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Information Literacy

This guide will help you understand information literacy concepts and direct your research process. Use the guide tabs to help locate specific information and other related information.

Strategic Searching

You’ve been strengthening your research muscle and making progress on your research paper. It’s starting to get easier because you’ve been doing your research work out. Thumbs Up!

Now you'd like to gather information on a topic. You've created a research question. You've identified the likely information types you need and which search tools to use. Now it’s time to begin your journey with search.

You wonder, why it is important to search strategically.

Can’t I just start putting words in the search box like I do with Google?

You could but then you’ll get so much information that you won’t be able to determine if it meets your need. Information Overload!

That’s why strategic search using several keywords tied together with Boolean operators are important.

Let’s explain this a bit, alright?

Adapted from New Literacies Alliance. 

When you enter words into a search tool, such as flu shots mandatory doctors nurses, you are telling the search tool to search for items that contain ALL of those keywords.

The search tools use an implied AND to combine all terms: flu AND shots AND mandatory AND doctors AND nurses.

That means it will return everything with all of your keywords, even if an article or source has nothing to do with doctors and nurses getting flu shots.

But if you want specific information related to doctors and nurses getting flu shots you’ll need to narrow your search using Boolean Operators.

So let’s get started….Narrow Your Search

AND is an example of a Boolean Operator. Boolean Operators are words you can use to connect your keywords systematically. As you add more keywords, the number of documents that contain all of the keywords is going to diminish.

Thanks to Franklin D. Schurz Library at Indiana University South Bend for the video

Student: “Hello”,

Librarian: “Hi”

Student:  “Can you help me please?” ‘I’ve been trying to find research on my topic and I can’t find anything. I have to turn in my sources in an hour. “

Librarian: “Sure, I’d be happy to help. What is your topic?

Student: “Advertising in elections” “I’ve tried every possible search term, but I keep getting no results.”

Librarian: “Hmmm” “How about you go ahead and log into EBSCO Host and show me what words you have been using.”

Student: “I tried “Negative Advertising in Elections”, “Ad Elections” and even “Advertising Elections”. “None of them got me anywhere.” “SEE”

Librarian: “Okay” “The thing is for our library databases phrase searching doesn’t work very well”  “ So what you’ll need to do is use Boolean operators. It’s okay, it’s not that bad. What Boolean Operators are, you take three different words, AND, OR, or NOT and  you use it to separate term in your phrase to get the results that you want.”

The most common one is AND. Where you’ll be looking for this AND that for your subject.”

Say for instance you are wanting to do a search on the cherry industry in Washington State. What you could do is a search for CHERRY AND WASHINGTON. But in addition to everything in the cherry industry, you’ll also get George Washington Chopping down the Cherry tree. So what you can do then, is use another Boolean Operator, NOT, so you can go: CHERRY AND WASHINGTON NOT GEORGE. Then everything dealing with George Washington falls away. There’s even another Boolean Operator, OR, which you can use. So say for instance, you weren’t just looking at the Cherry Industry in Washington State, you were looking at the Apple Industry as well. Then you could do WASHINGTON AND CHERRY OR APPLE.”

“OR is pretty much used when you have two like words, or when you have very similar topics.”   

Student: “That’s good and all but getting back to my topic, ADVERTISING AND ELECTIONS.”

Librarian: “Sure.  Let’s go back to the database. I have a couple of key words in mind. To start with, we’ll do ADVERTISING AND ELECTIONS. And you notice, I put that Boolean Operator AND in there so we’ll get articles that contain both concepts.”

Student: “Wow, that’s great. But I don’t have time to go through 1200 results.”

Librarian: “How about we narrow the results by adding another term? What would you suggest?”

Student: “How about concentrating on NEGATIVE ADVERTISING ELECTIONS, by adding the terms, AND NEGATIVE?”

Librarian: “This is great! We have 129 results right now and we can probably narrow it down more. But how about if go ahead and start with these  

Student: “Wow, this is nice!”  

But if you really want to get specific, you’ll need to add some punctuation.

