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Information Literacy

To be information literate, a person must be able to recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information. Information literate people are those who have learned how to learn.

Introduction to Information Needs & Resource Types

Information is found in many different types of resources. What you need will tell you what type of resource to use and how to find that information.

Know your information need

Choose and use an appropriate resource type

Find it using the right finding tool

From information need, to resource type, to finding it

I NEED ... Do you need background information or an overview of your topic to help you understand it before searching for more in-depth or focused information?

USE ... Reference Works


General Reference Works

Encyclopedias, dictionaries, annuals, almanacs, etc.
Examples: Encyclopedia Britannica, Webster's Dictionary

Specialized Reference Works

Discipline specific encyclopedias, dictionaries, annuals, almanacs, etc.
Examples: Encyclopedia of Education, Dictionary of Psychological Terms

Encyclopedias provide an excellent place to start research since they include introductory and background information. General encyclopedias address all subject areas (e.g. Encyclopedia Britannica). Subject encyclopedias address a particular subject only (e.g. Psychology, Education, Religion, Humor, etc.).

Find it! - Use the library catalog or a specialized library research database.

I NEED ... Do you need a lengthy or comprehensive treatment of your topic? Focused information on a topic placed in a broader context?

USE ... Books


Print Books

Electronic Books (ebooks)

Example: Ebooks accessed through the library catalog and read on your computer screen, ebooks downloaded onto an e-reader such as a Kindle or a Nook, books downloaded onto your computer such as Logos Bible Software, etc.

Books can be in either print format or electronic format (usually called electronic books or ebooks) and typically give a broad, thorough treatment of a subject or provide focused information within a broader context.

Find it! - Use the library catalog.

I NEED ... Do you need to find the latest research results or business news? Has your professor specifically told you to find scholarly information?

USE ... Periodicals


Popular Magazines

Popular magazines are written for the general public with the purpose of informing and entertaining. Newsweek, Time, and Rolling Stone are examples of popular magazines. Because of their easy reading style, magazines may be a good starting point in understanding a topic. They can also provide a contemporary point of view.

Popular magazine articles can be found in the print copy of the magazine, at the magazine's website, and through library research databases.



Scholarly Journals

Scholarly journals typically have articles written by authorities in the field. They may report research or provide a scholarly discussion of a topic. They usually include bibliographies. For most college level papers, you should rely more heavily on articles from scholarly journals.

Scholarly journal articles can be found in the print copy of the journal, at the publisher's website (this usually costs money), and through library research databases.




Newspapers provide accounts of current events and can show trends of public opinion. Older issues of newspapers provide a record of past ideas, problems, and events.

Newspaper articles can be found in the print copy of the newspaper, at the newspaper's website, and through library research databases.


  • Most scholarly journal articles are peer-reviewed - reviewed by experts on the topic before being accepted for publication. Some scholarly journals do not have a peer review process, but have an editorial board that reviews articles to judge their quality. Both peer review and editorial board review are indicators of high quality.
  • Periodicals are particularly useful when you need the most current information.
  • Watch a video to learn more about the difference between scholarly journals & popular magazines.

Find it! - Use library research databases like ProQuest.

I NEED ... Have you been told to include primary sources in your research?

USE ... Primary Sources


First Person Accounts (letters, diaries, etc.)

Original Creative Works (poems, novels, music, etc.)

Raw Data

Relics or Artifacts

What constitutes a primary source varies by discipline. A scholar in the humanities may use a newspaper photograph or a poem as a primary source while a scientist might use data from an experiment or an artifact from an archaeological dig. Also, note the difference between primary sources and secondary sources.  Secondary sources comment upon, explain, or interpret primary sources. They may include scholary books, journal and magazine articles, encyclopedias, dictionaries, biographies, reviews, and textbooks.


Watch a video to learn more about this type of resource and how they differ from secondary resources.

Click to play Tutorial Title Here tutorial

Find it! - Use primary resource collections or indexes like In the First Person or the Library of Congress American Memory project.

I NEED ...  Do you need supporting statistics or data?

USE ... Government Documents



Census Data

Laws and Regulations

Consumer Information


Much more ...

Government publications are issued by local, state, national, or international governments. Government information includes laws, regulations, statistics, consumer information, and much more. Government information is generally considered to be reliable. Many government publications are available through government websites.

Find it! - Good places to start are Google Uncle Sam Search, or State Government. If you know the title of the government document, use an Internet Search Engine to search for the title of the document.