Information Literacy 2 - Accessing Sources
Valencia College Libraries


Module 2

[Read the following scene. Then, click "next page" to begin the learning module.]

Scene 2.1

It is Thursday morning and the second day of Professor Sage's Comp I class.  Professor Sage has brought her class to the library where the librarian, Mr. Bookman, will demonstrate how to access general information sources for the class's upcoming research essay. Professor Sage has told students they will be constructing an annotated bibliography. Once everybody is seated, the librarian begins the session.

BOOKMAN:  Good morning everyone! (There is a chorus of replied good mornings from the class.) Continues: My name is Reed Bookman and I will be demonstrating how to access resources the library provides for your research needs.  Most of you probably have some familiarity with Google and Internet resources, so I am going to give you a handout on website evaluation to help guide you in selecting credible information using web resources (shuffling of handouts being passed around the room).  Today's session, however, will focus exclusively on information available through the library's resources.  

PROFESSOR SAGE:  They all have ideas of topics that they would like to do and they are in the process of narrowing it down to a research question.  They will need books, articles, and websites as sources.

BOOKMAN: Understood.  The first thing to mention is that all the electronic information in the library is accessible through your Atlas account, and your student ID is your library card that you will use to check out books and other items from the library.

MATT: (Raising his hand):  I had a library instruction a few years ago before I joined the military, and we had to have an ID and pin to access resources.  Are you saying now that we only need to log in to Atlas to access everything?

BOOKMAN: That is correct. There is no longer any need to remember several usernames and passwords to access the library's materials.  (several students nod appreciatively).  Keep in mind that all of the librarians are here to help, and sometimes the most effective search strategy you can employ to start with is to ask a librarian.  Librarians can always be found at the Reference desk if you need immediate assistance and we are also available through chat, email, and telephone.


Steps To Accessing Sources

Once a research topic has been chosen, there are three important steps to take in order to access and acquire the information you need: 

1.      Choosing and Accessing Appropriate Sources

2.      Refining the Search Strategy

3.      Managing Information

Step 1. Choosing and Accessing Appropriate Sources

The first step is to choose the appropriate source that contains information about a chosen topic.  Standard Two of the American College and Research Libraries' Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education states, "The information literate student accesses needed information effectively and efficiently." Essentially, this means you will want to identify the best means of accessing sources that will provide the information you need, or that your professor has required you to use, rather than wasting time on sources that will not help you with your topic. Val's professor has already indentified appropriate sources in the form of books, research databases, and websites as tools that will help Val find useful information. While the library resources will be helpful to Val's personal interest in a tattoo, she might also want to interview people or conduct surveys of students and friends that have tattoos to find additional information regarding her personal consideration of a tattoo. The next page discusses several factors that influence what sources Val decides to access.


Which Sources?

The following elements will influence what sources Val decides to access:

A.  Topic - The topic will dictate how and what you access. For example, if Val decides she wants to research strictly history, culture, and fashion of tattoos, she would be unlikely to find this information in a medical database.

B.  Assignment or Need – Your professor may require specific sources for the assignment that will take some of the guesswork out of what you need to access.  Likewise, if your research is for personal reasons you will want to consider informal methods of research (interviews, talking with friends) as well as library resources.

C. Procrastination - Waiting until the last minute frequently has a negative impact on the sources used. Additionally, studies have identified procrastination with higher rates of plagiarism and lower academic performance. Module 5 will have more information about using information ethically to avoid plagiarism. 


Accessing Tools


Tools.jpg Using the example from Module One, Val has identified several research questions for five different topics.  Take for example the question how do perceptions of tattoos differ in Eastern religions, Judaism and Christianity?  Professor Sage has indicated that the research essay needs to have three types of sources: books, articles from databases, and credible websites. Val has already found some background information, but needs more specific sources to answer her research question. Val can effectively and efficiently find the sources required for the assignment, by being able to diffrentiate and choose the appropriate method and tool for accessing each source.

Library Catalog - Most libraries have an electronic catalog that is essentially an online index of all the items within a library's collection. While many resources are accessible through a library catalog, it is primarily used for finding books on the library's shelves.

