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Here at the Kirkwood library, and at most academic or school libraries, we deal a lot with citations. Most of the time we are concerned with citing to avoid plagiarism, but there is a second reason to have citations and that is to make sure the information is good.

Double Checking Citations

Sometimes even if there is a citation people might just make them up, they might be taking things out of context, or they might exaggerate a point. Personally I once was very excited to see that a Rose Wilder Lane book was the first to use the term Young Adult in its advertising. So I looked up the citation in the book that mentioned it, that referred me to another book, that referred me to another book, that referred me to another book. By the time I reached the end of the trail the book was now described as one of the first of a new classification of books known as Young Adult. The statement asserting its status got weaker every book I went back.

Especially be careful of things being passed around online. People grab things that are “interesting” to share without checking anything else and a list without citations or sources might float around the web or even end up in print full of errors without anyone noticing. This especially happens when people think they make a point they already agree with. For some tame examples, teachers had to live under terrible rules in the 19th century or that there are bigger discipline problems in classrooms today than in the 1940s.

Pulling a Fast One

Recently I found an article from the Fast Company that talked about a very prevalent study. One so well known that it’s passed into everyday thought and is just assumed to be true. The story is that a study of a Yale class from 1953 showed that those who had set goals had made more money that all the rest of the class combined. It’s a great story and self-improvement speakers have been using it since at least before 1991. However, it is NOT true. There was NO such study.

Upside and Downside of Goals

As the Fast Company article says goal setting seems to be a human trait and there are definite benefits of goal setting in keeping organized and on track. However, goal setting can create a myopic focus where the goal itself becomes the focus instead of what the goal is supposed to lead to. For instance, if the purpose of a Facebook page is to bring people into your business and you focus too much on getting a certain number of likes rather than getting people through the door. It can narrow options and send resources chasing something that might not be in your best interest.

So while it never hurts to have a plan, don’t become so focused on it that you lose other opportunities that might be even better. Think about WHY you’re doing something. Don’t believe that the only thing you need to do is make goals to have a successful life.

Things On the Internet and in Print Aren’t Always True

While it seldom would happen with an unpublished paper you write for school, having clear citations can help people who read it and want to learn more on a topic or who want to know how you know that. It also doesn’t hurt to question even the published articles and books you read and to check back the citations on things that seem new and startling or even something you’ve seen everywhere around the web. Just putting something in print, online or on paper, doesn’t make it true, but having and checking citations can help you tell the real from the fake.

Librarians for the Win

The reference staff at the Yale University Library was able to prove both through citation analysis and in-depth research that no such study ever took place at Yale in 1953 or any other year.

Sarah Uthoff is a reference library at Kirkwood Community College. LIKE the Kirkwood Community College Library on Facebook and find links to Sarah all over the web at her About Me Profile.