News from the Reference Desk Category: Digital Literacy

DIY Research: Legal Information

Online legal information 

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Answers to many common legal questions can be found online, but it is important to use a trusted, accurate website. 

Illinois Legal Aid Online – Find answers to many common legal questions and guided, online assistance in filling out some legal forms through this extensive, free resource. Illinois Legal Aid Online is a registered non-profit whose mission is to make the law accessible and understandable for all citizens. 

Findlaw Findlaw includes detailed information about the law and legal issues that are intended to be consumer-facing, or for a public audience that is not formally trained in law.  Findlaw is published by Thomson Reuters, a reputable publisher of legal information.    

The Legal Information Institute – Extensive legal information, much of it in the form of primary materials, is available from Cornell Law School through the Legal Information Institute. The free legal dictionary and encyclopedia are both potentially useful for at-home legal research, but be on the lookout for advertisements.   

In the library 

The library has several in-house resources for legal information. On the shelves, there are legal information books available for checkout on a number of popular subjects, including divorce, powers of attorney, patents and many more. Many are published by a company called NOLO, which is renowned for making legal information approachable for non-legal professionals. (Think of it as the “For Dummies” series for legal topics.) 

Gale LegalForms – Many legal forms are available through Gale Legal Forms, accessible in the library or from home with a Mount Prospect Library Card. 

For deeper legal research, library patrons can access primary and secondary legal sources through WestLaw, available in-house on the public computers. 

Legal assistance 

If you need to speak with an attorney, there are local organizations that provide access to professional legal advice 

CARPLS – Cook County’s largest provider of free legal services, the CARPLS legal aid hotline at 312-738-9200 is open Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. 

North Suburban Legal Aid Clinic – This local organization provides legal services in the areas of immigration, housing, and domestic violence. Income restrictions apply for housing and immigration legal services; domestic violence legal services do not have an income requirement. 

Illinois Legal Aid Online – Get connected with available legal support through the “Get Legal Help” form available on Illinois Legal Aid Online. 

With questions about accessing any of these resources, or for help in finding more sources for legal information, please contact the Research Desk to request a reference appointment.     

DIY Research: Financial Information

April is Financial Literacy Month and a great time to get your financial affairs in order. Clear, accurate information is of utmost importance when making financial decisions such as working to improve your credit score, taking out a loan, investing your savings, planning for college or selecting a bank to open a checking account. Be sure to find recommendations and ratings from trusted sources. 

The library offers online access to some key financial resources. Access to these resources is available in the library or at home with your library card number and PIN: 

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  • Weiss Financial Ratings – Find ratings for banks, credit unions, insurance companies, or even Medigap plans. Get help with topics such as managing debt, creating a budget, buying a car, calculating the cost of college and more with Weiss Financial Literacy Basics eBooks (click on “Financial Literacy Basics.”) 
  • Morningstar – Morningstar provides information on stocks and mutual funds for potential investors and researchers, including access to popular investor newsletters 
  • Value Line – Used by financial professionals and individual investors, this investment research service offers detailed reports on individual stocks and mutual funds. 

There are also some great freely available sources for financial information. With these non-library sites, be on the look-out for embedded advertising, also called “sponsored content” or “native advertising.” Clicking through those links will bring you to a commercial site whose purpose is not to inform but to sell products. 

  • Investopedia – Investopedia is a great general resource for news and background information, including helpful dictionary of financial terms. To get started with creating a following a budget, check out their picks for best budgeting apps for 2022
  • FINRA – As the regulating body for the financial industry, FINRA offers resources to educate investors and advocate for market integrity. Get help with calculating retirement savings or estimated loan payments with tools and calculators or find background information about a financial professional or firm through Broker Check.  
  • Nerdwallet– This popular personal finance site offers articles, “best of” lists and guides to assist in navigating financial decisions. On commercial sites like this that offer recommendations for specific products, it’s a good idea to check the editorial guidelines to learn more about how they arrive at their suggestions and ratings. 

Find more sources for financial information on the Business and Financial Research Guide. With questions about accessing any of these resources, please contact the Research Desk to request a reference appointment. 

