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Explains characteristics of different types of sources of information

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Information Timeline

Information will first appear in different types of sources at different moments in time due to the characteristics of those sources.


Welcome to the Library Guide for

This resource guide is designed to describe different types of information sources and summarize important concepts that affect whether they are appropriate to a specific information need.

The information provided within specific publication and distribution formats is affected by its manufacturing or creation process, by its time to distribution, by its accessibility to different author or user groups, by its ease of use, by its intended audience and by other factors. Knowing something about the different types of formats and sources can help you plan a research strategy and save time finding appropriate information for your particular topic or need.

Types of Sources

What you are looking for can make a difference in where you should look. Different types of sources offer different information.

Reference Books:
Reference books, such as encyclopedias and dictionaries, collect accepted facts from the established literature. In health and science, they can be huge and may take years to put together. Therefore, they do not contain the most current information, although they may mention studies that were recent at the the time of publication. But they are a good one-stop-shop to start by learning the basics of a topic. Print books in the Reference Collection are located on the 1st floor of the library.

Books can be quite long and can cover a topic in detail. However, they take about a year to be published so they will not include the latest studies and research. Textbooks and encyclopedias are good for basic information. Further editions of books demonstrate that a source has been updated to reflect new information and may be a standard source in the field. Are there newer editions available? Print books in the ISU Main Library Stacks ("regular books") are located on the 2nd and 3rd floors of the library. 

Journals are intended for professionals, experts, and researchers. Their articles are usually authored by professionals, experts, and researchers. Journal articles are relatively short compared to books so they tend to cover narrow, specific topics. The latest research is published in journals. It can be difficult to find basic information in journals. Nowadays, most journals have a web site that allows viewing of the table of contents and summaries of articles.  The majority of Journals today are collected electronically however we continue to preserve our older journals in paper and microformats.  All Print Library Journals and Magazines except "Current Periodicals" are now located in the library basement.

Magazines are intended for popular consumption by the public. They contain the latest basic information.  It can be difficult to obtain researched information from magazines.  Most ISU magazine subscriptions today are electronic, however, we do continue to preserve our older magazines in paper and microformats.All Print Library Journals and Magazines except "Current Periodicals" are now located in the library basement.

Databases are very useful and efficient for searching through journals and magazines for information. Sometimes they include books and other sources, too. Every database follows different rules for searching and storage. Effective use depends on knowing those rules. Some commercial databases provide only summaries of articles and do not include full text. Databases can be very expensive and may not be accessible to the general public. Databases are online through the library homepage.

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