Each of these resources needs to be evaluated for usefulness based on what type of information we need and how we will be use the information.
All resources are not created equal, especially those found on the internet. Public libraries offer free access to the internet to everyone and with a little knowledge you can post whatever information you like to the world wide web. Even when information appears in print it is not necessarily accurate and reliable. Each resource (print and online) should be evaluated for authority, reliability, and timeliness.
You should look at each source to see who or what organization wrote or published it and ask yourself the following questions:
What was the purpose for publishing the material? Informational, entertainment, for profit, etc...
If a theatre puts out a flyer advertising the "greatest show on earth" can you believe it? No, they want your money. You should look for reviews by people who have already spent their money to see the show or people who are considered experts in the industry. If a well known reviewer says "One of the best shows of 2009" then it is more informational than for profit, therefore more believable. Even though the reviewer is paid to review shows he/she is only as good as his/her reputation.
What are the author's credentials? Are they an authority on the subject? Did a dancer write a book on treatments for dance related injuries or was the book written by a medical doctor?
While a dancer with many years of experience may have some interesting insights, they are not qualified to advise you on proper dosages for medication. You should alwaysl check with your doctor.
What was the publication process?
Most academic books have an editor or group of editors that have expertise (authority) on the subject matter who approve the material for publication. Academic journal articles are peer reviewed. Multiple authorities on the subject review the article and approve it before publication. This process is what makes the journal "academic" or "scholarly."
Sources should be evaluated for accuracy and trustworthiness.
Material should be reviewed for bias to determine how accurate or misleading it is. For example, if you are reading a review of a play written by someone related to the director of the play or someone in the cast there is an obvious bias. This does not mean the review is not honest, but how can you trust that it is? You should read other reviews without bias to either support or replace this review. One way to check for bias is by identifying the main points and asking how they are supported. Are multiple sides presented and refuted in support of these points?
If not, there may be a bias.
Does the item have a bibliography or a works cited page?
The existence of a bibliography indicates that the author engaged in research others were given credit for their ideas. If a bibliography does not exist you cannot be sure that what you are reading is not sheer opinion or entirely made up.
Another test of reliability is to find multiple sources that say the same thing. If instead you continue to find sources that contradict the source you are evaluating, chances are it is not reliable.
Sources should be relevant. In most cases this means current, but in some cases you want historical information and it is okay to use information that was published ten or even twenty years ago. However, if you are working on a biography of Martha Graham, make sure you are looking at the most recently published information because new facts may have been discovered about her life and previously held beliefs may have been proven false. Most information is considered timely if it was published within the past five years. You should look for the following information concerning dates:
Date material was researched or written - this information could be contained in introductions or prefaces
In the case of web sites the date information was last updated
Periodicals are items that are published in volumes on a regular basis (e.g., annually, monthly, quarterly, etc.)
Popular Magazines - are periodicals that are geared toward the masses. They tend to have lots of general product advertisements and short articles requiring little or no research such as interviews, editorials, and product reviews.
(Seventeen, Home & Garden, Time)
Use popular magazines to find information on pop culture.
Professional Journals/Trade Magazines -
are a lot like popular magazines except they are subject specific. Authors/Editors are subject specialists. Any product advertisements would be for products used in the profession and interviews would be limited to leaders within the field. (Dance Teacher, Dance Magazine, Dancer)
Use trade magazines for the latest news in a particular field or profession.
- require a peer review process before publication. Authors are subject specialists and so are the peer reviewers. The journals contain research articles with subject specific jargon and a works cited or bibliography list(Dance Research, Dance Chronicle, Research in Dance Education).
Use scholarly journals for the latest research on a particular topic or in a particular profession.
- contain articles on current affairs and human interest pieces. (The Oklahoman, Wall Street Journal, New York Times) Use newspapers to find information on current events, especially local events.
Sometimes evaluating resources requires a little extra research. If you are trying to determine if your author is a subject expert, a quick google search on the author's name and the publication name will usually turn up an editors page like this one for Dance Magazine. It gives the credentials of all the editors so you know whether or not they have the authority to write what they are writing about.
Books should be used when you need a lot of information on a particular topic. They are especially good when you want to view a topic from a historical perspective. Books serve the same function whether they are in print or electronic format. In addition to printed books, the Dulaney-Browne Library also has many electronic books purchased from ebrary.
