Fundamentals of Research - Library 101

Key Concepts

Week 1 - The Organization of Information

Table of Contents [click on topic or scroll down]

What is Information?
Classification Systems
Information Formats

See Handout on Library of Congress Classification System ABOVE, and Key Concepts below for this week.

We will look at Chapter 1 from the List-Handley text over the first week of the course. We look at basic definitions, technical terms and ideas of information/organization. In this Week we look at:

  • organizational schemes [p. 1-6] and formats of information [p. 13-16].

  • organization of information by systems such as the Library of Congress classification system, and the Dewey Decimal system

  • information characteristics [factual or analytical, subjective or objective, primary or secondary]

Tasks this week: purchase the textbook, read syllabus/intro materials, and come into the 'Week 1 Intro' discussion thread, and introduce and tell a bit about yourself!

What is Information?

  • The ALA definition: 'all ideas, facts, and imaginative works of the mind which have been communicated, recorded, published, and/or distributed formally or informally in any format.'

Information is different from mere data, and knowledge is different from mere information. Although much of what you will do in this course is to learn how to search for, and evaluate, information, the end result is to hopefully extend your KNOWLEDGE of the research process. The following definitions are from the excellent ODLIS - Online Dictionary for Library and Information Science by Joan M. Reitz, available at (bookmark it for future reference)

      • Data are acts, figures, or instructions presented in a form that can be comprehended, interpreted, and communicated by a human being or processed by a computer.
    • Information is data presented in readily comprehensible form to which meaning has been attributed within the context of its use.

    • Knowledge, on the other hand, is information that has been comprehended and evaluated in the light of experience and incorporated into the knower's intellectual understanding of the subject.

Organization of Information

  • In this first Unit of LIB 101 we look at general organizational concepts for information. In Chapter 1, List-Handley, we look at organizational schemes for information, information characteristics, and formats of information.

  • How do we organize information? Ways to organize information can be based on content, or format. Many organizational systems use content as the organizing principle of their materials. The content is composed of the subject, and the characteristics [primary or secondary, factual or analytical, subjective or objective]. Format refers to the medium used to present or store information.

Information Characteristics and your Information Need

Factual and analytical information. An encyclopedia contains factual information: 'The statement of a thing done or existing'. Often these are short-answer sources, like dictionaries or encyclopedias. Analytical information involves interpretation and analyses of facts, often by experts in a field. This type of information usually involves resources beyond short-answer, such as books, periodical articles and other longer format resources.

Objective and subjective information. Objective information features balanced, neutral reporting of facts. Subjective information features opinion and personal viewpoints. Researchers usually need objective information first. This allows them to put subjective information within a context. Objective information is found in encyclopedias, for example, and other types of reference books. Subjective versus factual information. Information can be presented subjectively even when factual. This becomes a factor in research when you are researching an issue with two sides. This is an issue in particular, for sites on the web; oftentimes advocacy websites will present one side of an issue, rather than a neutral view.

Primary, Secondary and Tertiary sources
Primary information is information within it's original form. See the list in Chapter 1, List-Handley, of formats of primary information. Some primary source examples are original manuscripts, letters and correspondence.

Presidential libraries contain many examples of primary sources. Here is a an example, from the Presidential papers of Ronald Reagan:

Secondary sources have been removed from their original [primary] source and repackaged in some way. Periodical articles are secondary sources, as are most published books; although books can also be a primary source if they are the first published synthesis. Usually students most often end up using secondary sources for papers especially in beginning research classes.

Tertiary sources. Yet a third classification of information is called tertiary. These include bibliographies, or indexes to periodical literature. These sources tend to point you to secondary sources, such as books, or periodical articles. A bibliography of information on a topic, would be considered a tertiary source.

How Many Resources?

Your professor will usually specify a number of resources needed for papers and projects. However, as you progress in your own research and writing skills, you’ll develop a sense of when you have enough information to understand your topic. This is something you develop a feel for, after completing research assignments in several classes.

Classification Systems

  • The Library of Congress classification system is the system for organization of materials in most college and university libraries.

  • Click here to see the Library of Congress classification scheme.

  • <>

  • Organizational systems such as the LC system classify items by subject.

  • The RHC Library uses the Library of Congress classification system.

  • The Library of Congress Classification System (LC) divides information into subject sections. Each main section has been given a letter. More letters and numbers are added until each item has a specific call number.


    N Art
    ND Painting
    ND 2608 Mural painting
    ND2608.H84 1989 “The Mexican Muralists in the United States” by Laurance P. Hurlburt.

  • See ABOVE or click here for an RHC Library handout on the LC classification system; it gives more information about how the system classifies material.

  • Click here for a Handout from RHC Library Website
  • about 'Understanding Call Numbers":

  • Click here to see the Dewey Decimal system.

  • <>

  • This system is used in most public libraries. Whittier Public Library, and the County Library system of Los Angeles both use this system. The Dewey system uses numbers, to classify materials, in comparison to the alphanumeric system of the Library of Congress.

  • In each case, only one call number is used for a book. This is also true for books that may be interdisciplinary. A book about traditional medicine, and Native American folklore for example, will have one call number.

Information Formats

Format refers to the physical form of an information source. The major formats in which you find information stored in libraries, are:
  • Books [paperbacks, hardbound]

  • Periodicals [loose issues for browsing, bound issues, microformats such as microfilm and microfiche]

  • Nonprint media [this term refers to anything not printed on paper; audio-visual resources as well as new media such as electronic resources. The CDs in your car stereo are examples of 'nonprint' formats, as well as the DVD in your player]

Click here for an overview of information formats. The physical formats of information serve several functions; they store information, protect information, and make information accessible in a stable accessible format. They can determine the information contained within them, to a degree; more permanent or historical information is often contained in a book, whereas more timely and current information tends to appear in periodicals. <>

Optional: click here for some fun examples of information formats. Artists' books expand the idea of 'information format' to make a print source a work of art.


Websites included above are compiled here:

Classification Systems and Information formats
Library of Congress Classification System<>
Dewey Decimal System<>
Reagan Library and Archives

Information Formats<>
Otis ArtBook Collection<>