There are several punctuation tricks you can employ in your search strategy. Putting quotation marks around words tells the search tool to search for those words as a phrase. For instance, when you enter "flu shot", instead of searching for everything flu and everything shot, you are searching for the phrase flu shot. Check out how phrase searching using quotation marks narrows your results.


Library Search Tool

"Flu Shot" with quotation marks

5,140,000 results

8,539 results

Flu Shot without quotation marks

12,700,000 results

51,787 results

"Influenza Vaccination" with quotation marks

498,000 results

18,040 results

Database Searching

We join our hero, yes that’s you! You’ve been working out every day strengthening your research muscle by doing background reading, you’ve done your crunches when you create a search string, and you’ve done your sit ups when you identified the best database for your information need. Excellent!
Now you are ready to Level UP!
You’re up for the challenge. To level up, you need to find an article on your topic in one of the library’s database. You can think of a library database as the Super Bowl’s winning playbook. Just as the playbook contains the fundamental plays for Super Bowl success, each play is not unlike the important articles that can be matched to your research needs.
Thus, you will find library databases are the best places to find credible, authoritative and scholarly articles.

You wonder, where do I begin?
Let’s start with some definitions, okay? First you may have heard your professor talk about citations. But what are they and what do they mean? 

citation has all information needed to reference a specific article, including the author, article title, journal title, volume number, issue number, date, and page number(s). More importantly, it documents the article/s you used in writing your papers.
Then you may have heard about periodicals, but why are they important? What does that mean?  A periodical is a journal, magazine, newspaper, newsletter and more that come out on a regular basis. Think Time Magazine or Washington Post, for example.
Finally, your professor explained about the importance of using library DATABASES. You may think, I can Google it. Why is it important for me to know how to search a library database?  Because Databases Search Engines are designed to help you find and locate information on your topic. Some databases may be subject specific and contain scholarly research articles from subscription journals and other authoritative sources. Others are general and cover many subjects. Either way, you will find authoritative resources for your research assignment.

Now, that you have some basic concepts under your belt, let’s start SEARCHING FOR ARTICLES IN A DATABASE. Wow! You ask yourself, where do I begin? You begin at the beginning.

Today, you are going to be searching in the OPPOSING VIEWPOINTS IN CONTEXT database. That’s because this database provides electronic access to social issues covered in viewpoint articles, topic overviews, statistics, primary documents, and links to Web sites, full-text journal, magazine and newspaper articles, reference sources as well as multimedia sources. Awesome!

Let’s Get Started: To find articles for your assignment, go to the Prince Georges Community College Libraries home page
You’ll need to click on the LEFT NAVIGATION TAB that says RESEARCH DATABASES. Then, you’ll go to the top blue banner where you see the alphabet letters, A-Z.  Click on the “Letter O” and then find OPPOSING VIEWPOINTS IN CONTEXT. Click on that link and you will go directly to the database.
You can BROWSE topics this database or SEARCH USING KEY WORDS.

Say for example, your topic is RACIAL PROFILING, you can select RACIAL PROFILING from the BROWSE ISSUES TAB OR if you want to consider RACISM, then you can search RACSIM in the search box. That’s all there is to it! In a flash you have authoritative information resources at your fingertips.


Wow! You’ve done some great work so far. Congratulations! Now we are going to dive deeper and talk about critical thinking and relevancy.  You think you may have heard about this before, but you aren’t sure what that means.

First, critical thinking and relevancy are important concepts to include in your information literacy tool box. You’ll find that, once you get the hang of it, critical thinking and relevancy will help you not only envision success, but achieve it as well. 

So what are critical thinking and relevancy? And, why are they so important? You’ll notice that I am asking WHY? And WHAT DOES THIS MEAN? OR WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?  That’s because questions like these help you to critically analyze your topic. When writing a research paper, it important to focus on the topic. You need to find resources that support your argument.  That is, relevant sources that connect to your statement.  

Next, let’s consider the shooting of Trayvon Martin, a 17 year old African American Florida high school student who was shot by a neighborhood watch captain. There are many issues at play in the shooting of Trayvon Martin and the subsequent acquittal of George Zimmerman. 

Let’s get our critical thinking and relevancy spy glass out to investigate this topic, okay?

