Evaluating Library Resources
When you have located some resources that seem to cover your topic, you need to carefully evaluate each source to determine its appropriateness and quality. Do not assume that because something has been published in a book, periodical or newspaper that it is a reputable, reliable source. You must make a deliberate decision about the relevance and quality of the information.
The Preliminary Selection Criteria below may help you determine the relevancy of the research citations that you locate in library catalogs, periodical and newspaper indexes before you physically locate the material. The Content Analysis Criteria will help you narrow your selections to the very best library resources for your research assignment. Indicators of Scholarship and Propaganda will help in evaluating the content of a source. See Evaluating Web Resources for specialized criteria used to critically analyze web sites and other Internet resources.
Preliminary Selection Criteria
You can begin evaluating a source before you actually have the source in hand. If you have located your source in a library catalog or periodical index, you may begin your appraisal by examining the bibliographic citation in the catalog or index. The preliminary evaluation will be a quick, common sense examination of each prospective source, to determine the relevancy of the source for your research need. It does not take the place of the more thorough content analysis of the source, but should be used as a beginning selection tool. Every source you consider for your paper should be evaluated using the following criteria:
||What are the author's credentials (education, publications, or experience) in the subject area? Literature Resource Center, Contemporary Authors, Who's Who in America, or biographical information in the book or on the book jacket may help you determine the author's qualifications. |
Is the author affiliated with an organization or institution? What is the purpose of that organization or institution?
Reputable authors are often cited by other scholars. Have you seen the author's name cited in other sources?
|Place of Publication
||Some topics are geographically associated with certain areas of the country or world and the place of publication may be important.|
|Date of Publication
||When was the source published? Book publication dates are listed in library catalogs and are usually found on the book's title page; or if there is no publication date, a copyright date may be found on the back of the title page. |
If your topic is a current issue or controversy, is the publication date recent enough to provide the latest information? For current issues, you may need to limit your sources to periodical articles since books on the topic may be dated.
Does the date of publication and/or the date of research affect the validity of the work?
|Edition or Revision
||Is this the first edition or a revision? Is a later edition of the work available? Many revisions of a work may indicate it is a standard or highly reputable source.|
|Book Publisher or Journal Title
||Is the source published by a university press, trade press, or specialized press? University press publications are often scholarly and reputable. |
For periodicals, is the source a popular magazine, scholarly journal, newspaper,or sensational publication? See Periodicals: Magazines, Journals and Newspapers for help in determining the type of periodical.
Content Analysis Criteria
Once you have selected some preliminary sources from those you have located in catalogs and indexes, you need to locate those materials and thoroughly evaluate them, using the following criteria:
||Is the material intended for the general public, scholars, professionals, etc.? Is the material too elementary, too technical, or too advanced for your needs?|
||Is the purpose to inform, persuade, promote, or refute a particular idea or point of view?|
||Is the author's point of view biased? Is there a commercial or organizational interest associated with the material? Has the source been peer reviewed? Are misleading or deceptive arguments used? Are there fallacies in arguments and reasoning? Are stereotypes or ethnocentric arguments used? Are inflammatory words or phrases used?|
||Is the material written with correct grammar, spelling and punctuation? Is the information based on verifiable facts or opinions that can be documented in other sources? How did the author obtain the data or conduct the research that the material is based on? Does the author justify the conclusions?|
||Does the work add new information, update other sources, or substantiate other materials you have read? Does it extensively or marginally cover your topic? You should explore enough sources to obtain a variety of viewpoints. |
Is the material primary or secondary in nature? Primary sources are the raw material of the research process. Secondary sources are based on primary sources.
||How does this resource compare with others on the topic? Does the source contain references to other resources? Does the information agree or disagree with widely accepted points of view? Critical reviews of books may be located using Book Review Digest or in periodical databases such as InfoTrac or WilsonSelect.|
Indicators of Scholarship and Propaganda
The following "Indicators of Scholarship" and "Indicators of Propaganda" (Bodi, p. 23) may also provide some guidance in considering the content of a source. This material was originally a handout by Professor Eileen Gambrill, School of Social Welfare, University of Berkeley.
|Indicators of Scholarship
||Indicators of Propaganda|
|Describes the limit of data.
||Uses excessive claims of certainty.|
|Presents accurate descriptions of alternative views.
||Uses personal attacks and ridicule.|
|Presents data that is well-rounded.
||Uses emotional appeals.|
|Encourages debate, discussion and criticism.
||Distorts data unfavorable to preferred views.|
|Settles disputes by use of generally accepted criteria for evaluating data.
||Suppresses contradictory views.|
|Looks for counter-examples.
||Suppresses contradictory facts.|
|Uses language in agreed-on-ways.
||Appeals to popular prejudices.|
|Uses up-to-date information.
||Relies on suggestion or negative innuendo.|
|Admits own ignorance or lack of knowledge when necessary.
||Devalues thought and critical appraisal.|
|Attempts to discuss general laws and principles.
||Transforms words to suit aims.|
|Finds own field/area of investigation difficult and full of holes.
||Magnifies or minimizes problems and suggested remedies.|
|Relies on critical thinking skills.
||Presents information and views out-of context.|
Bodi, Sonia. "Scholarship or Propaganda: How Can Librarians Help Undergraduates
Tell the Difference?" Journal of Academic Librarianship.21 (1995): 21-25.
DeLisle, Judi. Evaluating Data. 1 February 2000. Valencia Community College.
23 June 2000. <http://valencia.cc.fl.us/lrcwest/evaluatingdata.html>
Engeldinger, Eugene. "Bibliographic Instruction and Critical Thinking:
The Contribution of the Annotated Bibliography." RQ. 28 (1988): 195-202.
Ormondroyd, Joan, Michael Engle, and Tony Cosgrave. How to Critically Analyze
Information Sources. 21 June 2000. Cornell University Library. 23 June 2000.