Information Literacy and the Fashion Item

I am sharing what I think is a very interesting lesson plan that my colleague Maria Rothenberg designed for one-shot library instruction sessions. One-shot is library lingo for the brief hour librarians usually get to introduce students to the array of resources and skills they will need to pursue research in modern libraries and on the web. When you only have one hour, you’d better have a hook that engages the student. In this case, the hook is the use of iconic clothing items as learning objects to teach information literacy knowledge practices.

Converse, Chuck Taylors

Converse, All Star Chuck Taylor’s

In my opinion, the lesson plan touches on several of the new ACRL Information Literacy Frames (not only the two listed in the outline below). If you’re not familiar with the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education, which replaced the ACRL Information Literacy Standards this year, here is the list:

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

This one-hour lesson plan provides a good introduction to many of these new frames, and, if one were given more time than an hour, could easily be expanded to include all of them.

Maria Rothenberg- Lesson Plan


LESSON OVERVIEW:  In this lesson students will study one iconic fashion object to generate questions about their object and assess the factual information they will provide to tell the story of their object. Within this exercise students will determine what information is needed for a correct APA citation and how this information is useful when evaluating blogs, wikis, academic journals, etc. To support their finding they will choose three different sources to gather information on their object. Students will articulate why they made those particular choices.


From Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Educations

  • “Authority is Constructed and Contextual”
  • “Information Has Value”


  • Students will work in groups of 2 (class of 20)
  • I will pass out 10 8”x11” color photos of an iconic fashion item (for example, Levis 501 jeans, a pair of Dr. Martens boots, Izod polo shirts, etc.)
  • Internet access to web and library resources
  • Library database handout
  • Examples of APA citations


  • Approximately one 60-minute lesson (20 minutes of working together in a guided example, 30 minutes of working together in their groups and 10 minutes of presenting their findings).


  1. This lesson is based on a class assignment where 20 students (10 groups of 2) will write a descriptive synopsis of an object of fashion (1-2 paragraphs).
  2. Before students break into their groups and start working, we will explore a fashion item together, which I will project on the screen. This will set the stage for how students are to proceed with their object.
  3. My goal is to get the students to talk about what they see by asking them some open- ended questions about the object we are looking at. We are not talking about “research”, but about what we are seeing and questions that are coming up that we might want to explore.
  4. I elect a note-taker to jot down some of the keywords we have mined from our observation of the object. From our discussion, we have questions we want answered.

I suggest a basic format we might use to do our research – general to more specific. 

  1. We start with some general research queries to explore the history of the company that made the garment. We get more specific and describe the trend that the garment exemplified, the time period during which the garment was worn, etc. We discuss what we are finding and what we are not finding. We examine three different sources (blog, e-book, newspaper article). I ask them questions about perceived audiences, the language/tone used, whether they contain original research, etc. We then further discuss how and when certain sources can be used appropriately (e.g., using a fashion blog as a form of public discussion around an issue, but not necessarily as a means of supporting one’s argument). Students refer to their APA examples to find the relevant information to cite the blog or other sources we find.
  2. Students break out into smaller groups. I circulate the room to see how students are progressing with their research.
  3. After 20 minutes each group presents and briefly discusses their object, the three research sources they found and why they chose them.


  • Participation in discussion.
  • References that are cited in final project.

The use of a familiar fashion item as a learning object gives context to research skills and appeals to the visual learner. If you like this lesson plan, please let me know.

The “Social Network” of an Article

Brains and How to Get Them - Book Illustration

Image from the book “Brains and How to Get Them” by Larson (1913)

A recent study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology by Yale doctoral student, Matthew Fischer, indicates that that the very act of searching the internet gives people an inflated sense of their own knowledge. In fact, his study found that even when his research subjects saw the same information on the exact same website, the members of the cohort who were asked to search for it rated their own knowledge higher than those who were passively shown it.

What makes this study particularly interesting to me is that search, more than ever before, is controlled by predictive analytics that bring results based on our profiles and search histories. In other words, all the while that we are feeling increasingly knowledgeable, our search results are increasingly restricted by our own habits, interests, and vocabularies. This could be a problem.

As a professional who regularly assists people with information inquiries, I cannot tell you the number of times I have been told by inexperienced researchers that the information they found on a topic “came from Google” – as if their search was the ultimate origin of the information. Of course, they don’t mean this or even think it. However, when pressed they can rarely remember the actual sites that they visited online. Search, at least for the casual researcher, has effectively divorced information from the notion of source or authority. This study would imply that in some ways, the sense authority has indeed been transferred, through search alone, from the knowledge producer to the knowledge seeker.

It is no wonder that, even among the more advanced undergraduates with whom I work, information gathering is often done in a very piecemeal way. Each article, website or book that they find via search is perceived as an isolated result of their expressed search criteria. The view is not holistic. Rarely do the researchers consider the “life” of the information item before it was discovered by them, and this often prevents them from finding better information and attaining a deeper, contextualized understanding of the topic they are pursuing.

it27snotwhatyouknow2c0ait27swhoyouknow-defaultOne way that I have tried to combat this patchwork approach is to introduce students to the idea of searching for “who” as well as for “what” – as in who are the experts, thought leaders and stakeholders in their area of research? This is not always an easy task if someone is researching a topic that is new to them. A good starting place for discovering the “who” of a topic is often a single, good article, because if you can find one good article then you can generally find many other leads.

The following is a library workshop activity that I have done with a number of upper-level product development classes at the Fashion Institute of Technology. By the time the students come to the library workshop, they generally have already found an article, blog post or news story that has inspired them to create a product for a particular emerging or micro-niche market. Past topics have included gender-neutral parenting, gaming GenX moms, and multi-generational households. It’s the perfect situation for introducing who-searching. (I have also successfully used this activity in English classes where student have been allowed to choose their own topic for a research paper.) 

