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Teaching WRITL Courses: Info Lit at Gustavus

Defining Information Literacy

Information literacy means understanding how information in its many forms is produced and circulated, how to interrogate it critically, and how to enter into conversation with other people's ideas ethically when creating information. 

Our students encounter a vast, diverse and ever-changing information landscape daily. We want students to think critically about this information landscape and consider all the questions that it raises: How is authority generated in various contexts? What does it mean for scholarship to be conversation? Whose voices are oversized, whose are ignored and how do we responsibly respond to those inequities? What are the relationships between information literacy and active participation in democracy?

The Library's understanding of information literacy comes from the Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education, which outlines six overarching frames:

  • Authority is Constructed and Contextual
  • Information Creation as a Process
  • Information Has Value
  • Research as Inquiry
  • Scholarship as Conversation
  • Searching as Strategic Exploration

We also recommend taking a look at the research being done by Project Information Literacy, which studies the information behavior of young adults. (Gustavus Professor Emerita Barbara Fister is a member of the PIL team!)

Three Modes of Information Literacy

The library faculty feels information literacy should be addressed throughout the curriculum with three distinct aims:

  • to help all new students feel they are welcome in a new and often intimidating academic environment

  • to help majors think about how information works in their disciplines and how to enter disciplinary conversations

  • to prepare graduates to interact with information in the world. 

While WRITL courses are well-positioned to help students achieve the information literacy goals we hope all graduates possess,

we invite you to consider how information literacy is woven through all of your teaching.


New students: First year students deserve some introduction to the library as a symbolic common ground for academic inquiry. We want them to:  

  • feel at home in the library and feel they are part of the intellectual culture of the college
  • feel comfortable asking for help from library employees (students, staff, reference librarians)
  • recognize they have a voice and can contribute to intellectual conversations

Majors: In their major, students have a deep enough knowledge base and exposure to methods that they can engage in creating new knowledge within the context of a discipline. We hope students in their major will:

  • understand how people in the field communicate ideas

  • have some strategies for reading the literature of the field

  • gain confidence in forming and expressing their own ideas

  • be able to formulate an effective search for publications in the field and organize what they find meaningfully

  • be able to trace a disciplinary conversation backward and forward through citations

  • know how and why to use sources to frame and/or support their original ideas


Graduates: As free human beings living in a complex and conflicted world, students need to have some basic understanding of how information works beyond the academy, whether it’s what news sources to trust, what challenges new media present to social cohesion, or how to continue to learn independently and participate in civic life. We want to prepare students to:

  • be able to distinguish types of information sources, e.g. news reporting, opinion, satire, advertising, research, etc.
  • be able to distinguish claims of fact from statements of opinion and quickly assess validity
  • be able to analyze arguments and the evidence they use
  • value evidence-based reasoning in all forms of argument
  • be disposed to inquire ethically and honestly

Companion Documents

The Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL) also released companion documents to their Framework for Information Literacy in Higher Education tied to specific disciplines. (See box to the left for more info on the Framework document itself.) Here are the companion documents:

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