What is Information?

According to the Merriam-Webster Online dictionary, information is defined as "knowledge obtained from investigation, study, or instruction." The American Library Association defines information as "all ideas, facts, and imaginative works of the mind which have been communicated, recorded, published and/or distributed formally or informally in any format." This definition includes anything from stone tablets, to oral histories, to film, to electronic files and when you think of information this way you can easily become overwhelmed by the sheer volume of material out there from which to choose. As Mark Stefik wrote in his books, The Internet Edge: Social, Legal, and Technological Challenges for a Networked World, the dilemmas of the information age are: being overwhelmed by useless information and the difficulty in efficiently finding the specific information we seek. I would add a third major dilemma as we attempt to evaluate the accuracy and truth of the information we find, especially that which is freely available on the web.

What is Information

Organizing Your Information

Think about how you organize your school assignments or your personal collections of books, CDs, etc. Do you keep your assignments organized by course? Are your bookshelves arranged by author or by the size of the book? Perhaps your CDs are arranged by the type of music or by the artist? You organize your collections in the way that works best for you.

Why Organize Information?

You understand the value of organizing your personal collections--to provide easy access and use of those collections. The same principle holds true for library collections that can contain just about any format or subject you can imagine. Think what it would be like to use a library whose books, periodicals, CDs, videos, maps, etc were arranged in no special order. Such a library would be worthless because you would never be able to identify and locate any one item. Fortunately, even the smallest libraries use some sort of system to arrange their materials. Library Classification systems organize library collections by subject so similar topics will be grouped together on the library shelves.

Library Classification Systems

There are three major library classification systems, Dewey Decimal, Library of Congress, and Superintendent of Documents. The Dewey Decimal (http://library.uaf.edu/ls101-dewey) system uses 10 main subject categories and is used by medium to small libraries. The Library of Congress (http://www.loc.gov/catdir/cpso/lcco/lcco.html) system uses 21 broad subject categories, identified by single letters of the alphabet. The UAF Rasmuson Library along with many university and large public libraries uses the LC system. Our government documents collection uses the Superintendent of Documents system which groups materials together by issuing agency rather than by subject.

This means that you can walk into any library that uses the Dewey Decimal system and will find mathematics books with a call number between 510-519. You can walk into any library that uses the Library of Congress system and the call number for mathematics books will begin with QA. And you can visit any government documents collection and will find Environmental Protection Agency publications with call numbers beginning with EP.

Call Numbers

Library of Congress Call Numbers

Library materials are shelved in the library by call number. A call number is a unique identification code assigned to each item that clearly identifies it from other items in the library collection. Call numbers place library materials on the library shelves in a very specific order so that they can be easily and logically located. A call number consists of a combination of letters and numbers and may contain as many as six parts: location code, classification number, cutter number, edition date, volume number and copy number. Call numbers are based on the Library of Congress classification system which is used by UAF libraries. Knowing how call numbers work (http://library.uaf.edu/ls101-call-numbers) is essential for locating materials on library shelves.

SuDocs Call Numbers (Superintendent of Documents)

SuDocs call numbers, used in government documents collections, are constructed to represent the issuing government agency. Numbers starting with A are publications of the Department of Agriculture, C are from the Department of Commerce, and NAS from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Learn how to read SuDocs call numbers and find government documents on the shelf (http://library.uaf.edu/ls101-sudocs). Many government documents are available online via agency web sites.

Collections and Locations in the UAF Libraries

There are many different collections located within UAF libraries. Some collections are electronic and may be accessed through the Rasmuson Library Home Page (library.uaf.edu). The "collection designator" in combination with the specific call number for an item tells you where to find the material you want. For example, the ALASKA collection designator tells you that you will find an item on Level 2 in the library where the Alaska Collection is located, while the PER designator will tell you that you will find the item on Level 3 in the periodicals collection.

This page was last modified on July 12, 2012