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E&H Library News

Information Literacy : A helpful guide for students doing research 

by Adam Alley on 2020-07-23T12:20:24-04:00 | Comments


Information literacy is a complex subject. Ask any librarian. As a student, many instructional classes seem only to briefly delve into the importance of information literacy, how to develop this literacy as a student, how to use this literacy in projects and papers assigned by their professor, and how to continue practicing, honing, and fine-tuning these skills. There certainly is a lot to learn when working with information literacy! During my own research into this topic there were several themes, ideas, and concepts of information literacy that I was constantly running in to: (1) information literacy is valuable; (2) information literacy is a necessity; (3) information literacy takes practice; (4) information literacy cannot be covered only in a one-and-done, hour-long class (hence this post and more to come!); and finally, the primary focus of this post (5) there is a growing list of terminology associated with the development and practice of information literacy skills. For the next few minutes take a look at the definitions below, look at each word being defined. You will see a number of these terms throughout your studies, vying for your attention. Here’s a little secret: Many of these terms will follow you in your daily lives even after your time as a student, in your careers, even the mundane and each will continue to prove useful as you continue to ask questions and search for answers! 


Defining information literacy:

Have I mentioned that it is a complex subject? You can locate all the articles you want, ask any librarian or any other information professional and the definition of information literacy is going to vary (to be clear variety is not a bad thing, in fact, as you will experience when you write research papers, various perspectives, various interpretations fuel our understanding of information, current and historic events, and the world around us). The ACRL Framework (2016), an influential set of standards that are used worldwide to teach information literacy, provide this great definition:

“Information literacy is the set of integrated abilities encompassing the

reflective discovery of information, the understanding of how information is

produced and valued, and the use of information in creating new knowledge

and participating ethically in communities of learning.”

It sounds simple, right? Maybe? Let’s take another look. 

Information literacy is a learned set of skills. Check.

These skills are used for finding information. Check.

These skills are used when evaluating information. Check. 

That evaluation includes determining its value, its authority, and its accuracy. Check. Check, right? Bear with me, we have almost made it.

These skills are used in the process of information creation (be it that paper you are working on or that story you were thinking about writing). Check.

These skills will prepare you for sharing and disseminating your work and will also prove useful for building connections with other researchers, users, and communities that are interested in the same or similar topics.

It's a lot, isn’t it? Don’t let that scare you though. During your time at E&H, you will come to find that you have already encountered many of these skills or will soon. A bit of advice: practice, practice, practice. Practice researching. Practice searching. Practice evaluating resources. Practice organizing your findings. Practice writing. You won’t regret it. 


Defining the library: 

Have you ever tried to catch air, hold water, count the number of stars in the sky? Try defining a library, it can prove just as difficult a feat. That may be an extreme example, but I think you get my point. So, why is it difficult to nail down a single definition for the library? Because the library isn’t just a storage place for books, it is a constantly changing, ever-evolving information organism. Libraries can and have proven to be SO much more than any of us could have dreamed. Yeah, that;s nice, but why does that matter? Because the library can open you up to well...literally the entire world (seriously!). So no matter where you are, check out your local library, the possibilities within could be endless!

The following is one of my favorite definitions of what libraries are (or strive to be):

“Libraries are places of inclusion. Everyone is welcome in libraries. We help anyone who comes through our doors and our websites, regardless of whether they are members of our primary community or not. We provide assistance and information to all—usually without an appointment and always without charging any direct cost. This makes libraries the rarest of institutions in today’s society—places that are open and welcoming for everyone“ (Sosulski & Tyckoson, 2018).

Want to hear how the Library staff at E&H define the library? Check out this previous blog post highlighting what kinds of services you can expect from the library and its staff! 


Different types of sources: 

When working on a research project or paper, you might be required to use different types of resources. Most items that you will be using in the searching and gathering stages of your research will fall into one of the following categories: Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary. If you haven’t already had a chance to look through the newest, 9th edition of A Writer’s Reference also known as the Hacker Guide or Hacker, whether you are in the middle of a research project or just beginning, take a look at it. It provides a great deal of information that will aid you in your work (there is a section devoted to the research process, including how to evaluate resources (Hacker, 2018, p.327-360), that you will NOT want to pass up). It is from within this section that I pulled the following definitions for primary and secondary sources.