Research Databases - These are digital warehouse of information organzied to allow users easy access to information. Databases are used primarily to find articles from journals, magazines, and newspapers.

Search Engines - Search engines collect and organize information from the internet. They are used primarily to locate web sites and documents on the internet. They have advanced options that can help users find sites that are more credible than what the average random search often retrieves.


The Library Catalog & Databases

Scene 2.2 

Val's class logs in to the library computers and Mr. Bookman, the librarian, begins the interactive lesson. Val follows along on her computer as the librarian's steps are shown on the projector at the front of the room.

LIBRARIAN: The first thing you will need to do is to login to Atlas in order to access books, e-books, and articles via research databases. Even if you are on campus, you will still need to login to access the research databases. Click the Search Libraries link shown in the image below.




LIBRARIAN: Once you log into Atlas, you can access both books and databases from the Valencia Libraries Page.




The bottom line:  For complete access to Valencia Libraries resources, Val needs to login to Atlas and click Search The Libraries before she can proceed researching the library databases. 


Databases vs. Search Engines

The following table explains some of the differences between Databases and Search Engines. Glancing at the table, it is easy to see how a database can actually save Val time conducting college level research but it also helps Val identify which tool to access for different information needs. In some cases, a search engine is the best option.


Library Databases

(ex. Academic Search Complete, General One File)

Search Engines

(ex. Google, Yahoo & Bing)

Information Sources

  • Scholarly or peer reviewed journal articles
  • Popular and general magazine articles
  • Newspaper articles
  • Reference book articles or chapters
  • Books
  • Streaming media
  • Minimal or no advertising
  • Limited number of scholarly articles, most cost money
  • Globally popular web sites (Wikipedia, Youtube, Facebook)
  • Consumer & Shopping web sites (Amazon, eBay)
  • Goverment sites, (.gov) educational sites (.edu), groups and organizations (.org) (ex. USDA, Valencia College, PETA)
  • Current news (Orlando Sentinel, USA Today)
  • Blogs
  • Advertisements

Organizational Structure

  • Highly methodical, each individual record is searchable
  • Resources are based on specific criteria and disciplines
  • Advanced search options, including subject headings, publisher, author,date etc.


  • Reliability & other criteria not evaluated when pages are indexed
  • Ranked results, keyword searches often default to the sites that have been visited the most often
  • Search engines cannot be searched by subject, as most web pages are not cataloged with subject headings



  • Journal articles have been evaluated by experts in the field
  • Most material in a database has been published and has gone through an evaluative and editorial process
  • Databases are updated frequently
  • Minimal to no quality control governs the Web
  • Author credentials are often not verifiable; anonymous content
  • Some web sites contain outdated information, no regular updates
  • All sources on the web need to be evaluated and verified by the user. Sites with rerferences listed make this easier


Cost& Access

  • Databases are funded through student tuition, college funding, and the Florida state funding
  • Databases are accessible 24/7 through a student's Atlas account
  • Overwhelming majority of information is free
  • Library databases and most journals are inaccessible on the web
  • Most evaluated & credible information requires membership to a group or organization, and usually requires fees


  • Highly organized; availability of advanced search options and increased relevancy of results
  • All retrieved articles in a full text database are accessible
  • Limited options for precise results. Requires more effort to narrow
  • Only the first 1000 results are actually accessible (Google)

When To Use

  • College level research
  • Quick access to verified, credible information
  • Current and updated information
  • Information with references to other sources
  • Personal information
  • Information on groups, companies, Government, and edcucational institutions
  • News, weather, travel, & shopping
  • Overviews, statistics, and brief articles


The bottom line: Databases and search engines both serve useful purposes when conducting research. Understanding the strengths and limitations of each can save Val time.


Search Strategies

Subject Headings (Controlled Vocabulary) - Library catalogs and databases use controlled vocabulary also known as subject headings, as a means of organizing information. Valencia libraries, and most academic libraries use the Library Of Congress Subject Headings as their controlled vocabulary. Often, it can be more effective than using simple keyword searches.