We need to ask questions; that is, conduct an INQUIRY, which will help you think critically and analyze your topic. Let’s look at how these question help you drill down into the topic. 

What are some of the factors that contributed to the shooting of Trayvon Martin? Was racial profiling driving the actions taken by George Zimmerman? Why or why not? What other issues contributed to this tragedy?

How did racial tensionsvigilantism, police practices, and gun laws influence the actions taken by the police?

How did issues of power and racial dynamics sway the court case?

What impact does the socioeconomic and political nature of information play in shaping public opinion?

What data, evidence, insight or observation can you include to back up your argument?

What conclusions, interpretations, theories, definitions, laws, principles or models influence your your thinking and writing about the topic.

What assumptions, sayings or ideas that are taken for granted shape the writing? 

Now that you’ve thought very deeply about the topic and its influence on society, let’s do some deep reading.

Let’s take a look at an article that I found by searching in one of the library databases. You’ll find it in the Academic OneFile database. The article’s title is “Policing the boundaries of whiteness: the tragedy of being "out of place" from Emmett Till to Trayvon Martin.” The author’s name is also noted here.

If you click on her hyperlinked name, you will find other articles written by her.

You can also find information about the author at the bottom of the article.

You can see that the article is published in the Iowa Law Review. It’s found in the Iowa Law Review. 102.3 (Mar. 2017): p1113.

You can find information about the journal by clicking on the name Iowa Law Review

Just by looking at these key components of an article, you are able to verify the credibility of the source. Additionally, you can also read the abstract or summary to consider if this article strongly relates to your research topic. 

If you look at the abstract, you’ll find “maintaining white racial separation” relates to issues of power and racial dynamics, while “facilitating cross-class, white racial solidarity” relates to racial tensions and the socioeconomic and political nature of information. Finally, the terms  "race-neutral," commonsense racism, and "colorblind racism” correspond to interpretations, theories, definitions, laws, principles.

You’ve just identified how this article is relevant to your research topic. Good work. 

By considering, assumptions, sayings or ideas that are taken for granted from the article, you read “Winfrey immediately came under fire for declaring that the murder of Emmett Till in 1955 and the killing of Trayvon Martin in 2012 were, "in [her] mind, the same thing."  That is, Winfrey ASSUMED something that wasn’t accurate in the author’s view.

Let’s look at another passage:  “As sociologist Elijah Anderson has highlighted, there is a critical difference between the social and legal context in which Till was murdered and the social and legal context in which Martin was killed. ” This claim provides evidence, insight, observation and context to the argument.

Anderson goes on to say, “Till was murdered in Mississippi within a system of severe racial segregation and subordination in 1955” and “Martin was shot and killed during our post-Civil Rights era of formal legal equality (20) on February 26, 2012”, She thereby compares two different eras in history and gives a sociological lens to the situation.

The conclusion states, “The same race based forces and the same race based tropes that undergirded the Till case in 1955 are still operating today, even as meaningful changes have occurred in the practice of racism in the country.” This helps you see how the author defends the argument and makes a strong case for her view.

Congratulations! You’ve completed critical thinking and relevancy. 

Recommended databases

Find a Journal

Assistive Technologies

Accessibility Masterlist

This MasterList, edited by Gregg Vanderheiden Ph.D., is designed to serve as a resource for researchers, developers, students, and others interested in understanding or developing products that incorporate one or more of these features.

Each feature or approach is then listed below along with applicable disabilities to each feature are marked with the following icons:

  • B - Blindness (For our purposes, blindness is defined as no or very low vision - such that text cannot be read at any magnification)
  • LV - Low Vision
  • CLL - Cognitive, Language, and Learning Disabilities (including low literacy)
  • PHY - Physical Disabilities
  • D/HOH - Deaf and Hard of Hearing

American Sign Language Dictionary

Search and compare thousands of words and phrases in American Sign Language (ASL). The largest collection of free video signs online.

Braille Translator is a simple way to convert text to braille notation. This supports nearly all Grade Two braille contractions.

