NDL 301: Information Fluency

quick link to daily schedule

Tuesdays, 2:30 – 4:30 Lib 201 and smaller library lab
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
  • 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
  • be better prepared to engage in civic life by being skilled at finding and using evidence to inform real-world issues

Assignments & grading

In brief, these are the components of the grade.

  • participation (20%)
  • blog/twitter contributions (20%)
  • literature review (35%)
  • interview of a researcher and reflection essay (25%)

20% of the grade
This is one of those hard-to-quantify pieces of the grade. I expect you to come to class prepared, contribute to discussions, give other members of the class interesting things to think about, and be an active, curious participant. Basically, your grade will be based on my interpretation of how engaged with the course you are.

Blog/Twitter contributions
20% of the grade
Contribute five blog posts and at least ten comments on other people’s blog posts throughout the semester and try your hand at microblogging one lecture or other event. The purpose of this assignment is to extend the class discussions and to become comfortable with writing about ideas in informal but public platforms.  This kind of thoughtful but impromptu writing about ideas is a genre of academic writing that is growing in influence and worth practicing.

Literature review
35% of the grade; due May 20
Your literature review should survey some of the most important sources available on the issue you have chosen, with some sort of organizational principle and with a description and evaluation of each source as well as a sense of what each source contributes to the whole. It should be written in the form of an essay. 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 may vary depending on your focus, you should plan to examine many sources and select 8 – 12 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. I will comment on a draft before you hand in the final copy. 

Interview of a researcher and reflection essay
25% of the grade; reports in class on May 13 or May 20; reflection essay due May 26
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 that includes an analysis of how research processes in your discipline (based on your interview subject and on your own observations) compare to traditions of different disciplines and what values are important in the field. 

Also: 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 and/or to consult with Laura Lindell whose specialty is writing assistance for multilingual students. There are drop-in hours or you can set up an appointment online.

Readings and schedule (subject to change):

  • Feb. 11 – introduction to the course and to blogging; books and how they are published; making choices among books. Getting started with WordPress.
  • Feb. 18 – books: how libraries organize them; using Zotero to keep track of citations. Read for today Toobin and Demko. Read Digital Books and Your Rights: A Checklist (EFF). To learn about Zotero, check out the video on this page.
  • Feb. 25 – newspapers, magazines, and journals – how they are published, how to find them in libraries using databases and indexes; using indexes to track down pre-1980 magazine articles; using microfilm. Read for today Fister , Suber, and the Society of Professional Journalist’s Code of Ethics. Also, watch . . . 
  • March 4 – using the Web for research. For today, read and take notes on Vannevar Bush’s 1945 essay “As We May Think” via Moodle; also,  brows the website of the Internet & American Life project,  and watch . . . 
  • March 11 – using government documents and maps. For today, read “What Tear Gas Taught Me About Twitter and the NSA” and find and read one article of your choice on how data is being gathered and used by either corporations or the government. If you have trouble finding something, “What They Know”  is a superb WSJ series with a lot of news stories related to data mining. Be prepared to summarize your chosen article for the class. (It would also be a good subject for a blog post, hint hint.) Also watch . . .
  • March 18 – archives and special collections; using reference books. For today read “Information Overload: The Early Years.” Have you thought about who to interview yet?
  • March 25 – understanding literature reviews; tapping into the citation network.
  • April  1 – spring break – no class
  • April 8 – For today read “Anatomy of an Idea” by Steve Johnson. Give me the name of your interview subject.
  • April 15 –  continue literature review work
  • April 22 – statistics case study. Read for today Joel Best (via Moodle) and “Prime Number” from On the Media.
  • April 29 – no class
  • May 6- the peer review process; what motivates scholars to publish.Read for today Polanyi (via Moodle) and  Ziman (via Moodle).
  • May 13 – reports on interviews and analysis of disciplinary values.
  • May 20 – reports on interviews and analysis of disciplinary values. Literature review due.
  • No final exam. Reflection essay due May 26.