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GEN: Understanding the Many Types of Information Found in Libraries

Overview

Documents

What They Are

Use Them When You Need...

Works of an "official" nature, serving as an authorized record of an event, decision, agreement, transaction, or other activity.

  • Records relating to a government agency, a corporation, or the legal system.
  • Primary source material for most of the social sciences.

While any piece of writing is technically a document, in the library world it's reserved for writings intended to serve as evidence of something. Most documents are produced by governments, but corporations (including non-profits) and individuals also produce documents.

Scholarly Sources

Documents are almost never considered scholarly sources. Technical reports may be considered an exception, though they're rarely peer-reviewed.

Primary or Secondary Sources

By definition, documents are primary sources for studying the activities of the organizations that produce them. However, they can also be secondary sources on other topics—for example, government agencies often produce informational reports summarizing data collected elsewhere.

Government Documents

Governments produce voluminous documentation about many topics. When using government documents it's important to note which government agency produced them, especially in the US where government functions are distributed among multiple levels of government: federal, state, county, and city.

Legal Documents

The judicial system produces a great quantity of documents: judicial opinions, court transcripts, and all of the documents filed by parties to a particular case. Citing these documents can be difficult but asking a librarian can help make the process easier.