Primary sources

Taken directly from the A Writer’s Reference a primary source “include[s] original documents such as letters, diaries, films, legislative bills, laboratory studies, field research reports, and eyewitness accounts” (Hacker, 2018). In other words, a primary source was written/created by someone who was THERE. 

Secondary sources

Returning to Hacker, “Secondary sources are commentaries on primary sources” (2018). These sources are written AFTER an event, topic, or subject has occurred. These sources take the information discovered in primary sources along with the “opinions...or interpretation[s]” of whomever is studying and writing on that primary source and combine the two. Secondary sources are books, works, and creations that use primary sources for influence, inspiration, and information and are typically focused on providing a new interpretation, or new approach, to a particular first-hand account (primary source). 

Tertiary sources

While you will typically hear the terms “primary & secondary sources” tossed about more often, tertiary sources are great to use, especially when you are first starting a research project, if you are wanting to learn more about your topic, or if you want a general list of primary and secondary sources to start your research. You can also find a number of useful keywords, phrases, names, and dates that will benefit your searches in the Library’s Catalog and OneSearch and any database searches you perform. Okay, so what are? A tertiary source is “a selection , distillation, summary or compilation of primary sources, secondary sources, or both.” You have encountered them before: dictionaries, encyclopedias, indexes, Oh My! 

Additional useful definitions:


Nowadays anyone can create information. How awesome is that? It's a little unnerving, too, let’s be honest. This is why you should always be mindful of the information you are using. Authority “refer[s] to the relative credibility and expertise of the creator(s) of a source” (ALA, 2018)  Who wrote that book? Where did that article come from? Do a little research on the person who created the information you are wanting to use. Do they work in the field of study you are currently researching? Have they published other materials? Do they know what they are talking about? 

Fake News 

How many times have you heard it said, Don’t believe what you see on the internet or Don’t believe everything you see on the internet? A term that has within the last decade grown in popularity as more and more information of this kind is created, fake news has been described “as something that pretends to be a news story but is not the result of an actual reporting process” (Haigh, Haigh, & Matychak, 2019). The ALA has referred to fake news as “fabricated stories” and “misinformation” (2017). Sometimes it's easy to know when a news article or a webpage isn’t genuine, occasionally it’s for satirical and entertainment purposes, but now more than ever before in the history of information, with the ever-growing access to the internet, comes the ability to create any kind of information imaginable, publish that information, and share it to the rest of the world, whether its real or not. To make matters worse, and this is why information literacy is so important, there is fake news being created that takes the appearance of real news, sounds just like real news, and is often (because of those attributes) considered to be factual in nature, but in all actuality its intentions are far from the purpose of education, scholarship, or advancement. A dark concept indeed, fake news is governed by intentions “to stir up worst instincts and prejudices in various societal groups” (Haigh, Haigh, & Matychak, 2019). 

This NPR article provides a few useful tips and considerations to keep in mind when evaluating resources and how to determine if they are fake.

This short blog post explains how fake news and click bait has and continues to plague social media and ways that we can avoid falling for this misinformation. 


Simply put, a citation “is a reference to a source” (ALA, 2018). When using the works and creations of other scholars, authors, and creators, did you know citations are NOT USED ONLY to give credit where credit is due, citations act as evidence for/of your research and it provides those reading your work additional information and resources that they can use for their own exploration in the subject. Always be mindful when writing and performing research to be aware of the information you use. Always give credit to the creator. Article, book, movie, website, whatever it is that you are collecting information from, there are a number of different ways in which you can cite it. There are ways to cite an email and even a conversation. Are your professors asking for MLA citations? Chicago? What about APA or AMA? Need help with citations? Check out this Citation Help Library Guide!

