2) What is Research?
3) Choosing a Topic
4) Determine Sources of Information
5) Develop Search Strategy
Introduction to Libraries
"Information" seems to be everywhere these days. New books fill up the bookstores; there are large numbers of new magazines crowding the racks with the old familiar titles - and then there's the Web. The number of useful (and not useful, but possibly entertaining) web sites is infinite.
Every day, we all need to find answers to questions or problems. The solution may be as easy as finding the phone book - but often our answers will require more work. Often we will need to gather information, analyze and assess it, organize it in a way that makes it useful to us, and then incorporate it into a project at school, at work, or at home.
How can we find the following?
- tools and resources
- trained professional assistance
- organized collections of data
- access to technology and telecommunications links
Libraries and the World of Information
Libraries connect information seekers with the information they want in deliberate, organized methods. Libraries are still the place where information and data in a wide variety of formats (print, audio, video, digital) is gathered together so that people can sort through and find the specific items or knowledge they're looking for. Even when it comes to Web-based information, libraries have begun to develop the most useful bookmarks (lists) of "best sites."
The library has been the storehouse for recorded information since the dawn of writing. The role of the library has changed little since it housed the first clay tablets. Then, as now, it had three main functions: to collect, to organize, and to make available its collection. Someone once said that the library's mission was to collect all of humankind's graphic records. Certainly the writers of the popular Star Trek series felt this way - each futuristic starship has a computerized library of all known information (and not just Earth's). Even in today's high tech world such an endeavor would exceed the capabilities of any library. However, libraries do collect and make available large quantities of organized information, and libraries provide a structured access to the newest electronic types of information.
Of course, people go to libraries for any number of additional reasons - to copy something, to read today's paper, to relax and check on new books, or just to meet a friend. In libraries, college students also use reserved items to complete assignments required for classes and find a place designed to support concentrated study efforts.
How is the Library Organized?
The good news about libraries is that they're all put together pretty much the same way. Obviously, working in in a university library of over eight million volumes is much different than working in a community college library of 100,000 items, or a public library of 45,000 books. But libraries everywhere take the same basic approach to the world of information.
Libraries collect multiple types of information resources:
- reference books
- magazines and newspapers
- online magazine and newspapers
- computer software
- online databases
- collections of objects including models and samples
- miscellaneous groups of things
Libraries use several organization approaches to physically arrange or otherwise group materials and resources:
- subject arrangement (books, reference books)
- alphabetical arrangement (magazines and newspapers)
- consecutive number arrangement (special small collections)
- finding lists (Web "best sites" lists)
Libraries create, obtain and/or purchase searching or access tools:
- online catalog or old paper card catalog including books, reference books, video and audio recordings
- magazine and newspaper print indexes
- magazine and newspaper online indexes
- online indexing and abstracting tools for databases
A few years ago, most of the information in libraries was published in print format. In other words, libraries housed books, magazines, journals, newspapers and other types of information printed on paper. Today, information is available in a variety of formats. And libraries are now designed to provide access to information not stored within the library's own four walls. But the basics still apply: collection, organization, and access tools. That is why libraries are critical to the person who needs information.
What It Really Means to Use a Library
There is no "silver bullet" to most information searches. Each user will have to go through a process involving:
- identifying the information needed
- identifying the best library equipped to provide it
- identifying the best kind of source (current magazine, reference book, book, database or web site)
- identifying the best access tool or tools to use to identify a particular source item
- examining the data and information found
- repeating the steps of the process until enough information is acquired
Most library users are novices - occasional library users who are inexperienced and who have not needed to be aware of the research process. Most library users have not really thought about how the library is organized even though they are aware that the online catalog is something different. And most have not really needed to explore the new online indexes, full-text resources and other databases now available.
Users who are aware of the research process and who have used it to find information are "information competent" (sometimes also called "information literate"). The more you use a particular library or collection of tool, the better your results will be, of course. But knowing how any library is organized and how to sort out its resources and tools into appropriate "chunks" will save you time, reduce the stress level, and most importantly get you the information you are looking for. Today's Information Society requires you to become an information navigator. Learning to use a library skillfully will help make that happen.