1.4 Three Tools for Finding Information

To get you started, here are three major tools for finding information: web search engines, library discovery tools, and article indexes. Each one of these tools is important for finding specific types of information. While some finding tools overlap in coverage (e.g., web search engines can also find books and journals), each has their own unique features and strengths that can help you determine which to use to find a particular type of resource. The finding tools complement each other, and each is a vital piece in the information-seeking puzzle. What are these tools best for finding?

Web Search Engines:

  • websites
  • up-to-date news
  • images
  • most of the information on the open web

Library Discovery Tools (ISU Library’s Quick Search, etc):

  • materials that a specific library owns
  • include books, journals, audio-visual resources, and more

Article Indexes (ISU Library’s list of article indexes for many subjects):

  • scholarly journal articles
  • article abstracts

Below, you can see some of the features of these tools, and how some are unique and others are shared:

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In addition to knowing the features of each finding tool, understanding the type of information you need can help you determine the best one for your research. For example, you might use a different tool when looking for background information versus when you are looking for subject focused information.

Where to find different information types

Background information:

  • Books and encyclopedias often provide this information and can be found using library discovery tools.
  • Online encyclopedias and authoritative websites found through web search engines can also provide background information.

Subject-focused scholarly information:

  • Scholarly books and journal articles are usually found through library discovery tools and scholarly indexes.

Current events:

  • Newspaper articles, news websites, and consumer magazine articles can be found using web search engines.
  • Newspaper articles can also be found through newspaper and general indexes from your library.
  • Many historical newspapers may be available through your library, but not on the open web.

Statistical information:

  • The US federal government is a major supplier of useful statistics on many topics. Web search engines would be a great choice for helping find relevant government websites.
  • Statistical databases from your library may help you find other sources of data and statistics.

Projects you work on may need to tap into many of these types of sources and tools. Keep in mind that research takes time, thought, and energy, and there will often be more than just one place to search or tool to use.

Check your understanding!


LIB 160: Information Literacy Copyright © 2019 by Iowa State University Library Instruction Services. All Rights Reserved.

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