DIY Research: Sources for Statistics

Whether you are writing a research paper or trying to better understand the news headlines, you may find yourself looking for statistical information on the internet. Not to be confused with “data,” statistics are the analysis and interpretation of numerical data. Whether you are looking for data and statistics, it is important to keep in mind that that context is important when looking at information defined in numerical terms.

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The federal government has a great deal of statistical information. Depending on what kind of information you are looking for, here are a few sources to consider: 

Census information, accessed through, includes not only the demographic information collected in the 10 –year census, but also economic and social data collected in the yearly American Communities Survey. Small businesses can get census data tailored to support their research and planning through Census Business Builder. Use QuickFacts to find information about your local community. 

Health statistics compiled by the Centers for Disease Control can be found through the National Center for Health Statistics. Straightforward numbers on popular health topics are readily found through the Fast Stats feature. 

The Bureau of Labor Statistics is the source for key employment numbers (Employment, wages, union membership, productivity) and also other economic numbers, including the Consumer Price Index. Find statistics by searching by geographic area or by subject

The Statistical Abstract of the United States is a print reference available in the library at the Research Desk. Featuring over a thousand tables and charts from a variety of government sources, along with sources for even more detailed data, the Statistical Abstract is a helpful first stop for statistical information, especially if you are unsure where to start looking. 

Some websites compile publicly available data from government and private sources, both domestic and international, and present the information in readily available formats: 

Our World in Data 

With questions about accessing any of these resources, or for help in finding more sources for statistical information, please contact the Research Desk to request a reference appointment.     

DIY Research: Health Information

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As anyone who has ever googled their symptoms can tell you, there is no shortage of medical information available on the internet. However, good sources with clear, authoritative information can be difficult to find among the search results. As with all information found online, medical information should be approached with a critical eye.  

The Research Desk gets many requests from patrons looking for health information. Below are some trusted resources for evidence-based health information. All of these resources are government-funded websites, so they do not contain any ads or commercial content. 

With general health questions, from the National Library of Medicine is a great place to start. Consult MedlinePlus for information about a diagnosis, upcoming test or screening, drugs and supplements, genetics, and variety of general health topics. The site is also available in Spanish

Drug information is compiled by the National Library of Medicine on the Drug Information Portal. Find detailed information about drug uses, common names, potential side effects, effects on breastfeeding, and more. presents information from the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion from the Department of Health and Human Services about health and wellness. The site includes helpful fact sheets and evidence-based information on preventative care. 

Health Information from the National Institutes of Health features well-organized and research information on a variety of health and wellness topics. is a database about privately and publicly funded clinical trials. 

With questions about accessing any of these resources, please contact the Research Desk to request a reference appointment.    

DIY Research: Government Sources

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Looking for answers to complicated questions on Google, Bing, or DuckDuckGo can lead to limited results and incomplete information. With complex research questions, finding authoritative, reliable sources is key. That means thinking about life beyond Google and getting creative with search strategies.  

The library is here to help with research, and there are many helpful sites available on the web that can also get you started with doing your own research. As an example, here are a just a few government websites that can be useful research tools: – As a general search tool, can be very useful. For any information you suspect is available from a federal agency, such as the Centers for Disease Control, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Department of State, as well as many resources from state governments, a keyword search on will get heading in the right direction. 

Library of Congress Digital Collections – Imagine walking through a museum that features details from every aspect of our country’s history, art, geography, music, politics, and so much more. The collections held by the Library of Congress tell the story of our nation, and many of the items have been digitized and curated into descriptive and profound collections. This collection includes digitized versions of many documents that can inform historical research, as well as rare books and photographs that bring history to life. 

Congressional Reports – The U.S. Congress regularly calls upon the Congressional Research Service to compile concise and accurate reports that will help to inform their deliberation of pending legislation. CRS is actually an office within the Library of Congress (even congress calls the library for homework help!) These reports can provide well-researched insight on many issues. 

For help accessing these or any of the great sources of information offered by the library, contact the Research Desk.