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INTRODUCTION THE INFORMATION EXPLOSION A common term often used to describe the era in which we live is the "Information Age." In contrast to the Industrial Age that preceded this era, information -rather than natural resources or capital - has become the strategic resource upon which the economy revolves, and it is being produced in ever greater quantities with ever greater speed. In fact, experts believe that the amount of available information doubles every 4-5 years and that more new information has been generated in the last 30 years than in the previous 5,000. Every day, over one thousand new books are published worldwide, and tens of thousands of different newspapers, magazines and journals are circulated. At the same time, the cost of buying or accessing such published information is skyrocketing, clearly showing the high value society places on quality information. It should be noted, however, that the fact that more information is available now than at any other time in human history does not necessarily mean that our lives are easier, or that we are somehow better off. In fact, people today often experience what has become known as information anxiety, a state of frustration brought about by all or some of the following factors: feeling overwhelmed with too much information feeling frustrated by too little information not being able to understand or evaluate the available information not knowing for certain if information exists or where to find it knowing where to find information, but being unable to access it Perhaps the worst - but most common - form of information anxiety comes about when a person is so overwhelmed with information and data that he or she cannot process it in such a way that it becomes meaningful. An individual can become so discouraged by an unmanageable glut of information that he or she is ultimately lulled into a state of numbness, passivity, and indifference. Only when one is able to access, select, understand, and interpret information productively, toward some valued purpose, does information becomes knowledge. INFORMATION DEFINED What exactly is meant by "information" and where does it come from? One definition is offered by the American Library Association: "All ideas, facts, and imaginative works of the mind which have been communicated, recorded, published and/or distributed formally or informally in any format" (List 1). Under this broad definition, information is everything that's been created or studied by the human mind and recorded in some way. Information comes to you first and foremost through your own direct experience, i.e. your own five senses provide you with "data" on what you see, hear, taste, etc. Conversations with friends, teachers, parents, and other people in your social world also provide you with important types of information. But for information outside of your immediate experience, you depend on a variety of individuals and institutions in society, including: scholars, researchers, the news media, non-profit organizations, various kinds of "think tanks" and research institutes, public policy groups, the courts, government bodies, international organizations, business, and many others, all with varying degrees of objectivity and credibility. RECORDING AND STORING INFORMATION: A BRIEF HISTORY From the dawn of civilization, humans have found ways to record, store, and transmit what they have discovered and created. In fact, human progress would not have been possible without all of the ingenious ways humans have recorded, transmitted, stored, retrieved, and used information. Before the invention of writing, humans depended entirely on the spoken word to record thoughts and ideas. Known as the oral tradition, this was the process by which culture, tradition, and historical accounts were passed from generation to generation in stories, folklore, songs, and poetry. But after writing evolved into the phonetic stage, complete with symbols and alphabets, it was common for information to be written down. Scholars believe that humans first wrote their ideas by carving or painting on common objects they found around them: cave walls, bones, and pieces of bark. Clay tablets and large pieces of stone were used a bit later, and by 500 BC peoples of Egypt, Greece, and Rome were writing on papyrus, a substance similar to paper made from a plant that grew along the Nile River. Papyrus was gradually replaced by parchment, a substance made from specially treated animal skins thought to have been invented around 200 BC in what is now modern-day Turkey. Parchment was widely used for writing until it was replaced in the 1400's by the introduction of paper in Europe and the invention of the movable type printing press in 1450. The invention of the printing press is a milestone in human history because for the first time books became available to people outside the upper classes. By the 17th century, the first newspapers and journals were published in Europe, furthering the opportunities for the average person to learn about science, politics, and culture. The Industrial Revolution of the 18th century saw improvements in printing technologies and reductions in the price of paper, thus initiating the mass marketing of books and journals). The 19th and 20th centuries saw the development of many new ways to record and store information other than paper: microfilm, microfiche, phonograph records, audio tape, film strips, and video tape. Probably the most dramatic advance in recording, storing, and retrieving information came with the invention in the 1940's of the computer. Although people continue to produce information in handwritten, typewritten, and printed form, it can now also be generated in electronic format, i.e. recorded as bits and bytes of computer data and stored on magnetic tape or computer disk. INFORMATION FORMATS: HOW IS INFORMATION PRESENTED? When information is recorded and stored, it exists in what is termed a format. Format is the general physical quality or appearance of an information source. There are three broad categories of formats: print, audio-visual, and electronic. Libraries have significant collections of materials in all or some of the three formats. Listed below are the three broad format categories and specific types of information sources within each category you should be aware of: 1) PRINT FORMAT Books - still one of the most common and user-friendly formats for storing and accessing information. Books generally offer a broadly focused, in-depth discussion of a topic and can be in one or multiple volumes. Periodicals (or Serials) - a term used to describe publications which are issued at regular intervals (daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, or yearly). Therefore, "periodicals" generally refer to newspapers, magazines, and journals. Magazines offer information geared to the general reader, whereas journals usually offer more scholarly analysis and discussion. Periodical articles are used extensively in research because they are often the best source of up-to-date information on nearly any topic. Unlike books, periodical articles usually offer concise and narrowly focused discussions. Archives - unpublished and published materials that have special historical value, such as the private papers of notable persons or the records of an institution. Archival collections are often found in specialized libraries and historical societies and often include diaries, original manuscripts, letters, photographs, etc. Dissertations - research that is conducted and written in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the doctoral degree at a university. Theses - research project that is completed in partial fulfillment of the requirements of a master's degree. Vertical File (or pamphlet file) - consists of pamphlets, brochures, newspaper and magazine clippings, pictures, maps, and other material that are not suitable for shelving or cataloging with the regular collections. Vertical file materials are usually placed in manila folders and stored alphabetically by subjects in filing cabinets. 