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globe turning What is Information and Why Study It?
Information Studies w/ Colby Glass

NOTE: If you are right now beginning the online course, please read the introduction to the course before continuing with this page. Thank you!

                            

 

"Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased." --Daniel 12:4

WHY study information?

Information is data--facts--used to solve a problem or answer a question. Data and facts are meaningless by themselves. But when you NEED to know something and find the right facts, you have INFORMATION.

From the definition you should realize that information is critically important to everyone. It is SO important that this timespan is referred to as the "Information Age." The Information Age, however, has a downside.

How are you going to take advantage of all this information? How are you going to sort through it and find the good stuff? How are you going to keep from being buried in information? This is one of the many reasons to study information--how to find it, how to evaluate it, how to record it, and how to communicate it. That is what Information Studies is about.


Why Study Information

  • Learn how to cope with the overwhelming amount of information becoming available around you
  • EMPOWER yourself! Information is power, especially today. For YOUR future you need information
  • Avoid personal and professional disasters
  • Know when you need help
  • Upgrade job skills; look good on the job
  • Make informed decisions about your life
  • Be a critical thinker
  • Be self-reliant
  • Learn how to document sources
  • Avoid breaking the law
  • Learn how to access information in all its formats and locations
  • Learn the research process so that you are not overwhelmed when assigned a research paper in class
  • Learn how to use computers to find and use information
  • Solve problems better
  • Become a better learner/student


Coping with information overload

Information is multiplying at a staggering rate. One hundred years ago a medical doctor could keep up with the entire field of medicine by reading a few hours each week. Today, to stay current with developments in just one sub-field, or specialty, in medicine would take three to four persons reading constantly, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

"Without computers, faxes, modems, and copiers, it is much easier for comprehension of events and situations to be beyond our complexity horizons [a complexity horizon is that limit or edge beyond which things are so complex as to be unfathomable]. The suggestion that the failure of command economies in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe might have been due as much to information-theoretic limitations as to political ones is not preposterous. Undoubtedly, the commissars found it increasingly burdensome to centrally coordinate exponentially proliferating data on things like supplies, foodstuffs, and parts. The predicament is hard to quantify, yet universal. Now that a laser printer can transform a personal computer into a publishing house or a type foundry, our ability to sort and retrieve information is lagging ever farther behind our ability to produce it.

"As business reports and scientific research papers, newspapers and other periodicals, databases and electronic mail, textbooks, and other books all increase rapidly, the number of interdependencies among them rises exponentially. New ways to link, classify, and order the traffic on the information highways of the future are necessary if we're to thread our way through the mounds of raw data strewn along them. Some understanding of basic mathematical and statistical ideas is necessary if we're to avoid the condition described by the computer scientist Jesse Shera's paraphrase of Coleridge: "Data, data everywhere, but not a thought to think."

"If I may combine terms from disparate realms, the Jeffersonian model of many parallel processors is superior to the Stalinist model of one central processor (Recall Jefferson's remark: "Were it left to me to decide whether we should have government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to choose the latter."). We don't need a controlled media and party apparatchiks who will mechanically respond to government dicta; we need an independent press and free men and women who will have to make sense of the unforeseen complexities of the twenty-first century" (Paulos 120-129).

What do you do to keep up with information, especially if it is critical to your job, your health, your happiness?

One way is to learn more about sources of information. Just as information is multiplying, so are specialized services and information sources multiplying. As general newspapers decline in numbers, newsletters and magazines specializing in small, sometimes VERY small, areas of interest are multiplying.

The result is that there are probably people out there finding and summarizing the material you need as it comes out. But you have to know how to find those people and those sources.


EMPOWER yourself!

Information is power, especially today. For YOUR future you need information.

Access to information has ALWAYS been critical. ALL great civilizations have had libraries and with them systems of information access -- indexes, catalogs, etc. Three thousand years ago there were information systems in China, Mesopotamia, and Africa.

For instance, Amit Anu was the name of the head librarian in the City of Ur in 2700 BC. He ran the city library. Of course, everything was written in cunieform on tablets. There was a separate room for each subject area, with a tablet hanging on the door listing a catalog of what could be found in that room.

Information is still power, and is considered by some to be more valuable than currency...