For example, if Val does a simple keyword search on "Hindu" in the Valencia library catalog she will retrieve books on art, philosophy, music, civilization, and culture for a total of 254 books. Val decides to change her search to "Hindu Religion". This brings up 98 titles, some books on Hindu religion are retrieved but also encyclopedias of all religions are returned and Hindu is just one of them. A subject search on the term "Hinduism" would retrieve 48 books only on the Hindu religion and not peripheral or related religions.

Similarly, Val has searched the Christian Bible for information on Christanity's teachings regarding tattoos. She tries a similar search to locate a Hindu text using the terms "Hindu Bible" but has no results. In this case, using the subject heading Hinduism, Sacred Texts will return the results Val is looking for.



 Using Subject Headings

question1.JPG How does a person find the proper subject headings for a search? It is easier than you might think.! Let's take Val's search from the previous slide "Hindu religion". Below is the first book in her list of results. Simply click on the Detalils link, and beside Subjects are the headings to describe that book.

In the example below. Hinduism; Gods, Hindu; India- - Religion are the three subject headings for this record. Clicking on any of these headings will bring up books classified under that particular subject. Note, that Hinduism is the first heading in the list, which means it is usually the primary heading.



Hindu Screenshot.jpg



Keywords & SynonymsMom.jpg

Most forms of retrieving information electronically are done through keywords.  Val has often searched Google, mixing and matching keywords to find results. This same concept applies to finding books and articles in the library's electronic databases or catalog.  In Module One, Val discovered that trying different keywords altered results, and worked better than using the entire research question as a search.

A good approach is to brainstorm a group of keywords and synonyms mentally, or to write them down. Val should choose terms with similar meanings in case the first keyword or two does not return the results she would like. A diverse group of keywords and synonyms allows Val the option to construct alternative searches to find the information she needs   Using the research question of how do perceptions of tattoos differ in Eastern religions, Judaism and Christianity, a list of possible but not exhaustive keywords are listed below.



Also Try



view, idea, opinion, judgement




body art, body marking, body adornment, iconography (symbolic meaning of art)




religion, faith, belief, spirtuality (applies to Judaism & Eastern Religions as well)


Eastern Religions


Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism etc.



(Photo credit: Best Tattoo Gallery. Used under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license)


Boolean Operators

Boolean searching is the means of organizing keywords into concept sets.  Electronic resources are constructed to allow the use of Boolean operators to retrieve information.  This includes Google, library book catalogs, and electronic databases.  The images below illustrate how Boolean operators relate.   For most research assignments at Valencia College, the AND operator is usually sufficient to find relevant articles in a database. However more advanced research topics may require the use of some or all Boolean operators in a search. This flash video gives a quick and easy demonstration of how easy Boolean logic can be.


Boolean Operators: Using the AND Operator

The search Religion AND tattoos is represented. Using this example, articles that included both the word religion and the word tattoo would be returned.   Articles with only one of those words somewhere in the text would be ignored.   As more keywords are added to a search, the number of articles will decrease.   When too many keywords are used, the database will often return no results.   For this reason, starting with a couple keywords first is a good way to gauge how many articles are available before getting more specific.

The diagram below is a visual representation of the search used above.The lighter colored sections represent all the articles available in the Academic Search Complete database that contain either the word religion or the word tattoo.  The darkened intersection is articles that contain both of these keywords within the article.  The AND operator is most useful for finding information on topics with two or more components. 




Boolean Operators: Using the OR Operator

In this search, Liberal OR Democrat retrieves all articles containing either word, regardless of whether they appear together in the same article or not. This operator is used to get an overview of what is available before focusing more specifically on one or both topics.  It is also useful for searching for words with common synonyms or alternate spellings, such as ax OR axe. Using the OR operator will return the largest amount of articles of all the Boolean operators.




Boolean Operators: Using the NOT Operator

In this search, School NOT Middle, all articles containing the word middle will be eliminated from the list of results. The NOT operator is useful for excluding unwanted results from articles that appear in a general search, for example articles about New York but not the Yankees baseball team would look like this: New York NOT Yankees. However, the NOT operator can also exclude relevant articles so use it carefully. 