2) AUDIO-VISUAL FORMAT Audio-visual materials include audio, video, and microform formats. A-V materials require special equipment for their use and are usually housed in separate areas of the library. The types of A-V materials are: Audio materials - records, audio-cassettes, CD-ROM, DVD, and reel-to-reel tapes. The audio materials in most libraries include musical as well as spoken works. Video materials - microforms, video cassettes, slides, and synchronized slide- tapes. Microforms- printed materials that are reduced in size by photographic means and that can only be read with special readers. There are several types of these photographically reduced materials. o microfilm is print that is reproduces on a roll of 35 or 16 mm film; o microfiche is a flat sheet of film, usually measuring four by six inches on which separate pages of text are reproduced: microprint is the reproduction in positive form of a microphotograph. microprint is printed on opaque paper unlike microfilm and microfiche, which are printed or reproduces on film; microcard is a form of microprint, but its reduction is greater. Microprints and microcards are no longer being distributed because of the difficulty in reproducing them on paper. CD-ROM (Compact Disk, Read Only Memory) - plastic disk coated optical disk on which information can be stored. DVD (Digital Versatile Disk or Digital Video Disk) - similar to CD-ROM, except that it holds more information. 3) ELECTRONIC FORMAT Electronic format refers to information recorded, stored, and retrieved using computer technology. Online catalog - a computerized list, or database, of books and other materials held by a library or group of libraries. Also known as OPAC's (Online Public Access Catalogs). Online databases - a term used to describe information that is stored in a computer and retrieved by other computers through telephone lines and communication networks. There are thousands of databases, providing nearly every type of information, both bibliographic and full text. o Online proprietary databases: only available to paid subscribers. Internet - a worldwide network of computer networks that offers access to vast amounts of information of varying worth on nearly any topic imaginable. E-books (electronic books)- published electronically and available on the Internet. E-Journals (electronic journals) - defined broadly as journals or periodicals that are available over the Internet. Currently there are thousands of journals and magazines available in electronic format and the trend for electronic publishing is expected to continue. Some of these are exclusively online; others may have a print counterpart. HOW IS INFORMATION ACCESSED? Finding information on a subject in a carefully planned and executed way is the heart and soul of the research process. The research process depends on skillful use of the appropriate access tool(s). An access tool (sometimes called a "finding aid") is a resource whose sole purpose is to lead you to particular types of information. These tools lead you to information because they perform the invaluable task of organizing information in a formal, systematic way. Thus, information becomes accessible. Without information access tools, the plethora of information that exists on most topics would be a hopelessly disorganized jumble and carefully planned research would be nearly impossible. When using an access tool, you will be provided with the specific information you need in order to find what you're after, usually a book or periodical article. This specific information is called a bibliographic record and usually consists of author, title, and publication information. (Bibliographic records are sometimes called bibliographic citations, bibliographic entries or bibliographic references. Computerized access tools often refer to records that result from a search simply as hits.) Once you have used an access tool and come up with a relevant list of citations, you are then ready to find the actual book or article, whether it be in your library, another library, or available via computer. In recent years, computerized access tools have begun to offer more and more full-text (i.e. every word) of magazine and newspaper articles, in addition to the bibliographic record. Access tools exist in both print and computerized formats, although before roughly 1980 they existed only in print. Computerized access tools are powerful, flexible tools that are widely used and this course will focus on them more than print tools. You should be aware, however, that computerized access tools have two major limitations: Lack of standardization - computerized access tools do not all look and act the same. It's important to learn the features and capabilities of various systems Limited time coverage - many computerized access tools do not provide citations for items published before 1980. (The one exception to this rule is the online catalog, which normally includes all the items in a library collection no matter when it was published.) Therefore, when researching a topic that was in the news or primarily written about in magazines or newspapers prior to 1980, the access tool may be a printed tool. Listed below are the three traditional types of information access tools used most frequently by students and researchers: Indexes and abstracts - lists of records organized by subject that describe articles published in selected sets of magazines, journals, or newspapers during a specified time period. Available in both print and computerized formats. When using a computerized index, abstracts (i.e. summaries) and/or the full-text of the article often accompany the citation. Readers' Guide to Periodical Literature is an example of a general periodical index available in both print and computerized versions. Catalogs - a listing of every item (primarily books) held by a library or group of libraries. Computerized catalogs known as OPAC's have replaced card catalogs in most libraries. Bibliographies - available at the end of a book, chapter, or article, they provide a list of materials on a certain subject or by a certain author. Bibliographies can also appear as separately published books, articles, or Web pages. (Note: Do not confuse "bibliography" with "biography." A bibliography is a list of books and articles, whereas a biography is the story of a person's life.) Each of these access tools allows you to look up something within the tool by using what are called access points. The three most common access points are author, title, and subject. Computerized access tools offer more access points than print access tools -- allowing you to access records by language or document type, for example -- and it is important to know which access points are available from the tool you're using.
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