Voyant Tools (Corpus Analysis)

Voyant Tools is an open-source, web-based application for performing text analysis. It supports scholarly reading and interpretation of texts or corpus, particularly by scholars in the digital humanities, but also by students and the general public. It can be used to analyze online texts or ones uploaded by users. (Source: Wikipedia)

Universal Design for Learning

Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

Meta-cognitive Awareness Inventory

Meta-cognitive Awareness Inventory

Library Terms

Library Terms

It's important to understand library terms in order for you to do your research. If you have questions about the terminology used in the tutorial you can check this Glossary of Library Terms.

Abstract:  A summary or brief description of the content of another long work. An abstract is often provided along with the citation to a work.

Annotated bibliography: a bibliography in which a brief explanatory or evaluate note is added to each reference or citation. An annotation can be helpful to the researcher in evaluating whether the source is relevant to a given topic or line of inquiry.

Archives: 1. A space which houses historical or public records. 2. The historical or public records themselves, which are generally non-circulating materials such as collections of personal papers, rare books, Ephemera, etc.


Article: A brief work—generally between 1 and 35 pages in length—on a topic. Often published as part of a journal, magazine, or newspaper.

Author: The person(s) or organization(s) that wrote or compiled a document. Looking for information under its author's name is one option in searching.

Bibliography: A list containing citations to the resources used in writing a research paper or other document. See also Reference.

Book: A relatively lengthy work, often on a single topic. May be in print or electronic.

Boolean operator: A word—such as AND, OR, or NOT—that commands a computer to combine search terms. Helps to narrow (AND, NOT) or broaden (OR) searches.

Call number: A group of letters and/or numbers that identifies a specific item in a library and provides a way for organizing library holdings. Three major types of call numbers are Dewey Decimal, Library of Congress, and Superintendent of Documents.

Catalog: A database (either online or on paper cards) listing and describing the books, journals, government documents, audiovisual and other materials held by a library. Various search terms allow you to look for items in the catalog.

Check-out: To borrow an item from a library for a fixed period of time in order to read, listen to, or view it. Check-out periods vary by library. Items are checked out at the circulation desk.

Circulation: The place in the library, often a desk, where you check out, renew, and return library materials. You may also place a hold, report an item missing from the shelves, or pay late fees or fines there.

Citation: A reference to a book, magazine or journal article, or other work containing all the information necessary to identify and locate that work. A citation to a book includes its author's name, title, publisher and place of publication, and date of publication.

Controlled vocabulary: Standardized terms used in searching a specific database.

Course reserve: Select books, articles, videotapes, or other materials that instructors want students to read or view for a particular course. These materials are usually kept in one area of the library and circulate for only a short period of time. See also Electronic reserve.

Descriptor: A word that describes the subject of an article or book; used in many computer databases.

Dissertation: An extended written treatment of a subject (like a book) submitted by a graduate student as a requirement for a doctorate.

DOI: Acronym for Digital Object Identifier. It is a unique alphanumeric string assigned by the publisher to a digital object.

E-book (or Electronic book): An electronic version of a book that can be read on a computer or mobile device.

Editor: A person or group responsible for compiling the writings of others into a single information source. Looking for information under the editor's name is one option in searching.

Electronic reserve (or E-reserve): An electronic version of a course reserve that is read on a computer display screen. See also Course reserve.

Encyclopedia: A work containing information on all branches of knowledge or treating comprehensively a particular branch of knowledge (such as history or chemistry). Often has entries or articles arranged alphabetically.

Hold: A request to have an item saved (put aside) to be picked up later. Holds can generally, be placed on any regularly circulating library material in-person or online.

Holdings: The materials owned by a library.

Index: 1. A list of names or topics—usually found at the end of a publication—that directs you to the pages where those names or topics are discussed within the publication. 2. A printed or electronic publication that provides references to periodical articles or books by their subject, author, or other search terms.

Interlibrary services/loan: A service that allows you to borrow materials from other libraries through your own library. See also Document delivery.

Journal: A publication, issued on a regular basis, which contains scholarly research published as articles, papers, research reports, or technical reports. See also Periodical.

