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NDL301: Information Fluency: Syllabus


Tuesdays, 2:30 – 4:20 Lib 201
Instructor: Barbara Fister, x7553

I hope that by the end of this course you will...

  • have a deeper understanding of how libraries and their resources are organized
  • be able to search for information effectively online and in print
  • develop your ability to evaluate and select high quality sources
  • be familiar with tools for saving and organizing sources and be able to write a literature review
  • understand where sources come from and how economic and social factors are changing publishing and the web
  • develop a network of knowledge about the people, institutions, publications, and websites actively involved in your chosen research area
  • understand the research values of your major field(s) and how they compare to those in other disciplines
  • be informed about issues of ethics and social justice related to information access and use
  • be better prepared to engage in civic life by being skilled at finding and using evidence to inform real-world issues


In a nutshell, these are the components of the grade.

  • Participation (25%)
  • Website (25%)
  • Literature review (30%)
  • Interview of a researcher and reflection essay (20%)

The most basic expectation is that you will come to class prepared and willing to participate in discussion and hands-on activities. Not only does your grade depend on active involvement, so does having fun, and fun is an important part of learning. (I'm serious.) Please bring a written question or comment about at least one reading for every class that has assigned readings. In addition, you should spend some time reading your class colleagues' blog posts and commenting on them. On weeks without assigned readings, I will ask for volunteers to bring interesting news and ideas to class so we can learn from each other.

You will create a personal/professional website and will compose content for it, including several blog posts. Don't be nervous; we'll work through how to do this and what kinds of choices you'll make as you create a site.The purpose of this assignment is twofold: to think about how you want to present yourself digitally to the world and to gain some experience with composing for the web. Your blog contributions will be short essays that either respond to prompts I will give you or to class discussions - or to whatever is on your mind that has some bearing on the course. This kind of thoughtful but relatively informal sharing of ideas is a genre of academic writing that is growing in influence and worth practicing. By creating a website of your own, you will also gain a deeper understanding of the web beyond commercial platforms such as Facebook and Google.

Literature review
Your literature review is an essay (~5-8 pages) that should survey some of the most important sources available on the issue you have chosen, arranged according to some sort of organizational principle that groups sources together, including a brief description of each source that provides a sense of what each source contributes to the whole. We’ll look at several examples so you can get a sense of what your project should look like. Though the number of sources you include will vary depending on your focus, you should plan to examine many sources and select at least 8 of the most significant ones to analyze in your review. What “counts” as a quality source will also depend on your topic and your field. You are welcome to work on a project for another course, but be sure it’s okay with your other instructor. Complete draft due in class May 16; final version due via email to me May 20.

Interview of a researcher and reflection essay
For this assignment, you will arrange to interview someone who does research in your major area. To avoid running into crunch time, conduct the interview before the end of April. Take notes so that you can share your impressions with the class. After hearing reports of your classmates’ interviews, write a reflection essay (1-2 pages) that includes an analysis of how research processes in your discipline compare to traditions of different disciplines and what values are important in your field. Reports on your interview will be given in class on May 9; reflection essay due via email to me May 24.


  • Students are expected to adhere to the Gustavus honor code.
  • Students with a disability should let me know so we can make appropriate accommodations that work.
  • Though I’m happy to consult on any writing-related questions you may have, students are encouraged to visit the Writing Center (now in new digs in Anderson 107) and/or to consult with Corey Sandusky, whose specialty is writing assistance for multilingual students. There are drop-in hours or you can set up an appointment online.
  • You can seek help at the reference desk between 10:30 and 4:30 Monday-Thursday. I'll be at the reference desk on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons, 2:30-4:30; we can also set up a time convenient for you to meet as needed.


Process matters in this course more than finished product. Your grade will be based on your investment in course activities. You must be involved in all four of these activities to pass the course; you can’t skip one and count on adding up the points of the other three to get by. You also will need to meet basic expectations of each of the four activities to accrue points.

