Validating Sources: The Google Syndrome, CRAAP Test, and Information Literacy

“Information Literacy forms the basis for lifelong learning.[1]”

Information Literacy was conceived in 1974 within a proposal submitted to the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science by Paul Zurkowski,[2] and has since developed into a mainstay of the modern education process. The birth of Information Literacy began in 1989 when the Final Report of the American Library Association Presidential Committee on Information Literacy defined being information literate this way:

“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.[3]”

So how is this applicable to a students life? I will explore this topic in this paper. I first will provide a synopsis of The Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) information literacy standards, look at the CRAAP Test to gain understanding on source validation, and finally examine the question: Why Google is a good source, but not necessarily the best for your information needs.

Synopsis of the ACRL Information Literacy Standards

The Association of College and Research Libraries has put a lot of research and critical thought into the examination of what information literacy is, and what it means to be information literate in today’s world, and they continue to do so. The original standards were published in 2000, but are currently undertaking significant revision[4]. Though the ACRL standards are being revised, the content from the 2000 publication can still provide the appropriate framework for our discussion here because, as the 2000 publication states:

“Information literacy… is an intellectual framework for understanding, finding, evaluating, and using information- activities which may be accomplished in part by fluency with information technology, in part by sound investigative methods, but most important, through critical discernment and reasoning.[5]”

The five standards of information literacy as stated by ACRL are:

1. “The information literate student defines and articulates the need for information;[6]”
2. “The information literate student accesses needed information effectively and efficiently;[7]”
3. “The information literate student evaluates information and its sources critically and incorporates selected information into his or her knowledge base and value system;[8]”
4. “The information literate student, individually or as a member of a group, uses information effectively to accomplish a specific purpose;[9]” and
5. “The information literate student understands many of the economic, legal, and social issues surrounding the use of information and accesses and uses information ethically and legally.[10]”

To better illustrate this point I would like to recap the information process in the format of a short story:

Imagine an information seeker who catches wind of a hidden treasure, such as a rare book in a distant land. In order to begin his information search, it is beneficial for the information seeker to think critically about what it is that he wants to know. He might want to know where it is, what wisdom it is rumored to contain, and if it is accessible if locatable. Once an object is known it becomes easier to find more information on, and so our information seeker can begin his quest; finding the best information comes down to strategy and evaluation of sources.[11] As the Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu once said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step;” so must an information seekers’ knowledge quest begin. The knowledge seeker, after beginning his quest, can then explore various avenues and byways of information channels; always taking in mind what works and what doesn’t work. The various streams will begin to trickle back into a navigable river and then the information seeker will know that he is on the right path as more and more things begin to correlate and validate themselves. Once the knowledge seeker begins finding excellent material, he must then evaluate that material and pick out the useful ideas, points, or quotes. The knowledge seeker must also maintain the information that is collected and be able to find it and use it in the future.[12] On most journeys it is important to not go it alone, but to be among friends and fellow travelers with whom the information seeker can bounce ideas off and challenge themselves. To this end, he can have mentors or colleagues evaluate his work as he proceeds. Remembering the impetus for his journey, the information seeker will put the found knowledge to use. Now that our information seeker has found his way to the information goal he had set, he now must realize that there are ethical obligations with handling information including the treacherous paths of plagiarism, copyright infringement, preservation of and integrity of information, etc. With all of that knowledge found and back work done, the information seeker can begin the more meaningful challenge of adding his discovery to the repository of world knowledge.


The CRAAP Test[13] was developed by information professionals at California State University, Chico’s Meriam Library[14]. There are five criteria that they identified for evaluating resources: Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, and Purpose. Each component of which the authors further divide into a series of questions for the user to analyze when evaluating a resource. By being able to answer these questions, the information seeker can better determine if the information that they have found is beneficial for the research being conducted.

Understanding the importance of CRAAP, and how to analyze material appropriately with it, greatly strengthens a researcher’s ability to validate sources by showing the researcher, in a step by step constructivist process, a highly organized manner of thinking through a source. By utilizing the CRAAP Test, a student is better prepared for learning which sources are best for their individual needs and purposes. It is highly recommended that the strategies outlined in CRAAP be utilized when searching, and evaluating, websites.

Why Google is a good resource, but not the best for your information needs?

