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Sources of Information

Hi Class, welcome to the IS and ICT 201 course on Personal Knowledge Management. This week we start with a brief discussion of what Knott refers to as the "map of the information world."

The Information Sector

Knott begins her chapter with a discussion about the information sector---Sector 51 as it's called by the US Census Bureau and other governmental agencies and departments, such as the US Economic Census, and multiple industries. The number 51 refers to the NAICS code number North American Industry Classification System for the information industry (we'll talk about NAICS more in this class). This industry is defined as that sector which:

comprises establishments engaged in the following processes: (a) producing and distributing information and cultural products, (b) providing the means to transmit or distribute these products as well as data or communication, and (c) processing data (NAICS, 2012).

(For more information about this industry, including statistical information about the workforce, earnings, and more, visit the Bureau of Labor Statistics page.)

This is a nice introduction to the map of the information world, because Knott's example and main idea in this chapter is also one of the main ideas of this course---that is, there is a multitude of information available to us via the Internet and the Web, but this information is largely out of sight because it's not easily visible to search engines like Google, Bing, Yahoo, or others. And because it's out of sight, it requires an additional skill set to locate those sources, retrieve them, manage it all, and then apply and use that information in new ways.

In short, information that is stored in databases, like the one pictured in this slide, such as the Quarterly Financial Report for the information sector, is not easily accessible via a search engine. Rather, in order to access this data, you'd need to know that it exists and that you know where it exists and that it is available to you. Once you know this, you can then proceed to the source or the resource, and retrieve it using a query or via a selection of menu items. Sometimes this kind of data or information is only generated on the fly---based on your search query---otherwise it does not have a standalone page---it does not, that is, pre-exist as some URL.

Database Terminology

Knott mentions various terms to describe databases. These include:

  • databases
  • database producers and publishers
  • database vendors
  • database platforms

This is a confusing mix of terminology, but the conceptual differences help us identify and see what is available to us. In essence, we can think about these terminological differences by comparing these terms to a more familiar resource, like Google. Google is now a part of a bigger company called Alphabet Inc., which we can think of as the vendor. This company offers a search platform called Google Search, as well as other platforms, like Google Photos, Google Plus, and more. The index that Google Search creates when it crawls the web is the actual database that we use when we use Google Search, and then of course Google or Alphabet produces or publishes its own material.

Multiple Databases Available to You

Libraries, such as UK's, offers comparable if not more specialized products. These include EBSCOhost, ProQuest and Gale, among many others. The vendors for these products supply multiple databases for accessing subject focused information on a number of topics, and you can become familiar with them by visiting the UK Libraries website, clicking on the Databases tab, and searching the databases using a broad term, such as business, education, psychology, marketing, and so forth. It's important to note that the sources that these databases provide---that is, the information---is costly and thus not easily available or seen by the regular search engine.

Strategic Information Seeking

Why is that important? Well, for most of our everyday, mundane needs, the general search engine is great. That is, it's really wonderful to live in this day in age---we have access to more information and more quickly than we have had at any point in human history. But if we assume that these search engines provide access to the totality of information that's available, to the entire map, then we short ourselves. Sometimes, when the risks and the stakes are high---when we need more in-depth and more thorough information, and we need to be strategic about this---and to know when we have to be strategic---can save us from some costly mistakes. In such cases, it's not a matter of making decisions based on inaccurate information but on incomplete information.

Multiple DB Sources

Fortunately, if we only knew that we had more options, and if we only knew how to leverage those options, then we could put ourselves on more secure footing. Knott's chapter, and many examples in this book, focuses on General OneFile, which is a database offered by Gale. General OneFile is more commonly offered by public libraries. Don't dismiss public libraries and think they're only about checking out books. Public libraries, like UK's library, generally offer a number of databases. And State libraries and state consortiums, generally also offer access to specific databases, like Kentucky's Virtual Library, pictured here. Once you graduate from UK, you'll no longer have easy access to its databases, but you can still access many of them through the public library, via the computer you use to connect to the Internet.


Let's take a quick look at a couple of UK Library's offerings. Here we have pictured the first three databases provided by EBSCOhost, a database vendor. You may have encountered Academic Search Complete in your other courses, but EBSCO provides over 50 topical databases and the subject matter of these databases range from music, psychology, education, ecology, and more.


Like EBSCOhost, ProQuest is another vendor that provides access to many subject based databases. We have access to about half as many as offered by EBSCOhost, and some of the topics overlap, but the sources are commonly different even if the topics overlap. Plus, each of these vendors provides access to thousands of scholarly journals, magazines, trade journals, newspapers, reports, blogs, newspapers, dissertations, biographies, company reports, encyclopedias, government publications, and much, much more.

Free Resources

In our chapter this week, Knott also refers to a number of free resources. That is, aside from the physical libraries you have access to, and the digital ones such as, there are freely available databases on the Web too. The US Government is one of the main sources of freely available information on the web, but other industries participate in the free exchange of information too. We'll cover some of these types in this course.

In our course shell on Canvas, I've created a very incomplete but nice list of freely available databases on the web. Here's a screen shot, but do go to the Pages section on Canvas, and click on the Databases and Sources of Information page to access this list. Feel free to copy and save the list for your own use.

With any of these sources of information, it's important to pay attention to the copyright. Most information that's stored in databases (if not most information on the Web itself), is under copyright. This means that you and I have limited rights in using these sources of information. We can refer to such work, we can extract the information from copyrighted work, but we cannot reuse or share that work without express permission from the copyright holder, which could be an individual person, a group of people, or a corporation.

Fortunately, there's been a growing interest in the last decade plus in licensing work under a Creative Commons license, and Creative Commons has created a search engine to locate such work for reuse or modification. There are different types of Creative Commons licenses---some are more permissible than others. E.g., some work under CC licensing require only that you attribute the work. Another license says you can modify the work, but if you do, you must also license it so that others can modify your work. And so on. It's important to know which CC license a work has, if it has a CC license.

Creative Commons

This slide is a screen shot of the CC search engine. Do explore it at the URL in this slide and see what kind of material is available.

& More

Remember, one of the main ideas of this course is that there are many sources of information that are not easily available via Google or some other search engine. Even when we do use Google or Bing or Yahoo or something else, there are certain advanced tricks we can use to leverage them to find better information. And if we apply what we'll learn in this class, we'll simply be better masters of our own fate and our own knowledge.

In short, we are going to learn a bit more about what's hidden from most users and from the common view---that which lies under the iceberg---and we'll learn a bit about how to manage and apply these sources.

See you on the boards.

teaching/sources-of-information.txt · Last modified: 2019/01/25 15:46 by seanburns