6.1 Institutional Sources

An institution, broadly defined, is “an organization, establishment, foundation, society, or the like, devoted to the promotion of a particular cause, product, or program.[1]” You can see that this is a catchall term that can cover all kinds of contributors. Therefore, it helps to break this large category into two very different kinds of institutions: Public and Private.

The corner drug store is in the private sector, while the police precinct station next door is in the public sector. The elementary school maintained with tax revenues is part of the public sector, while the church-affiliated school is in the private sector.

These lines are hardly neat, however. Almost all private colleges, for instance, enroll students whose financial support comes partly from state and federal sources. Most corporations are in the private sector, but some operate with charters from the federal government, such as Amtrak (rail service) or the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Institutions in both the public sector (governments at all levels) and the private sector (businesses, political organizations, trade and industry associations, foundations, religious organizations, unions and professional associations, etc.) generate information for a number of purposes. You must recognize that institutions develop information for their own internal purposes and may be disclosed to you selectively and with a specific purpose in mind. Organizations as different from one another as the U.S. Department of Defense and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom share this characteristic.

Let’s discuss the distinctions between the types of institutional sources and describe how and why they create and contribute information of use to researchers.