The New Gold Standard

Fort Knox - Value of holdings of bullion = $38 billion
Bill Gates - Value of stock holdings = $90 billion

(Fast Company
Sep.99, p.100)


Avoid personal and professional disasters

In May, 1999, the U.S. Post Office revealed that it had just printed one hundred million stamps with the wrong information on them. The stamps had a picture of the Grand Canyon, with a statement below "Grand Canyon, Colorado." The Grand Canyon is located in Arizona. (The Colorado River runs through Arizona and created the huge canyon).

What sort of impact do you think this mistake had on the people who should have double-checked the information on the stamp before it went to press?

Another example is the possibility of "scams" which might be run on you if you do not bother to check on people selling you things. For instance, the following comes from an editorial in the May 1999 edition of WINDOWS Magazine:

Online auction scams, pirate software and e-mail cons are ripping off legions of innocent Web surfers. Hucksters have always done just as well online as they do offline, but lately, Internet fraud has spiraled totally out of control. Investor watchdog groups [for instance] estimate that Internet stock fraud now costs would-be investors more than $1 million an hour...

...as the good sites make us more comfortable online, the bad ones take advantage of that comfort level to rip us off... The Internet is fundamentally ungovernable. How do you catch a crook you can't find?

Worse, laws intended to catch crooks will reduce the value of the Net. The only way to enforce these laws is more government snooping, fewer individual freedoms and products that keep tabs on your Web whereabouts.

The best way to stop Internet crime is education. Internet users must learn to be both savvy and cynical...


Know when you need help

It takes a certain amount of knowledge to know when to seek help. A good example of this situation is the following letter posted by a computer consultant to the May 1999 issue of WINDOWS Magazine:

Information is everywhere, but how do you interpret it? What's relevant to your specific circumstances? And what's the best course of action to take?

I consider well-educated, knowledgeable clients to be the best kind of clients. They know enough to recognize when they need assistance.


Upgrade job skills; look good on the job

More and more employers are telling colleges and universities that they need people who can adjust to changes, learn new skills, re-educate themselves as they go along.

The government is predicting that individuals in the next generation will have to change careers two to three times in their lifetime. This makes study skills and information skills critical to personal success.


Make informed decisions about your life

What car should you buy; what toaster brand? Do you need more information on a condition your child has been diagnosed with? What is the crime rate in the neighborhood where you are considering buying a home? Where are your tax dollars going?

Life forces you to constantly make decisions. Most of those decisions would be better if made with adequate information.


Be a critical thinker

The ability to differentiate between trustworthy and falacious information can make a huge difference in your life. Being able to think through the ramifications of news and information can make the difference between being a victim and being a "winner."


Be self-reliant

The ability to look up information, to check facts, to know about issues before they are discussed can give you freedom from dependence on others. It can also give you the confidence to try things you might not otherwise try.


Learn how to cite sources

The use of MLA or APA style to document sources is one of the most difficult requirements students encounter in most courses they take. Bibliographic style is a complex set of rules and methods which must be learned before successful research and paper-writing can be accomplished.

Teachers in other disciplines simply do not have the time to walk you through this complex area. In addition, learning the interrelationships between the different elements of bibliographic style usually takes students an entire semester of hands-on practice and guidance.


Avoid breaking the law

Plagiarism--breaking the federal copyright law--can have drastic consequences. You can flunk a course, be expelled, be fired from your job, and even put in prison. To protect yourself you need to know at least the basic components of the copyright laws and fair use concepts.


Learn how to access information in all its formats and locations

Information is available in a staggering variety of formats and from an immense variety of sources. Ignorance of these sources, in particular, can leave you without a clue as to what help is available to you when you need it.


Learn the research process

It is easy to feel overwhelmed when assigned a research paper in class, especially if it is a large one. There is, however, a step-by-step process which can guide you through this large project without undue lost motion or frustration.

Don't dispair, just follow the process and you will be pleased with the results.


Learn how to use computers to find and use information

Computer Literacy teaches you how to use a computer. But then what do you do?

The real power of computers is in dealing with information. This course will show you how to use computers for find information and to use it in many different ways.


Solve problems better

Critical thinking, finding information, evaluating information can all lead to improved problem solving patterns. This area is specifically addressed in this course.


Become a better learner/student

Most GRADUATE students don't know how to do research. In fact, more than fifty percent of all the students who finish ALL their courses for the PhD don't ever receive their degrees because they cannot get past the final step in the program, which is research---finding information!!

The sad thing is that research is NOT THAT HARD! BUT, just like driving a car, you almost have to have someone show you how it's done.


NEXT: Research Strategy


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Please send comments to: Colby Glass, MLIS

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