Limits/limiters: Options used in searching that restrict your results to only information resources meeting certain other, non-subject-related, criteria. Limiting options vary by database, but common options include limiting results to materials available full-text in the database, to scholarly publications, to materials written in a particular language, to materials available in a particular location, or to materials published at a specific time. 

Magazine: A publication, issued on a regular basis, containing popular articles, written and illustrated in a less technical manner than the articles found in a journal.

Microform: A reduced sized photographic reproduction of printed information on reel to reel film (microfilm) or film cards (microfiche) or opaque pages that can be read with a microform reader/printer.

Newspaper: A publication containing information about varied topics that are pertinent to general information, a geographic area, or a specific subject matter (i.e. business, culture, education). Often published daily.

Online Public Access Catalog (OPAC): A computerized database that can be searched in various ways— such as by keyword, author, title, subject, or call number— to find out what resources a library owns. OPAC’s will supply listings of the title, call number, author, location, and description of any items matching one's search. Also referred to as “library catalog ” or “online catalog.”

PDF: A file format developed by Adobe Acrobat® that allows files to be transmitted from one computer to another while retaining their original appearance both on-screen and when printed. An acronym for Portable Document Format.

Peer-reviewed journal: Peer review is a process by which editors have experts in a field review books or articles submitted for publication by the experts’ peers. Peer review helps to ensure the quality of an information source. A peer-reviewed journal is also called a refereed journal or scholarly journal.

Periodical: An information source published in multiple parts at regular intervals (daily, weekly, monthly, biannually). Journals, magazines, and newspapers are all periodicals. See also Serial.

Plagiarism: Using the words or ideas of others without acknowledging the original source.

Primary source: An original record of events, such as a diary, a newspaper article, a public record, or scientific documentation.

Print: The written symbols of a language as portrayed on paper. Information sources may be either print or electronic.

Publisher: An entity or company that produces and issues books, journals, newspapers, or other publications.

Recall: A request for the return of library material before the due date.

Refereed journal: See Peer-reviewed journal.

Reference: 1. A service that helps people find needed information. 2. Sometimes "reference" refers to reference collections, such as encyclopedias, indexes, handbooks, directories, etc. 3. A citation to a work is also known as a reference.

Renewal: An extension of the loan period for library materials.

Reserve: 1. A service providing special, often short-term, access to course-related materials (book or article readings, lecture notes, sample tests) or to other materials (CD-ROMs, audio-visual materials, current newspapers or magazines). 2. Also the
physical location—often a service desk or room—within a library where materials on reserve are kept. Materials can also be made available electronically. See also Course reserve, Electronic reserve.

Scholarly journal: See Peer-reviewed journal.

Search statement/Search Query: Words entered into the search box of a database or search engine when looking for information. Words relating to an information source's author, editor, title, subject heading or keyword serve as search terms. Search terms can be combined by using Boolean operators and can also be used with limits/limiters.

Secondary sources: Materials such as books and journal articles that analyze primary sources. Secondary sources usually provide evaluation or interpretation of data or evidence found in original research or documents such as historical manuscripts or memoirs.

Serial: Publications such as journals, magazines, and newspapers that are generally published multiple times per year, month, or week. Serials usually have number volumes and issues.

Stacks: Shelves in the library where materials—typically books—are stored. Books in the stacks are normally arranged by call number. May be referred to as “book stacks.”

Style manual: An information source providing guidelines for people who are writing research papers. A style manual outlines specific formats for arranging research papers and citing the sources that are used in writing the paper.

Subject heading: Descriptions of an information source’s content assigned to make finding information easier. See also Controlled vocabulary, Descriptors.

Title: The name of a book, article, or other information sources. Upload: To transfer information from a computer system or a personal computer to another computer system or a larger computer system.

Virtual reference: A service allowing library users to ask questions through email, text message, or live-chat as opposed to coming to the reference desk at the library and asking a question in person. Also referred to as “online reference” or “e-reference.”

Multilingual Glossary for Today’s Library Users - Definitions

Multilingual Glossary for Today’s Library Users

If English is not your first language, then this resource will help you navigate the definitions of library terms in the following languages: English, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, French, Spanish, Arabic, and Vietnamese.