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NDL301: Information Fluency: Syllabus




Tuesdays, 2:30 – 4:20 Lib 201 (round room at the back of the main floor, chapel side)
Instructor: Barbara Fister, x7553; office is on the lower level of the library, Beck side
You can call me Barbara; I use she/her pronouns
Website, including schedule and links to readings:
Blog: (login required)

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 or similar essay summarizing research.

  • 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%)
  • Blog posts (25%)
  • Interview of a researcher (20%)
  • Literature review (30%)

The most basic expectation is that you will come to class having completed readings 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. In addition, you should spend some time reading your class colleagues' blog posts and commenting on them. On weeks without assigned readings, I invite you to bring something you discovered to class so we can learn from each other. (You can earn participation points by doing this.)

Course Blog Contributions
Your blog contributions will be short responses (200-500 words) to prompts I give you to spur reflection. By contributing to a website you will also gain a bit of experience with how the web works 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 at a professional level. Tell me who you plan to interview by class time on October 9th. Complete the interview before fall break. During your interview, take notes so that you can share what you learned with the class on October 30. Pay attention to what your colleagues report, because you will write a blog post that compares different disciplines based on what you’ve heard and explore what values are important in your field.

Literature review
You will write an essay (~5-8 pages) on a topic of your choice that should survey some of the most important research-based sources available on the issue you have chosen, arranged according to some sort of organizational principle that uses the sources you’ve selected to tell a coherent story about what researchers have had to say about the issue with a particular audience and purpose in mind. You may combine this task with work you’re doing in another course, but clear it first with that instructor. Though the number of sources you include will vary depending on your focus, you should plan to examine dozens of sources and select 6-8 of the most important ones to analyze in your review. Complete draft due in class November 27th; final revised version due by December 17.


  • Students are expected to adhere to the Gustavus honor code. We’ll talk about how and why to cite sources and how to share other people’s 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. Even experienced and confident writers can benefit by using the Writing Center.

  • 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 on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons, 2:30-4:30; we can also meet by appointment whenever as needed.

  • This is a stressful time of life. Please take advantage of college services if you are having academic, medical, or emotional difficulties. Unfortunately, sexual assault, stalking, and other forms of intimate violence happen. I’m happy to talk, but you should know I’m required to report assaults. You may also speak confidentially with members of the SART team.

GRADING SCHEME 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. Here’s how the points add up.

Participation (25%)
attend and participate in class (13 possible points)*
read and respond to others’ blog posts (7 possible points)
share something interesting with the class for discussion (5 possible points)
14 - 25 A
11 - 13 B
10 - C
>10 - F

*Attending class is important, so you must have at least 10 of these points to pass the course. Life happens and people get sick. If you are sick or for some compelling reason miss class, you can recover up attendance points by discussing a make-up plan with me.

Blog posts (25%)
I will give you prompts for blog posts throughout the semester, each worth 3 points. 25 possible points.
21 - 25 points - A
15 - 20 points - B
9 - 12 points - C
3 - 6 points - D
0 points – F

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

Literature review (30%)
Find and scan as many relevant sources as you can and choose the most significant ones to include in your review (minimum of 6 - 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



schedule & reading assignments

September 4 -  introduction to the course; begin discussion of journalism and scholarly publishing. In lab: introduction to Zotero and getting started with the course blog (login required). Blog post prompt for next week: Describe the most interesting or challenging research experience you've ever had.

September 11 - using databases and indexes and old-school ways to find articles. Read for today the Society of Professional Journalist’s Code of Ethics and choose one of On the Media’s Breaking News Consumer Handbooks to read; bring at least one insight from it to class..Blog post prompt for next week: What is the database you turn to the most? Alternative: How do you keep up with news?

September 18 -  how libraries organize books. Read for today Demko. Lab: exploring library catalogs and classification systems; strategies for quickly making choices among books.Blog post prompt for next week: What's the most interesting book you've ever read for class? Alternative: Is there a book you've read that really sticks with you or changed the way you think about the world?

