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COM 120: Public Discourse: Local Research

Research for Public Discourse

Welcome to your library guide to COM 120: Public Discourse! I designed this guide with your research needs in mind. On the "Wider Research" tab (above), you'll find recommendations for databases, websites, and other places to search for information about your problem. On this page, you'll find resources for finding information at the local level, no matter where your local level is.

Please contact me at any point in the semester for research help. No matter what question, issue or problem you're encountering with your research, please reach out for my help. Working with me will actually save you time - promise! You can find my contact information underneath my picture on the right.

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Local Information Sources

Here's a list of the kinds of organizations and groups that tend to have the kind of local information you're researching. Most communities will have some range of these resources, so do some web searching (and reach out to me) to explore.

  • Town/City Government - most towns will have a main government page where you should be able to find meeting minutes and other relevant info about how the town may/may not be addressing your problem
  • Public Library - your local library will be an excellent source for finding local information. Librarians know the communities they serve, so they will be able to point you to local resources you may not have considered. Give them a call or see if their website has an online contact form.
  • Local News Outlets - does your community have a local newspaper? What about a local television station? Check out their web pages to see if they've been discussing your problem. If you run into a paywall with a local paper, contact your local public library to see if they can help.
  • School District or College - if your problem exists primarily within local schools, browse the website for the school district to see what information they have available. Do the same for any higher education institutions you are investigating - most will have links to meeting minutes, student newspapers, alumni magazines, offices & people who are involved in the problem.
  • Nonprofits - are there local nonprofit groups that might be discussing your problem? Search online to locate relevant ones for your community.
  • Faith communities - to what degree are you local churches, temples and mosques involved in this problem? Are there other faith communities that might be a part of this conversation?


The most common issue you might encounter is accessing local data. It might exist but you might not be able to locate it. Not all local information will be posted online. In this case, you will need to contact appropriate people in your community to see if they can help. Your professor can help you identify potential kinds of people to ask, as can I. Browse the Local Information Sources box (above) for more ideas. 

If you are searching a local newspaper, you might hit a paywall. If you live in a bigger city, your local newspaper might be in Proquest US (or Global) Newsstream databases (linked on the "Wider Research" tab). If not, check with your local public library to see if they can help you access the title. If you're looking for the St. Peter Herald or Mankato Free Press, email me (Julie) for help.

You might not be able to find local information, like statistics or demographic information, that matches what you're looking for exactly. Maybe you can find data for your county but not your town, for example. In some cases, you might need to piece together several pieces of information to prove your point. This is a great question to bring to your professor or me.

A great tip - whenever you're talking with a community member, ask them if there are other people you should talk to or if they have other suggestions for information you should consult.

Research in the Town Square


Finding Local Information

You're investigating a problem that affects your local community. Finding local information will take some persistence and creativity. Here are things to keep in mind:


  • What is the local community in which my problem exists? Is your problem primarily occurring in the schools? Is it a broader issue that a neighborhood or town or suburb is discussing? Define the context in which your problem exists.


  • Whose voices are most likely to be involved in discussing the problem? Are teachers in your local school involved? Parents? Elected officials? Clergy? Community leaders? Local health officials? Local nonprofit groups? Volunteer groups? Make a list of all the potential categories of people who would be involved in the conversation about your topic. Also note any specific individuals and their contact information, because you may want to contact them directly as part of your research.


  • How would evidence of the problem - or conversations about the problem - likely be communicated or shared? Once you figure this out, you'll be past the hardest part of finding local information. For example, local newspapers report on issues within your community. School boards and town or city councils publish their minutes. Schools share some local data with the state-wide department of education. Many organizations post annual reports and other information on their websites. Keep in mind that some information may not be shared publicly, in which case contacting someone from your list above might be your best option for research.


  • What are the best ways to access information and evidence about the problem? Build off your brainstorming from above. See if your local paper has a website. Check your school district or local government website to find meeting minutes. If your topic is health related, see if the local hospital's website has any information. Reach out to relevant individuals in your community for both information about the problem itself and to see if they have any additional ideas about sources or people to consult.


  • Whose voices aren't being included in the conversations? Are there perspectives and people who aren't popping up in the research you are exploring? Whose voices do you expect to hear but aren't? Why might this be? It could indicate that the community isn't listening to key voices. It could also indicate that you haven't gone far enough in your research - the information could exist but you maybe haven't found it yet. This is a great time to reassess your research approach and discuss issues with your course professor or with me.


  • What tensions are you noting in the conversations? Where are you finding agreement? Disagreement? What do you make of this? How does it shape your understanding of your problem? How does the shape of the conversation influence how you're going to tell the story about your problem when you give your presentations? Remember, you are doing more than proving if a problem exists or not. You are outlining the contours of a conversation about your problem in order to share the conversation with others and to propose fitting solutions.

Researching College & Universities

Like Gustavus, most colleges & universities will have a wealth of information available online. You'll need to do some digging, but here are examples of information sources at Gustavus. You will find most (if not all) of the same kinds of organizations and structures at other institutions.


Julie Gilbert's picture
Julie Gilbert
Hello! I'm on sabbatical during the 2020-2021 academic year. If you have a question about research, an assignment, or the library, please contact any of the reference librarians at or via the Ask Us! button on the library's homepage.

State & Country Information

In the US, many states have robust websites that will contain - among other things - information and statistics about local communities. It may take a little digging to uncover the information you're looking for, but be persistent and contact me if you need help. I've listed some examples from the State of Minnesota & the US government below; use these or see if you can find relevant pages for different states OR countries, depending on your community:

  • Geographic Profiles with statewide, regional and local data - from Minnesota Compass
  • Community Profiles (Twin Cities metro area only) from the Metropolitan Council
  • State of Minnesota is the web portal to exploring resources provided by the state; most states will have a similar portal. Spend some time searching to find information, statistics, and the agencies and individuals who might be talking about your problem.
  • Minnesota Department of Education contains some data about local districts; see if your state or country has something similar
  • is the US government's official web portal. If your local community is not within the US, see if your country has a similar portal (most will), as well as searching your local province or state websites.
  • US Census Bureau provides access to all kinds of data from US communities; look for options to search local data


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