Q. I'm in a public library and was assisting a local community college student who asked, "How accurate should my sources of information be?" I hardly know where to start!
A. The issue of "information literacy" is huge--and important. The 1989 Presidential Committee on Information Literacy: Final Report noted "To be information literate, a person must be able to recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information. Producing such a citizenry will require that schools and colleges appreciate and integrate the concept of information literacy into their learning programs..."
Knowing how to recognize accurate information, whether in print or from the Internet, and how to reference that material so that others will be able to assess its value are core skills for students at all levels. Two ALA divisions, the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) and the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) work collaboratively and independently on this issue so that the core skills are developed in elementary, middle and high schools, in colleges, and onward. Both have established standards and guidelines, as well as a range of continuing education opportunities to learn more about developing programs and providing instruction. AASL's Learning 4 Life page offers resources for the development of dynamic, student-centered school library programs. These programs help ensure that students master the information literacy skills needed to be discerning consumers and creative producers of information and ideas. ACRL's Information Literacy page is a gateway to resources on information literacy. These resources will help you understand and apply the Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education to enhance teaching, learning, and research in the higher education community. In addition. another division, the Reference and Services Association (RUSA) has tips on finding--and using--primary sources on the web.
Your patron might be struggling, though, with several more mundane issues: finding information in the first place, evaluating that material for accuracy as well as relevancy to his or her topic, and citing the source of the information. We'll let you help with finding the resources, but for some practical resources for information literacy, please see our wiki page on the topic, particularly the three specialized pages on plagiarism, evaluating web resources, and citations.
Addendum, March 22: Both of the external comments to date have questioned why I did not answer the student's question, and they are right: I did not. Instead I offered the librarian a set of resources on the huge topic of information literacy, rather than a guide to research for the student. KLM