September 25 - Using the internet for research; maps and government documents. For today, read “How Social Media Took Us From Tarhir Square to Donald Trump” and watch the excerpt from The West Wing,  Be prepared to tell me who you have arranged to interview.Blog post prompt for next week: How important is social media to you personally? How has your use changed over time?

October 2 - Nobel Conference; no class, but enjoy the conference! Note, there are several activities available on Tuesday afternoon as well as an opportunity for students to talk to the Nobel speakers. Give yourself the luxury of listening to some world-class speakers in person if you can.Blog post prompt for next week: Tell us about what a speaker had to say or give your overall impression of the Nobel Conference

October 9 - exploring archives. For today, read "Keepers of the Secrets." Blog post prompt for next week: Take a picture of a place that represents research to you, post it to the blog and tell us about why that image reflects your experience of research.

October 16 - exploring data - social statistics, opinion polls, and datasets. For today, read excerpt from Joel Best's Damned Lies and Statistics (on Moodle). Blog post prompt for next week: Browsing through news or opinion sites, find an example of a social statistic and tell us if you believe the author has represented it fairly and accurately.

October 23 - fall break; no class.

October 30 - report on your researcher interviews. Be prepared to share with the class the topic for your literature review and chosen format. Blog post prompt for next week: Looking at your notes from the presentations, write a post comparing the different research styles you heard about. What differences did you notice about research in different disciplines? What kinds of ethical issues seem important to researchers?

November 6 - workshop: finding information using databases and catalogs.Blog post prompt for next week: How's your research going? What have you found so far? Has your research focus sharpened or changed?

November 13 – workshop: mining the literature by tracing citations forwards and backwards.Blog post prompt for next week: How is searching for sources through the citation network different from searching databases? Was it a fruitful strategy for your topic?

November 20 – workshop: choosing and organizing your sources into a coherent story. This guide from Boston University Library has some useful ideas about different ways to organize a literature review. Blog post prompt for next week: What's your story? What can you tell us in a short paragraph about your topic?

November 27 – bring a complete draft of lit review for review. Yes, it must be a complete draft, the kind you would submit for peer review in a publication. For today, read "Sokal Squared" and "A Hoaxed Editor Reflects... Blog post prompt for next week: How are you feeling about your research process? Do you feel as if you see a clear pattern in the sources you're writing about?

December 4 – mapping the information networks in your research area. For today read read Anatomy of an Idea. Blog post prompt for next week: Generally speaking, what has been the most interesting or rewarding part of conducting this research? What has been most challenging or frustrating?

December 11 - discussion of the future of information and ethical problems to be solved. We will also complete a course evaluation.

December 17 - no class and no final, but finished draft of your literature review is due.

Interview Assignement Details

Exploring Expert Research Behavior by Interviewing a Researcher

This assignment has two parts: first, you will interview a researcher and make an informal report to the class about what you learned on October 30th.

The purpose of this assignment is to:

  • Conduct research on how scholars in various disciplines get ideas and how they use other scholars’ research in the process;
  • learn about the role research plays in the development of disciplines and how research is shared;
  • explore what motivates individual researchers;
  • consider how the process an expert researcher uses compares to your own research process;
  • and reflect on how the values of your field compare to values of other disciplines.


  • Contact and set up an appointment with your subject. Ask them to be prepared to discuss some research they conducted and wrote up or presented formally. Feel free to blame me. Also, please tell me who you plan to interview by October 9th.
  • At the start of your interview, ask permission to share insights from the interview in class.
  • During the interview, take detailed notes or record the conversation (and ask permission before recording).
  • Present your findings to the class on October 30th.
  • Write a reflective and comparative blog post following the interview presentations.

Questions you might ask (though feel free to depart from this list)

  • Please describe a research project you have completed or are working on.
  • How do you generally come up with research questions?
  • Do you present or publish your research? What is that experience like?
  • How do you seek out related research when you are doing a project? Do you turn to particular search engines or databases? How do you decide what research is especially worth reading? Do you keep track of references that you find in any particular way (such as Zotero or Endnote)?
  • What strategies do you use to keep up with new research in your field? How do you network with other scholars online or in person?
  • What are some of the values or ethical issues that matter to you as a researcher? What kind of ethical issues do you run into in your discipline when it comes to conducting and publishing research?
  • What do you find most challenging about doing research in your field?