SchoolVenn Diagram.png  


Tiger.jpg Advanced Search Techniques

There are a variety of advanced search techniques beyond the scope of this module. The following link provides more information for those that are interested. Below are two examples of more commonly used advanced search methods.


Phrase Searching

Enclosing search terms within quotations enables a search for the words exactly as they are entered within the quotes. For example, the following search for "tattoos in Christianity" will find articles that contain this exact phrase somewhere within the article. Limiting to phrase searches is an excellent way to narrow a search, but keep in mind that entering long sentences such as "How do perceptions of tattoos differ in Eastern religions, Judaism, and Christianity" will rarely retrieve meaningful results and most likely will return no results.



Using the * symbol at the end of a root word will find variations of that words ending.  For example entering the word tattoo* in a search will find tattoos, tattooing, tattooed and tattooer. 


(Photo credit: Used under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license)



Activity: Connecting Keywords

In the following activity, practice using Boolean Operators and phrase searching techniques to combine keywords.



Using Boolean In Google

The Google advanced search allows for the use of Boolean operators. Below is the advanced search screen in Google and the arrows indicate which search bars represent the different Boolean operators. You could also write this search out in the regular Google search bar. It would look like this: religion tattoos OR "body art" -piercing. In Google, the minus sign represents the NOT operator, while the AND operator is automatically inserted between every keyword unless otherwise substituted by OR, or the minus sign. In other words, there is an invisible AND between religion tattoos in the bolded search above. Quotation marks in Google are a phrase search and work the same as in the library research databases.

 Credible websites are only determined by evaluating them carefully. Module 3 will explain in depth how to evaluate websites.

Boolean Google.jpg

The bottom line: Using keywords, Boolean Operators, and other techniques effectively enables Val to focus her searches and find information more efficiently. 


Library Catalog Search

The library catalog is used primarily to locate books, DVDs, and eBooks within the library. Books will often provide the best background and most in depth information on many topics at the cost of being slightly behind the most recent updates. Magazine, Journal, newspaper articles, and various streaming audio or video files are found in Valencia's databases.  Below is a list of records that Val retrieved from the library catalog using the search tattoos and culture. 

Val can click Location to find what libraries own the book, and if she wishes to place a hold or have the book sent to her she can click the Request Item link.  The call number gives the shelf location for the book in the library and begins with one or two letters and is followed by numbers including the year it was published. Only books that are listed as Circulation can be checked out. Reference books can be used in the library only. In most libraries, a reference book will have an R or REF before the call number. 

Ex. Body piercing and tattoos fashion - Call number : REF GT2345.B63 2003

Val can also click Details to find table of contents information as well as the subject headings we discussed earlier.



Val has the option to narrow her results to certain filters on the left frame under Refine My Results. Related subjects and publication dates are just a few of the many narrowing options listed.





Activity: How Call Numbers Work

Books are arranged alphabetically according to the first letter in the call number. Val reviews the following handout to learn more about the Library of Congress call numbers and then practices this virtual shelving exercise.





Check Your Answers

The correct order for the previous exercise is :

  1. GT2343.G77 2002
  2. GT2345.M55 1997
  3. GT2345.R56 2004
  4. HV6439.U5 V354 2000
  5. RD119.5.B82 W54 1998


Database Search

Valencia has over 180 databases, which can make it difficult to choose the appropriate database for Val's needs. Using the subject listing for databases makes the choice easier if Val is unsure of which database will be useful.  As a rule of thumb, databases grouped under the General subject contain information on most topics, but for certain assignments they may not be specific enough to be useful.





Databases provide electronic access mainly to periodicals. Below are a list of most of the sources found in a database:


Journal articles in databases are often referred to as scholarly, peer reviewed or credible sources. Databases are also the best place to find the most current research on a given topic, as books are often slightly behind the most current research. Val has searched the general database titled Academic Search Complete for tattoos and Christianity.  The articles she retrieved can be viewed in their entirety by selecting the Full Text link, or she can quickly determine an article's usefulness by reading the abstract.


