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Information Literacy

Broadly defined, information literacy refers to the ability to "recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information" (American Library Association 1989). More specifically, information literacy refers to the ability to:

  • "Determine the extent of information needed
  • Access the needed information effectively and efficiently
  • Evaluate information and its sources critically
  • Incorporate selected information into one’s knowledge base
  • Use information effectively to accomplish a specific purpose
  • Understand the economic, legal, and social issues surrounding the use of information, and access and use information ethically and legally" (ACRL 2000).

Understand how to search for books, journals, government documents, and media that you can access through your college or university library.

You can hunt for information on your topic by consulting the library catalog. In many modern libraries, the bulky file drawers containing 3 x 5-inch cards have been replaced by computer terminals. Regardless of how the information is stored, all library catalogs list books and other materials owned by the library. The other materials might be videos, sound recordings, government documents, journals both print and electronic, and perhaps even some well-chosen web sites and electronic books.

As you progress throughout college and into your professional life, it’s going to become increasingly important to remember what you read. You might say, “Well, it was important for me to remember what I read in high school, because I was tested on the material and even had pop quizzes.” But that’s a different type of reading—you were reading to take a test or quiz, so you remembered the material temporarily. Do you still remember things you read in high school? How can you change the way you read now, in college, so that going forth you will be able to retain the things you learn from others’ writings? By annotating the margins of what you read, you can become a more active reader.

Search magazine articles, research reports, journal articles, and abstracts published in magazines, newspapers, and scholarly journals.

Magazines, newspapers, and scholarly journals provide contemporary material that is often on very narrow topics. Magazines are written in a more popular style and aimed at a general audience. The term "journals" is used for scholarly research publications. (Librarians use the term "periodicals" to include both magazines and journals.) Often journals are peer-reviewed, which means that the articles are read by a number of scholars in the field before being approved for publication.


Web searching can appear deceptively simple. Type just about anything into the search box and the search engine will return results—probably thousands of them. This leads to both frustration and complacency: many users understand themselves to be proficient searchers at the same time that they struggle with large quantities of irrelevant results.

Search engines make available a great variety of tools that can improve search precision.

Consult librarians when in doubt about where to obtain information.

Sometimes people are embarrassed about asking for help in using the library; they feel as if they should know how to use the library once they get into college. However, librarians are information technology specialists who are employed by colleges and universities to serve as research mentors. Information technologies are radically transforming research processes and even well-published professors commonly seek help from librarians.

 Use encyclopedias and dictionaries to research and develop a focused analysis about your question or topic.

The first step in any writing project is determining a specific topic. To help narrow your topic, you may find it useful to gather some general background information. This process can help you locate some valuable sources to consult. To obtain a few essential facts and to gain a sense of the "dialogue" that is transpiring among scholars and researchers about your topic, try consulting general encyclopedias and dictionaries or, if appropriate, specialized encyclopedias and dictionaries.

Review research reports, pamphlets, or statistics published by the Government Printing Office (GPO).

You may find it useful to discover whether the United States Government Printing Office (GPO) has published any research reports, pamphlets, or statistics on your subject. The GPO, along with the United Nations organizations, prints countless essays, pamphlets and research studies on the law, history, and such everyday subjects as growing herb gardens.

Understanding URLs table available in full article.