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Basics of Library Skills

Why you need information retrieval?

Being able to use information critically is a key aspect of basic academic skills.

Information retrieval skills are among university students’ most important basic skills and aid them through their learning process. Students today are expected to be self-directing and to embrace the principle of life-long education. They have to learn to take responsibility for how they work, gain a sound knowledge of their chosen field and develop the ability to solve problems independently and critically. Information retrieval skills help you to:

  • search for and find information
  • assess information
  • use information in a wide range of different forms
  • formulate and plan your projects

Simple searches

A simple and quick search will often be enough when you’ve just started your studies.

For example, can you find a particular course book in the Library? In what year was Mika Waltari born? What’s the population of Australia? What are member states of the European Union?

You can search for books in the libraries using library databases. The University of Lapland’s collection can be browsed in LUC-Finna. When you need a specific piece of information or general information on a particular topic, the online search services should be more than adequate. The links they provide will give you an overview of the topic and a feel for the associated terminology. For the most up-to-date information, which you’ll need for your university studies, your best source is generally the most recent issues of academic journals.

Searching by subject

When you have a more extensive need for information, for example, when collecting data for a seminar paper or your thesis, you should do a search by subject; this will give you the chance to explore the topic in depth.

Let’s say you have to write an essay on Mika Waltari’s early works or you have to do a group assignment requiring a brief overview of the differences between the day care cultures in Finland and Germany.

Information retrieval relating to a particular topic or problem means that you have to gain a comprehensive enough idea of what has been written on the topic before. The process involves searching for information, assessing what you find and then selecting and combining what you consider most relevant. Acquiring and processing information help place things in perspective, enabling you to grasp the big picture.

Often the hardest step in information retrieval is the first one – getting started. At first you might find books on the shelves of a familiar library whose titles suggest that they deal with the topic of your presentation or paper. But you might well miss the latest information if you’re not at home in the databases available. Looking at library shelves alone might mean that the sources you end up with turn out to be incomplete, unreliable and random. It is worth learning how to use the databases and online materials available through the library - and learning this well – if you want to be able to find publications that are useful and relevant for your topic.