How I will grade this assignment

It’s your responsibility to set up a time with a researcher (often the biggest challenge) and to take good notes. Reporting to the class is informal and simply requires sharing what you learned and listening to your colleagues and noting interesting findings. You can earn 10 points for conducting the interview and 10 points for your report in class. (Writing it up will count toward the blogging portion of the grade.)

Literature Review Assignment Details

Literature review assignment
The purpose of this assignment is to:

  • Give you practice finding and evaluating sources on a given topic using a variety of strategies;
  • Practice going through a process of defining and refining a research area and using appropriate tools to select the most important research on the topic, and
  • Practice synthesizing and organizing information about research on a topic with a specific audience in mind.

You must decide on a general topic as soon as possible and also choose the kind of audience you will write for. We will look at examples before you decide. Here are some options:

  • Write a classic literature review in connection with research you are doing for another course or to gain experience writing in a style commonly used in a scholarly discipline. This is a formal narrative that does not require doing new research but rather summarizes in an organized narrative how other researchers have addressed a problem of your choice. This kind if literature review identifies divergent schools of thought and often identifies gaps in the literature.
  • Write an essay about a topic of contemporary or personal interest that explains what researchers have had to say about it. Though the language of this kind of essay is less scholarly and formal than a literature review, it requires shaping a narrative into an interesting story that accurately summarizes researchers’ approaches to the topic.
  • Find a Wikipedia article on a topic of interest to you that lacks important information available in scholarly research. Using Wikipedia’s style manual and guidelines, edit the page to include relevant information and references to scholarly sources. Note: I am not myself experienced with Wikipedia authorship or editing, and it can be complex and sometimes contentious. You may choose to mock up an edited entry without actually publishing it.


  • Decide on a general focus for your essay by October 9; we will develop it further in class.
  • Look for sources, revise your focus, and place interlibrary loan requests as needed by November 13.
  • Bring the sources you plan to use in your review to class on November 13.
  • Bring a complete draft to class on November 27.
  • Revise your draft, taking into account peer review comments and suggestions. Confer with me as needed.
  • Final draft due December 17. You may send it to me as an email attachment or Google Docs link or give me a printed copy.

Feel free to schedule a one-on-one appointment with me at any point in the process. In fact, I encourage it. The Writing Center will also be a helpful resource.

How I will grade this assignment
This assignment is worth 30% of the grade. Though the number of sources you include may vary depending on your focus, you should plan to examine dozens of sources and select 6-8 or more of the most significant ones to analyze in your review. What “counts” as a quality source will depend on your topic and your field.

  • Find and scan as many relevant sources as you can and choose the most significant ones (minimum of 6-8 sources) – 10 points
  • Organize your sources into a 5-8 page narrative that helps your reader see the big picture – 10 points
  • Briefly describe each chosen source accurately, providing its main point – 5 points
  • Ensure you provide enough information (through citations or textual references) that readers can find the sources, depending on the conventions your audience expects – 5 points

30 points – A; 20 points – B; 15 points – C; 10 points—D; 0-5 points—F


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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Reference Librarians

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Blog Assignment Details

Blogging can seem onerous because remembering to log in and coming up with something to say takes work, but online communication is an increasingly important form of communication. I also hope it will be a valuable opportunity for you to reflect on your own research experiences and share them with other members of our small seminar. The blog will be private to the class unless we decide to make some or all of it public.

Blog posts don't have to be long. They don't have to be polished. They are generally more informal and personal in language than more academic forms of writing. However, I encourage you to include links and multimedia materials - embedded videos or images - partly to enliven your posts, partly so you gain experience with digital communication. Be sure to credit where images and videos come from and try to find images that are copyright-friendly.  See the suggestions for images sources below - or use photos or videos of your own. (You automatically hold the copyright.)

How I will grade this assignment

If you make seven or more blog posts throughout the course of the semester and they aren't insultingly bad, you'll get all 25 points. If you comment on other's posts, you can earn participation points as well as good karma.

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