Tools for Finding Information
In the library, there are two main tools we use to find information.
Library Catalogs are what we use to find books, videos, CDs, and any other physical item that sits on our shelves. They don't provide the actual information itself, but just point to something that the library physically owns.
Library Databases make up the library's online resources. On a web page, they give you the full-text of articles from published magazines, journals, newspapers, and reference books.
Once you find a source... evaluate it
If you want to judge whether a source is reliable, take the CRAAP Test. This is a series of questions about the source's Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, and Purpose.
The timeliness of your source
- How old is this source?
- Is a date listed?
- Is the information current or outdated for your topic?
- Does your topic deal with recent issues (technology, medicine, etc) that need the latest information?
How the source meets your information need
- Is this source useful for my topic?
- Does the information help to answer or shed light on my research question?
- Is the language/information appropriate for my level of understanding? Who is the intended audience?
- Is this an appropriate source for a college paper?
Who or what the information comes from
- Who is the author/publisher/sponsor of the source? Is this hard to find?
- Is the author or publishing organization an expert on the topic? What are their credentials?
- Are they qualified to write about this topic?
- Is the source published, sponsored, or endorsed by a special interest group?
- If it's a website, is it hosted by a for-profit company (.com) by a non-profit organization (.org), by an educational institution (.edu) or by the government (.gov)?
The reliability and accuracy of the information
- Do you notice any factual errors? Math or calculation mistakes? Statements that contradict each other?
- Is the information presented supported by evidence?
- Does this source say things that can't be verified?
- Has the source been reviewed or refereed?
- Are there lots of typos, spelling and grammatical errors?
The reason this source exists
- What is the purpose of the source? To inform? Teach? Entertain? Sell something? Persuade?
- Does the source present facts, opinions, or propaganda?
- Are different perspectives on the issue presented? Does the point of view appear objective and impartial?
- Are there political, ideological, cultural, religious, institutional, or personal biases?
Not living up to all of these criteria doesn't automatically make a source "bad." But a source should meet most of these criteria, and it's important to recognize when a source doesn't pass the CRAAP Test.
Ask a Librarian
Information Services Librarian
Lake Land College Library