The impact of Google in the field of research, or information management more broadly, can not be understated. We turn to it every day for any query we can think of. Members of Congress even went so far as to draft legislation highlighting the ease with which information can be found in the technological information age we live in[15]. For better or worse, Google is here with us and it is important to know how to use it effectively, and even more so to know when to search in other places. Andrew Asher et al. point out that “the situation of information overabundance makes strategies for evaluating and discerning high-quality information of paramount importance.[16]” Google has one of the best known search and discovery systems that we know of, but it does not always have the best methods of retrieval for high end research queries. Libraries and library vendors are seeking to address this need by marrying their services: the libraries their material with vendors digital tools and software. The results of this are some highly extensive Discovery Tools[17] such as: EBSCO Discovery Service, Primo + Primo Central, Summon, and Encore.


As ACRL proclaimed, and continues to proclaim, the need for information literacy in higher education is paramount: “The uncertain quality and sheer abundance of information will not in itself create a more informed citizenry without a complementary cluster of abilities necessary to use information effectively.[18]” By understanding the content in the ACRL Information Literacy standards, utilizing the CRAAP test when evaluating sources, and exploring the vast world of information beyond a “Google search” information seekers will be well on their way to being information literate.


Association of College and Research Libraries. Presidential Committee on Information Literacy: Final Report. Chicago: American Library Association, 1989.

Breeding, Marshall. “Major Discovery Product Profiles.” Library Technology Reports 50, no. 1 (Jan 2014, 2014): 33-52,

Analysis: Great source for learning Discover Tools.
Eisenberg, Michael B., Carrie Lowe A., and Kathleen L. Spitzer, eds. Information Literacy: Essential Skills for the Information Age. 2nd ed. Westport, Connecticut: Libraries Unlimited, 2004.

Meriam Library . Evaluating Information – Applying the CRAAP Test: California State University, 2010. 

Let Me Google that for You Act. S.2206. 113th Congress (2013-2014) . 

The Association of College and Research Libraries. Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education Draft-2: American Library Association, 2014. 

———. Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education. Chicago: American Library Association, 2000. 



[1] The Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL). Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education. Chicago: American Library Association, 2000. p.2 The full quote reads: ““Information Literacy forms the basis for lifelong learning. It is common to all disciplines, to all learning environments, and to all levels of education. It enables learners to master content and extend their investigations, become more self-directed, and assume greater control over their own learning.”
[2] Eisenberg, Michael, Lowe, Carrie A, Spitzer,Kathleen L. 2004. Information literacy: Essential skills for the information age. Westport, Conn: Libraries Unlimited p. 3
[3] Association of College and Research Libraries. Presidential Committee on Information Literacy: Final Report. Chicago: American Library Association, 1989.
[4] The Association of College and Research Libraries. Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education Draft-2: American Library Association, 2014.
[5] ACRL p.3
[6] ACRL p.8
[7] ACRL p.9
[8] ACRL p.11
[9] ACRL p.13
[10] ACRL p.14
[11] It can also come down to how willing a researcher is to obtain the information that they find. For instance, a gentleman recently came into my library looking for a dissertation from the early 1960’s that he had seen cited in a few places. The only problem was that the only known holding of this dissertation is at a library in Manila, and has thus far been unresponsive to his request. The gentleman could fly to Manila to retrieve the thesis, but is it worth the cost?
[12] There are many products that help ease users with this step such as Endnote, Zotero, and Refworks.
[13] Meriam Library. Evaluating Information – Applying the CRAAP Test: California State University, 2010.
[14] California State University, Chino has also put together an interactive “Tutorial on Info Power” which the reader may find beneficial for their research. It can be found here:
[15] Let Me Google that for You Act. S.2206. 113th Congress. (2013-2014)
[16] Asher, Andrew D., Lynda M. Duke, and Suzanne Wilson. “Paths of Discovery: Comparing the Search Effectiveness of EBSCO Discovery Service, Summon, Google Scholar, and Conventional Library Resources.” College & Research Libraries 74, no. 5 (September 01, 2013): p.472.
[17] For more detailed analysis of these services read: Breeding, Marshal. Major discovery product profiles in Library Resource Discovery Products: Context, Library Perspectives, and Vendor Positions (2014). Retrieved from
[18] ACRL p.2


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