University of Utah Library Guides
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Writing 2010 Library & Research Guide

What is information?

What Is Information? How Is It Organized?

So, What Is Information?

Well, in human terms and in the broadest sense, information is anything that you are capable of perceiving. This can include written communications, spoken communications, photographs, art, music, nearly anything that is perceivable. This really includes an enormous assortment of stimuli, but, realistically, everything you come in contact with is capable of providing and does provide you with some sort of information. So you are essentially a minute organism afloat in a sea of information.

For this course, and for the academic climate in which you are now situated, you'll focus on information as materials that have been stored in one manner or another that can educate you to a better understanding of your world. Information, then, is anything that can be documented in any form that can then be referred to later as means to understanding and to building new information. This course, for example, provides you with information that will help you to find, sort through, and interpret other information. In short, you have quite an undertaking ahead of you, since there is so much information to be had.

How Is Information Organized?

If you consider information in the sense of anything that stimulates the senses, then you won't necessarily find any organization. Your experience of the world may have some organization to it in that you plan trips and relationships and other daily activities, but you still have little control over what information you will receive even with the best planning and even in the most controlled environments. Even people living under restrictive political systems receive information that they are not supposed to receive. That's just the way things work. Information is one thing that no one has ever figured out how to kill.

If you examine information in terms of this course and academia, then you can limit your focus and find patterns of organization for most of the information that you will need to find and use.

Traditionally, in libraries, information was contained in books, periodicals, newspapers, and other types of recorded media. It was accessible through a library's catalog and with the assistance of indexes, in the case of periodical and newspaper articles. Much of this is still true, but the means by which you discover organization have changed. You no longer consult a card catalog for information about a library's collection of information. You no longer have to consult a printed "Reader's Guide" for information on where to find articles about a certain subject. Most of these previously time-consuming tasks have been sped up by computerized "information systems." You still can find information stored in libraries, and it is very well organized. You still can find information stored in periodicals, newspapers, and other media, and these sources of information have their own systems of organizatiion. The problem for most researchers is not that the information doesn't exist in a library or in a journal or in a magazine or in a motion picture, but that they have yet to discover the organizing principles that are designed to help them find the information they need.

For library materials, the organizing principle is a detailed subject classification system available for searching in an online "catalog." For journal articles, the organizing mechanism is typically an online indexing and/or abstracting system that allows researchers to access information by subject or by some other scheme. For newspaper articles, the organizing mechanism is typically an online indexing and/or abstracting system that allows researchers access in a variety of means. The one thing common to all of these access systems is organization. People, experts in their fields, have taken the time and trouble to organize access to all the stored information that they can get their hands on in order to make it searchable and accessible to other people. In short, accessing good information is not just as simple as pointing your browser to Google or Yahoo. Computers can help you to organize information and can even automate indexing and cataloging, but in most library and research database systems accesses to information are ultimately created by other people. In short, finding information deliberately rather than serendipitously relies on many people describing myriad bits of information in a systematic manner that can be addressed consistently in an organized system.

Fortunately for researchers, this organizing drive has been characteristic of people throughout history. History, itself, is something people have created and kept, hopefully as a means for teaching future people what to do and what not to do. So, when you click your mouse on a resource on the Internet and think that it is soooooo wonderful, keep in mind that it is even more wonderful than you can imagine, but that there are also even better ways to find reliable information than just following any link that anyone happens to stick on the Internet.

Yes, you can find a myriad sources of information online for free, but many of the materials that you can really count on are not freely available, so you need to rely on organization and cataloging and indexing to take advantage of those "heavy duty" sources. And you can rely on libraries to continue to provide you with materials that you may never be able to access freely on the Internet. Information and organizing information is what libraries are about.

(This content is published entirely courtesy of a long-gone page from 2009 at the University of North Florida in their first-year course LIS 1001--Beginning Library & Information Systems Strategies. None of this content is owned by this author. It is owned entirely by UNF.) 

Research: Learning how to begin research and use librarians to your benefit

This video made by librarians at the Chapman Learning Commons at the University of British Columbia is a fantastic resource that details all of the elements and avenues that you will employ as you embark on your research projects.

The supply necessary tips that speak directly to the assignment at hand in order to make the best use of your time and energy.  This is very useful so that you may develop strategies, which will reduce confusion and feeling lost.  Too often, we begin simply jumping into the research and writing without examining what the exact parameters are surrounding the assignment and what is expected of us to produce.

You may skip over a tiny bit that offers their own ways to contact them, but I provide this information on the first page of this guide.

Please don't ever hesitate to speak with your librarians.  We walk this journey with you from the moment you begin.

Research is a conversation. So, sitting with your librarian while working through each step of the research process and conversing about ideas during active, current needs research through the various research tools will help you scaffold your learning and research application skills over time.

Where do you get help at the Marriott LIbrary?

Since the library page can feel like a maze, I have made a short video for you to see where all of the help is located on our page.

You can always call or drop in at the Knowledge Commons desk to ask questions, but sometimes we need help that goes beyond that initial contact.

Marriott Library Eccles Library Quinney Law Library