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Information Literacy Tutorial

The World of Information

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The World of Information

We live in the Information Age. Traditional methods of publishing and broadcasting information, in combination with the worldwide network of networks we call the Internet, make it possible for information to be generated, transmitted, and used at an unprecedented rate. The challenge today is for those who need a particular piece of information to be able to find it in the vast supply that is available to us all.

Defining an Information Need

The best way to begin a search for information is to define your information need. You may want to ask yourself, "What kind of information do I need?" You may need an overview, a comprehensive search of research on a topic, a quick reference to a fact, or an in-depth treatment. Once you decide what type of information you need, you can select a source that will be likely to have the information or plan a search strategy that will include several types of sources.

Information Types

Following are some information types that are particularly useful for academic purposes, such as research papers and speeches:

Encyclopedias provide information that is general, but brief. They provide an excellent place to start research.
Books typically give a broad, thorough treatment of a subject, usually from a retrospective point of view.
Periodicals generally provide information that is in-depth and focused, usually from a contemporary point of view.
Primary sources present information in its original form, whether it be a work of literature or art or an account of an event.
Government publications provide all of the types of information mentioned above (general, broad, focused, contemporary). This information is stored in government-produced reference sources, books, and periodicals.
The Internet provides access to the full range of information types, stored in networked computers around the world.

Finding Aids
Research Databases and Library Catalogs are comparable to fine department stores, where items of good quality, such as books and scholarly journal articles, are carefully selected, organized, and displayed in a way that makes it easy to find what you need.
Bibliographies are lists of citations or references pertaining to a particular subject. Found at the end of a book or article, bibliographies often include the most relevant and important sources.

Understanding Citations

Whether you are searching for information in indexes and bibliographies or citing sources in your own paper, you need to understand the conventions for documenting sources ranging from scholarly works to interviews. A bibliographic citation or reference should provide all the essential elements of information about the source to enable anyone to track it down. This includes the author, title, source and date of publication.

2006 Carrier Library, James Madison University. Used by permission.