Anyone who has ever used the Internet has a favorite search device. This may be a search engine like Lycos, a subject directory/search engine like Yahoo or one of the newer devices such as AskJeeves or Google. There are even more integrated devices like Guru that work from your desktop or word processor.
Search devices cover several of Barzun's categories. They can provide access to handbooks/guides, indexes to periodicals, atlases, chronologies and biographical information. They have the limiting factor of usually accessing only public information. That is, they will not provide access to what are referred to as subscription databases or utilities.
While some devices serve as resources themselves, providing a direct link to news, it must be clear by now that the primary function of a search device is the same that of an index. In this case these devices serve as indexes to the world's largest reference tool, the internet. How effective they are depends to some extent on the researcher. It has become extremely difficult to keep up with the changes in these resources. For this reason it is useful to know and check some of the subject pages devoted to search tools.
As noted above, most devices will only access information that is freely available on the web. Subscription databases and their contents will only be available through an individual institution's access point. Such services would include resources such as OCLC, MLA, PAIS, and Ebooks.
For Eastern Europe there is a complicating factor of language and alphabet. For the computer this will translate as font and keyboard. In order to search for information in the vernacular language it is often necessary to search using the diacritics or alphabet of that language. If this is not done valuable information will never be found. There are excellent lists of vernacular search tools available. Using them requires that you set the fonts and keyboards appropriately for the language involved. How this is done will vary from platform to platform and operating system version to version. Once accomplished it can be an invaluable aid in finding information not only on current events but on identifying contacts in various countries.
Search engines are also useful for current information if you are looking for texts on a subject. They are an excellent source for identifying quotations, finding current maps, current newspaper articles, and encyclopedic information.
However, because they are not an "edited" source in the way most scholars are used to, they require particular care in evaluation. If you cannot identify the compiler or author of the site, you use the information running the risk of damaging your professional reputation or worse.