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Library Research Tutorial

Where Do I Start?

This module will explain different types of sources and search tools you can use for your research. 

By the end of this module, you will be able to:

  • Define information literacy.
  • Identify the different kinds of sources you might use for college level research
  • Identify different tools for locating these sources. 

What Is Information Literacy?

The American Library Association defines information information literacy as ​"a set of abilities requiring individuals to recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information."  (ALA, 2000). 

You already use information literacy skills in your daily life. When conducting academic research for class, you will build on these skills by learning when and how to locate different types of resources, including scholarly articles. In addition, you will learn build on your skills in evaluating the credibility of sources in order to determine if your source is reliable and relevant to your academic research. 

The video below provides a brief overview of information literacy. 

Video: Information Literacy Skills by University of South Carolina Upstate Library.

Types of Sources

Below are some of the major types of sources you might use to conduct research. 


Type of source Description When to use
Reference Articles Short articles that provide an overview of a topic. Includes articles in print encyclopedias as well as electronic encyclopedias. Many electronic encyclopedias can be found in the Gale Virtual Reference Library and in Credo Reference

When looking for background information about a topic

When trying to find key ideas or concepts

Newspaper Articles

Newspapers (both print and digital) are usually published daily and based out of a specific city or community of people. 

Called "periodicals" because they are published at regular intervals throughout the year. 

To find up-to-date information about current events 

To find out how a historical event was reported at the time.

To find editorials or commentaries

Magazine Articles

Magazines publish articles on topics of popular interest and current events. 

Called "periodicals" because they are published at regular intervals throughout the year. 

To find up-to-date information about current events or trends

To find out how historical events or trends were described at the time.

To find general articles written for people who are not necessarily expert in that area

Scholarly Articles An article written by a researcher in a field for other researchers. Scholarly articles have gone through the peer review process. For more information on scholarly articles, seethe  Finding Articles module. To find original, evidence-based research on your topic
Books In college research, books provide a lot of information about a topic. For this reason, books usually have a broader focus than articles. Books can be written for the general population or for members of the research community.

To find an detailed overview of a topic of interest

To find multiple essays on the same topic or issue


In college research, you may use websites of a particular organization or government agency (for example: Mayo Clinic; the Centers for Disease Control). 

You may also conduct internet research more broadly to find background information about your topic or to supplement your research using library databases. For example, you might use the internet to look up an unfamiliar term in a scholarly article or to look up the credentials of someone who wrote an article.

To find information that is regularly updated

To find background information

Government Documents Documents crated by federal, state, and local government. Includes laws, research reports, fact sheets, maps, congressional bills, court rulings, and more.  To find information about law and policy. 
Statistics Numeric data and analysis of numeric data (e.g.: mean, median, range, percentage). Includes demographic data and survey results.

To analyze a group or population.

To determine the frequency/ prevalence of something.


Tools for Finding Sources

In addition to internet search engines, the Inver Hills Library offers other tools for searching for sources. Which tool(s) you will want to use will depend on your research question, what kind of resources you are looking for, the nature of your research assignment, and a number of other factors. 

To effectively research your topic, you will want to use some of the library resources described below in addition to an internet search engine. The library's collection contain a number of materials that aren't available on the internet, and they are all free to you as a student. 

Search Tool Description When to Use Disadvantages/Limitations of Tool

A way to search for all materials in the Inver Hills Library, including print books, Ebooks, articles contained in our article databases, DVDs, online film, and more. 


When looking to see if we have specific publication of interest. 

When searching for a very specific topic, especially if you are having a hard time with article databases.

Can return an overwhelming number of search results. 

Article Database

A collection of articles published in a periodical (e.g., scholarly journal, magazine, or newspaper.) There are two main kinds of article databases.

Multidisciplinary databases contain articles about many different topics and subjects.

Subject databases include articles about a specific discipline (e.g.: Psychology, Nursing).

When looking for newspaper articles, including historic newspaper articles.

When looking for scholarly research articles.

When looking for editorials, essays, or magazine features. 

Each article database contains a different collection of articles. You will probably want to look at multiple databases when you research. 

Searching for articles in article databases is not unlike searching for a film through a streaming service: you may need to search multiple different streaming services before you find what you are looking for. If the process becomes too overwhelming at any point, reach out to a librarian!

Ebsco Ebooks A collection of many of the Ebooks in the Inver Hills Library. When looking specifically for a book you can read electronically. 

Many books in the IHCC Library are not available in Ebook format.

Not all Ebooks are included in Ebsco Ebooks. It can be a good idea to check OneSearch as well. 

Internet Search Engine Your preferred internet search engine, such as Google or DuckDuckGo.

When looking for background information about a topic. 

When looking up the definition of a word.

When looking up an author's credentials. 

The resources in OneSearch and the IHCC Article databases are refereed. In other words, librarians have determined that these resources are reliable and credible. In contrast, anyone can post anything on the internet. 

When you use the internet, it is especially important to take extra time to evaluate your source. If you ever unsure if a source you found is credible, feel free to ask a librarian. 


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