Here’s how the points add up.

attend and participate in class (14 possible points)*
read and respond to others’ blog posts (6 possible points)
share something interesting with the class for discussion (5 possible points)

17 - 25  A
15 - 16 B
13 – 14 C
12 - D
>12 - F

*Attending class is important, particularly for a discussion-and-doing-stuff course like this, so you must have at least 12 of these points to pass the course. Things happens and people get sick. If you are sick or for some compelling reason miss class, you can recover up to two attendance points by discussing a make-up plan with me. (I get to define “compelling.”) A reminder: just being physically in the room isn’t worth a point; you have to be prepared and willing to participate actively.  

create a website – 5 points
compose content for at least one page and four blog posts – 20 possible points (4 points per post or page)

25+ points -  A
21 points - B
16 points - C
9 points - D
0 – 5 points - F

literature review
Find and scan as many relevant sources as you can and choose the most significant ones (minimum of 8 sources) – 10 points
Organize your sources into a narrative that helps your reader see the big picture – 10 points
Briefly describe each chosen source accurately, providing its main point – 5 points
Provide clear and complete citations using a style appropriate for your topic – 5 points

30 - A
25 - B
20 - C
15 - D
0-10 - F

Interview of a researcher and reflection essay
interview a researcher - 5 points
report on what you learned to the class - 5 points
reflect on all of the interviews to compare values and practices in different disciplines; write an informal reflection about what you heard and what you value when doing research 10 points

20 points A
15 points B
10 points C
5 points D
0 points F

schedule & reading assignments

The schedule and readings are subject to change.

Feb. 7 – introduction to the course; history and nature of the internet. Lab: exploring professional websites and blogs.

Feb. 14 - Using the internet for research. For today, read “What World are We Building?” by danah boyd, "The Internet With a Human Face" by Maciej CegÅ‚owski.

Feb. 21 – Lab: website work day. Feel free to bring your own laptop or use the PCs available in the library lab.

Feb. 28 – how books are published; how libraries organize books. Read for today Toobin and Demko. Read Digital Books and Your Rights: A Checklist (EFF). Lab: using a citation management system. To learn about Zotero, check out the video on this page.

March 7 - newspapers, magazines, and journals; how they are published, how to find them in libraries using databases and indexes; using printed indexes to track down pre-1980 magazine articles; using microfilm. Read for today the Society of Professional Journalist’s Code of Ethics. Read 6 Quick Ways to Spot Fake News from Snopes and The Breaking News Consumers Handbook from On the Media and watch the video, Open Access Explained.

March 14 – CLASS CANCELED  maps and government documents. For NEXT WEEK, read or review “Information Overload: The Early Years.” and “Is the Internet Good or Bad? Yes” by Zeynep Tufekci. And watch this clip from an old television show, The West Wing.

March 21 – Field trip to the college archives and special collections. Lab: understanding literature reviews; tapping into the citation network.

March 28 – spring break – no class

April 4 – follow up on maps and government documents. Lab: how primary sources are represented in secondary sources.

April 11 - Lab: tracing the evolving history of an issue through the press and scholarly research.

April 18 – Lab; social statistics case study. Read for today Joel Best (via Moodle) and The Problems With the Data Revolution in Four Venn Diagrams.

April 25 - Lab: developing a social map of your research area. For today read “Anatomy of an Idea” by Steve Johnson.

May 2 - the peer review process; the collaborative nature of research. Lab: organizing your literature review.

May 9 – reports on interviews and discussion of disciplinary values. No lab.

May 16 – bring a complete draft of your literature review for review by your peers and by me. The final draft is due on May 20th. We will also look at websites and complete a course evaluation.

No final exam. Reflection essay due via email attachment by May 24.

interesting stuff found online


about this course

This course will give students interested in going to graduate or professional school—or who simply want to know more about research—an immersion in the structure of the literature of their chosen field and exposure to research tools and collections. Students will conduct a literature review on a topic of their choice and will analyze aspects of their discipline’s traditions, compare them to traditions in other fields, and explore the social and ethical dimensions of research.

This is an open course. Feel free to use the material here.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

our blogs / sites

Aleena (by invitation)




James (by invitation)


ideas for blog posts

Your blog posts can be whatever length you like, but will probably come in at 250-600 words. You can illustrate them by including pictures or videos. If you use pictures that aren't yours, seek ones that are licensed for reuse and include a credit and link to the source.

Here are some ideas for posts. 

  • Write a response to something we read for class.
  • Write about a news story or something you've read or discussed in another course that has an information angle
  • Brainstorm about a topic for your literature review.
  • Write about something that has frustrated you when doing research.
  • Write about one of the issues that comes up in class: privacy, censorship, open access to research, how algorithms are being used in ways that reproduce bias . . .
  • Write about some research you've done in the past.
  • Write about research you would like to do some day.
  • Write about why you chose the look for your website.
  • Write about something that you've learned that surprised you.


Barbara Fister
I'm happy to meet to discuss your research in my office, over coffee, or wherever it's convenient for you.

Office: Library Lower Level (facing Beck Hall)
phone: x7553
Website / Blog Page
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License