A good example of a historical book is The Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky. It was edited by Vaslav's wife Romola Nijinsky. You know this from reading the preface where she refers to Nijinsky as her husband. She also states in the preface that Nijinsky himself wrote the diary that the book is based on (authority). The publisher is the University of California Press. University Presses normally publish reputable research. The publisher is reputable and the editor is an authority on the subject (reliability). However, is there potential for bias? A wife may want to hide certain things or embellish others, but she is basing her writing on a historical document that she cited. There seems to be no reason for the publication other than to inform. It was first published in 1936. The information is not very timely, but the source is a credible source of historical information, especially since it is an autobiography (timeliness). However, research is rarely supported by one source. Look for more sources as well as a biography that covers his entire life since he was still living when this one was first published.
Nijinsky, Vaslav. The Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky. ed. Romola Nijinsky.
Berkeley: The University of California Press, 1973. Print.
Encyclopedias and Dictionaries should be evaluated in the same manner as books. If you have a topic that you know nothing about, a dictionary can provide a definition and possibly synonymns that you can use for further search terms in a library catalog. An encyclopedia will provide you with a short history of your topic and usually a few references to the sources that were used. You can look up those references in the library catalog for more in depth information.
Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia that users can login to and anonymously edit entries, so it is unusable in an academic setting (fails test for authority and reliability). When using Wikipedia you should always verify any information using additional sources and should NEVER cite Wikipedia in an academic paper.
In libraries, electronic databases contain full-text, abstracted articles.
The articles can be from newspapers, popular magazines, trade journals, or scholarly journals. A library database will give you the full citation to the article you are accessing. Some of the articles will be full-text while some will only give you an abstract or summary. You should evaluate the periodical in the same manner you would a print periodical. You can trust the databases provided by your library, as librarians have a high motivation to choose reputable database vendors due to the high cost of database subscriptions. A few of the well known library databases vendors are EBSCO, JSTOR, ProQuest, Elsevier, and Gale.
If you are accessing a database offered freely on the internet or some other source you should look at the database provider credentials as well as the contents of the database. What is the full scope of the database? Are only dance journals included in the database or is it a general topic database? The answers to these questions will tell you if the provider is an authority on a particular topic. You should also ask how the provider can afford to offer the information for free? Does the provider also publish the print journals? Are the articles copyrighted? If you are dealing with full-text, look to see that the database is always giving you full citation information and that it matches what is actually included in the full-text information. Do the page numbers match? Does the first page of full-text actually start with the title page? Were the articles ever published in print? The more questions you answer with a "no," the less likely you are to have a reputable database vendor. However, you will still need to evaluate each individual article for reliability and for appropriateness as applicable to your information need.
Web Pages are one of the most challenging sources to evaluate because anyone can post them and they can be edited at any time. One important thing you should always look for is the publisher, clues to which can be found in the URL. Sites in the .edu domain are published by universities while .gov sites are published by the government and can normally be trusted. However, most universities give their students web space so .edu sites can also be published by students and not necessarily the university. Site in the .org, .com, and .net domains are published by companies, organizations, and the general public. You must always look at the author, the type of information, whether or not sources are cited, and whether or not information is current. Use the internet to research companies, access government published information, as well as current information. A lot of newspapers can be accessed online and sites like Yahoo! have daily news and pop culture headlines.
The Ban Dihydrogen Monoxide web page is a perfect example of a site that looks like a good resource, but upon closer examination fails the test of authority, reliability, and timeliness. This website gives lots of facts about how Dihydrogen Monoxide kills people. It is published by an organization called Coalition to Ban DHMO and was copyrighted in 1995. The web address contains a .com so the publisher could be anyone. There are no links labeled "about us" to help you determine the authority of the organization and there is not information on how often the page has been updated since its creation fifteen years ago. No sources are cited for the facts listed about DHMO, but one quote is given from the Department of Health for the State of Washington, and there is a list for further reading. One of the readings is from the newspaper USA Today and another is published by Oxford University Press. There are also links to further reading on the web. One is to a United Nations page and another is to the CIA World Factbook. These are reputable sources and would tend to make you think the information on the site could be trusted. However, the links do not lead to information about DHMO. Most of the information on the site is correct, but it is presented in such a way that is misleading. Dihydrogen (H2) Monoxide (O) is (H2O) water. We cannot ban water.
Unless you are writing a paper on the satirical use of web sites, then you should find another resource.