Annotated bibliographies

Similar to a works cited page, the annotated bibliography takes the same form, as a list of citations. The difference? You are not only making a list of your sources, you are also providing a brief explanation of the source and, typically in a classroom setting, you will be asked to describe how it will be useful in your research. Not only does this list ensure to your professors that you are doing the research and finding the correct type of resources and useful information, it will also continue to be useful for organizing and keeping track of the information you are working with.


One of the other librarians at E&H has created this useful Library Guide on Avoiding Plagiarism. With a useful breakdown of the College’s stance on plagiarism, along with an awesome infographic, and excellent examples of plagiarism, there is little more that I could share with you, save for an interesting nickname I stumbled upon during my reading: “‘Baron von Cut & Paste’ or Dr. Googleberg” (Choolhun, N., 2012). Check out that excellent example of how easy it is to carelessly plagiarize and how damaging it can be when you get caught (and technology is making that easier and easier) so don’t do it!

Library Anxiety

Coined in 1986, library anxiety can be thought of as “a sense of overwhelm or feeling lost when undertaking library research” (Tingle, 2018). This “lost feeling” can be a result of failed database searches, times where the “only information found” isn’t enough or isn’t scholarly, a result of vague or undeveloped research questions, the possibilities are many. Sounds scary and it can be if you aren’t expecting it, but worry not, that is why you have librarians ready at a moment’s notice to help guide you, the best we can, through any information hiccups that arise. 


Information Overload

Overload can be another contributing factor to library anxiety and as more and more information becomes available and easy-to-access online, information overload is happening all the time. As the name suggests, there are times during the research process where you may encounter more information on a subject than you are prepared for. It can be unnerving and you are left thinking, How in the world am I going to say ALL THIS in five, ten, even twenty pages?!?!?! There is too much information!!! Sometimes the best thing to do at a point like this is to revisit your research question. Never be afraid to revisit and make changes to your research question. Once you begin to learn more about your research topic you will be able to add more focus to your research question. And I cannot stress this enough, visit your library, contact your school’s librarians if you need help.


I chose to end with Library Anxiety and Information Overload for a reason. We will all, at one point or other, experience one or both of these things. It happens. That’s just how research operates. Some days you will find the information you need with ease, some days it might feel like there Is no information on that topic!!! or that you are drowning in information!! Do not panic, even when panic seems like the only thing left to do, it isn’t. Visit the library, whether in-person or online, and speak with a librarian. Librarians are to research and information resources as that WILD card is in a game of UNO. When you’re stuck and cannot find the right card to play, drop that WILD card, summon up a librarian, get help, training, and assistance finding, evaluating, and using resources, and get back in control of your research. That doesn’t sound much like UNO does it? Maybe some other card game, perhaps. Oh well, happy researching!  


ALA Public Programs Office. (23 February, 2017) Fake news: A library resource round-up. [Web blog post]. Retrieved from

American Library Association. (2018). Primary Source Literacy. Retrieved from

Association of College & Research Libraries. (2016). Framework for information literacy for higher education. Retrieved from

Choolhun, N. (2012). The Only Way is Information Literacy. Legal Information Management, 12(1), 44–50. Retrieved from

CollegeDegrees360. (2012). Confused: A college student is confused by her class notes [photograph]. Retrieved from (n.d). What does tertiary source mean? Retrieved from

Haigh M., Haigh T., & Matychak T. (2019). Information literacy vs. fake news: The case of Ukraine. Open Information Science, 3(1), 154–165. Retrieved from

International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions. (2020). How to spot fake news [infographic]. Retrieved from

Rozkozs, E. (2011) Information literacy [photograph]. Retrieved from

Shonnmharen. (2015). Primary sources [infographic]. Retrieved from 

Shonnmharen. (2015). Secondary sources [infographic] Retrieved from

Sosulski, N. W., & Tyckoson, D. A. (2018). Reference in the Age of Disinformation. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 57(3), 178–182. Retrieved from

Tingle, N. (2018). Taking care of business (before class): Information literacy in a flipped classroom. Journal of Business & Finance Librarianship, 23(2), 183–198. Retrieved from

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