Notice that the subject headings for each record are listed at the end of the abstract for that record. For example, Tattoing - - Religious Aspects is a heading in the first record and would be a good term to use for other related articles. Val can click Add to folder for each article as well as email, or save all items in her folder at once which is useful when in a rush and bypasses print costs.  The left pane allows Val to filter her results to more current articles, or specific sources such as Academic journals.



Activity: Choosing the Best Access Tool

In the following activity, practice matching each type of source with the most appropriate tool for accessing it.




Check Your Answers


Research Databse

Search Engine

Library Catalog

A magazine article about tattoo culture

Information from the American Medical Association on tattoos

A book about the history of tattooing

A newspaper article about recent tattoo needle infections

Government information on licensing for tattoo artists

A reference book on body art in ancient history



Step 2. Refining the Search Strategy

Refining a search involves reflecting upon the sources of information that have been retrieved in a search and determining if they are of a quality and quantity that is sufficient to complete the assignment or need. Refining a search may be necessary if hundreds or perhaps thousands of articles are returned using a keyword search. Refinment is also necessary if a topic requires the most current research articles, such as medical, technology and science topics but only older sources have been found. Val should also consider refining a search if many of the sources that have been returned are biased, for example a research study sponsored by Folgers Coffee that claims numerous health benefits associated with drinking coffee.

When refining a search, it might require trying different databases or a new string of keywords to search in a current database.  This is where having the keyword chart previously mentioned becomes useful.  Refining a search can also involve switching to another access strategy altogether, such as visiting another library, contacting a government agency or group, and borrowing items from another library which is known as interlibrary loan.  Seeking the assistance of a librarian would also be an important step in refining a search strategy and in obtaining an interlibrary loan.



(Photo credit: Used under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license)


How many results?

While there are no standard rules for how many sources are considered to be adequate to complete a research topic, many indexes, such as Google limit Val's results to roughly 1000 sources, even though many thousands more results are listed. Most databases through Valencia do not impose a limit on your results. A search for tattoos in the Academic Search Complete database will return about 2400 articles. Do the same search in Google and over 46 million results are returned! However, Val will actually have access to fewer than a 1000 of those results. For some people, a thousand results might be a perfect pool to begin with, while for others they might prefer to narrow to a hundred articles or less.

The bottom line: In many instances, the research databases give you not only more credible resources, but a larger pool that is accessible.


Uncovering More Sources

 A useful tip, and an easy way to refine a search, is to check the bibliographies or footnotes from an article or book you have found. Val could use the sources from References to the article titled "Christian Student Perceptions Of Body Tattoos" to find other sources through Valencia or another library.










Step 3. Managing Information

Val now needs a method for organizing and managing the information she has found, so that she can easily refer to it and access it when necessary. Most books can be temporarily checked out from the library, and photocopies of a limited number of pages from reference books can be made. Electronic database articles can be emailed, printed, bookmarked, or saved to a storage device as needed. The bookmarking option is the only one that does not give you immediate access to the article. In order to access the bookmarked article you will need to be logged into Atlas first. Use the Permalink or Bookmark option near the bottom of the Tools menu if you plan to save the links to your articles, or share them with others when working on a group project via Facebook, Twitter or other service. Keep in mind that those you share the link with will have to login to Atlas to be able to access it.


Printing, Saving and E-mailing Articles from Databases

Below, Val has selected article #3 from the previous search, titled "Christian Student Perceptions of Body Tattoos: A Qualitative Analysis" by clicking on the title link.  Val has several options for managing the article, including printing, saving it, or emailing it to herself.  The citation information for the article includes the title and beneath that, the authors, source, and date of publication information are all provided.  The citation information for all sources used in a research paper is usually included at the end of a research paper.  This list of cited sources is referred to as a Works Cited Page, Bibliography, or References, depending upon the discipline or course. Module 5 will discuss in greater detail the different methods and styles of citing sources.




Activity: Review the Vocabulary

Complete the crossword puzzle to recall terms used in this module. 




This concludes Module #2: Accessing Sources. In this module, you learned:



You also acquired the following skills: