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NDL301: Information Fluency: Syllabus



Tuesdays, 2:30 – 4:20 Lib 201
Instructor: Barbara Fister, x7553, office is on the lower level of the library
Course email alias:

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 important to 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


  • Information Creation as a Process: the way information is created reflects its purpose.
  • Information Has Value: while sharing it is what makes it valuable, legal and economic interests influence how information is produced and shared. “Information privilege” - not having access to information can be a significant problem for society, as when research is unavailable to entire classes of people.
  • Research is about asking questions that don’t already have answers: it depends on an iterative process of asking increasingly complex questions and letting the answers be informed by what you learn along the way. It’s not just finding out what other people already said, it’s having original ideas.
  • Searching is Strategic Exploration: the nonlinear process of searching for information requires flexibility as new understanding develops. It’s not a straight line.
  • Scholarship is Conversational: scholars create information within the context of an ongoing conversation, sharing and debating new developments.
  • Authority Is Constructed and Contextual: the relative authority of an information source depends on the context within which it is created and used and also on reputation – how did it gain people’s trust? How do we decide what to trust in different situations?




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 question or comment about at least one reading for every class that has assigned readings. On weeks without assigned readings, you can earn participation points by bringing something you discovered to class so we can learn from each other.

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.

We will decide early on whether to create individual websites or have a shared site. The purpose of this assignment is twofold: to think about how you want to present yourself digitally to the world as a scholar and to gain some experience with composing for the web. Some of the work will be deciding on a design. Some of it will be composing blog posts and other content to share. This kind of thoughtful but relatively informal sharing of ideas is a genre of academic writing that is growing in influence and worth practicing. You will also learn something about how to create your own web presence beyond commercial platforms such as Facebook and Google.

Interview of a researcher and comparison of research traditions
For this assignment, you will arrange to interview someone who does research in your major area. During your interview, take notes so that you can share what you learned with the class. We will use this experience to compare research traditions and values across disciplines.


  • Students are expected to adhere to the Gustavus honor code. We’ll talk about how and why to cite sources and how to share ideas ethically.

  • Students with disabilities are important members of the class community; please 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 and/or to consult with Carly Overfelt 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 from librarians at the reference desk between 10:30 and 4:30 Monday-Thursday and 10:30-2:30 on Fridays. I'll be at the reference desk most Wednesday and Thursday afternoons, 2:30-4:30; we can also meet by appointment whenever as needed.


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.

Participation (25%)
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)

15 - 25 A
14 - 15 B
13 - 14 C
11 - 12 - D
0 - 10 - 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.

Website (25%)
TBA - depends on what we decide to do with this assignment.

Interview of a researcher (15%)
interview a researcher – 10 points
report on what you learned to the class – 5 points
20 points A
10 points C
0 points F

Literature review (35%)
Find and scan as many relevant sources as you can and choose the most significant ones to include in your review (minimum of 8 sources) – 10 points
Organize your sources into a narrative that helps your reader see the big picture – 10 points
Read critically and 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


schedule & reading assignments

The schedule and readings are subject to change.

Feb. 13 – introduction to the course; book publishing; Lab: exploring professional websites and blogs; deciding what kind of website(s) we want to build for the course.

Feb. 20 – how libraries organize books. Read for today Toobin and Demko. Lab: exploring library catalogs and classification systems.

Feb. 27 – 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 6 – Using the internet for research; maps and government documents. For today, read "The Internet With a Human Face" by Maciej Cegłowski (or watch it, below) and watch the excerpt from The West Wing,  Be prepared to tell me who you have arranged to interview.

March 13 –  Lab: designing your website, using the WordPress platform.

March 20 – Field trip to the College & Church Archives to get some hands-on experience with archival research. For today, read Keepers of the Secrets.

March 27 – reports on your interviews; comparison of disciplinary research traditions. Lab: understanding literature reviews; tapping into the citation network; discussion of your chosen literature review topic.

April 3 – spring break; no class.

April 10 – meet with Dan Mollner at the reference desk to discuss your literature review topic and potential approaches for developing a literature review.

April 17 – Lab: tracing the evolving history of an issue through press and scholarly reports. Finding research publications for your literature review. Using Zotero to manage your citations. For today, read Anatomy of an Idea.

April 24 – Lab: evaluating published research for your literature review; strategies for reading and understanding research. For today, read Is Loneliness a Health Epidemic?

May 1 – Lab: the peer review process; the collaborative nature of research; organizing your literature review.

May 8 – bring a complete draft of your literature review for review by your peers and by me.

May 15 – the future of information. For today read "What World Are We Building?" by danah boyd and something (tba) by Safiya Noble. 

May 22 – Joint revisions and evaluation of our website(s). We will also complete a course evaluation.

No final exam.

interesting stuff found online

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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.

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

ideas for blog posts

Whether we have a joint website or individual ones, you'll need to compose some content, and for this course that means writing some blog posts. Your posts should relate to the material we discuss in class and/or your research and can be whatever length you like, but will probably come in at 250-500 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. 

  • Write a response to something we read for class. (This would be good preparation for class discussion.)
  • 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 something that you've learned in class that surprised you.

Academic Blogs to Explore

  • Apophenia - danah boyd's blog/website about technology and society
  • The Conversation - scholarly research for a general audience using "academic rigor, journalistic flair"
  • Crooked Timber – a group blog about economics, philosophy, politics and other stuff
  • Food Politics – a blog by Marion Nestle who follows public policy and law related to food.
  • LSE Impact Blog – from the London School of Economics and Political Science
  • The Message – this is a little hard to describe. Mostly about the intersection of technology and society
  • Savage Minds – a group blog by anthropologists
  • Tressie McMillan Cottom - website of a sociologist/public intellectual


Barbara Fister's picture
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
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License