are expected to have initial practical analysis and models of the search engine to share with the community in early 2011. Details can be found through the Reference Extract home page at

In addition to his role as  professor and director of the LIS program, and the Information Institute of Syracuse, Lankes is a co-founder of the award-winning AskERIC project and founder of Virtual Reference Desk project responsible for building a national network of education expertise. He is a passionate advocate for libraries and their essential role in today’s society, and seeks to understand how information approaches and technologies can be used to transform industries. In this capacity, he has served on advisory boards and study teams in the fields of libraries, telecommunications, education, and transportation, including at the National Academies. Lankes holds a BFA in multimedia designs, an MS in telecommunications and a Ph.D., all from Syracuse University. He is a member of the iSchool’s Board of Advisors.