Our starting place is the articles that inspired them, but I often bring my own for demonstration purposes. I tell them to go through their articles with a marker or pencil and highlight every person quoted, institution referenced and publication or study mentioned. Ideally, we do this during the first part of the workshop. If not, then I stick to demonstrating the process with an article projected from the web onto the classroom smartboard. Highlighting on the screen can be done using Diigo’s Bookmarklet tools. Here’s an example using an article saved to Diigo from the NY Times about consumer sentiment toward sweat shops – Some Retailers Say More About Their Clothing’s Origins tools (click to see highlighted article).

The next step is to map out the “social network” of the article. This is easily done with pen and paper, but for on-screen demonstration there are several concept mapping tools that work well. I like to use because it is easy for students to read from the back row of a classroom. Student response to this activity is overwhelmingly positive, because it gives them an alternative to keyword searching.


Click to Enlarge

In library instruction circles concept mapping is already a widely championed practice. It is often recommended as a brainstorming tool for building search vocabulary at the very beginning of the research process. My angle is to introduce it in the context of getting researchers to think beyond descriptive vocabulary and start thinking about authors, expertise and the network of knowledge producers. This activity also creates a nice segue way into discussing scholarly literature, which has a long-standing tradition of “social networking” through the use of footnotes, bibliographies, citation indexes and online academic networks


Textile Toolbox – Sustainable Fashion Guidance from MISTRA

The Textile Toolbox is a web platform, created by TED for  MISTRA Future Fashion, which explores the nexus between sustainability and profitability in the fashion industry.This open website is a global collaborative effort that draws on the expertise of researchers from an array of fashion schools, and it acts as a platform for designers, professionals and students to explore sustainable design, manufacturing, and consumption solutions.

Repair it yourself shoes

Repair it yourself shoes

To understand the philosophical framework underlying the content housed on the site, click first on the “Approach” navigation link. Here you will find a description of the TED Ten, which are ten design strategies to inspire and drive sustainable innovation. The “Exhibits” section shows these principles in action with links to research and writings, and under “Resources” there is a growing list of well-thought-out lesson plans for all educational levels. The “Writing and Research” link takes you to the Textile Toolbox blog, which consists articles with bibliographies, as well as announcements. One recent announcement  of note is an open call to designers to submit sustainable design projects for the Textile Toolbox gallery that follow the the TED Ten.

I can see this wonderful site being used as as a substitution for for a traditional textbook in a class focused on sustainability. The videos, writings, lesson plans and leads to further research make it a rich resource for students, faculty and librarians a like. This is an excellent resource to add to your library’s research guides or pathfinders.

This post originally appeared in the Fashion, Costume and Textile Librarians blog on January 9, 2015.  

Fashion Industry Research on a Shoestring

Students often ask me if they will continue to have access to our Library’s wonderful resources after they graduate.  The answer, right now, is one of those annoying “yes, but” answers.  Alumni of FIT will always have access to the Library itself, and there is a wide array of print and online subscription resources they can have access to when they visit. However, most of our higher-end, industry-level databases – market research and fashion forecasting services – are off limits.

It was partially with this conundrum in in mind that I wrote the following article for the Fashion, Textile and Costume Librarians blog – Fashion Industry Research On A Shoestring. (Click to read full article)

I hope you enjoy reading it.  Please leave your comments

Design Research and Visual Literacy

The designer and the scientist have a lot more in common as researchers than most people might think. Design research involves observation, note-taking, collecting samples, categorizing & recognizing patterns, and experimenting with materials.

Of course, there are marked differences between the scientist and the designer as researchers, too. There is no rigorous, codified “method” for all designers or artists, who have greater liberty than scientists to come up with their own approaches. Design research is also much more heavily reliant on access to visual resources than scientific research. Moreover, there are many in the design fields who eschew what they refer to as “scientism” in the design research process (see this Atlantic article for more on that topic)

via Design Research and Visual Literacy.  (Click to read full article)

Top Misconceptions of Fashion Schools and Their Students

Librarians are not alone in being stereotyped. People involved in fashion generally get written-off as shallow and lacking intellectual interests. While fashion folk certainly delight in the temporal and aesthetic, it is misguided to assume they lack interests that go deeper than the surface. Moreover, the contributions of fashion to our culture, economy and social history should never be dismissed.  To do so, in the words of Miranda Priestly, is sort of comical.So what are these common misconceptions?

via Top Misconceptions of Fashion Schools and Their Students. (Click to read full article)

The Ideas Box – A Library for Refugees

Libraries without Borders asked French designer Philippe Starck to create a pop-up library to serve refugees from the Congo.  What he and his team came up is a beautiful, functional set of information treasure chests called the Ideas Box.

Each set is comprised of four boxes – Connect, Learn, Play and Create -which contain among other things: 15 tablets and 4 laptops (internet connected), 50 e-readers and 5000 ebooks, 250 hardcopy books, a cinema modale, 5 HD cameras, board games, videos, craft materials and more. Tents and tables are also included.

Read more about it and check out the video!

Article: How To Draw Critical Design Insights From A Single Photograph: Lessons From Frog

How To Draw Critical Design Insights From A Single Photograph: Lessons From Frog

This is a great little article about research, both data-driven and visual, and the design process –

Designers taking photographs at Frog

Designers at Frog

Color Me Informed!

Our response to color is almost primal.  Color can make us desire something or recoil from it.  Color as symbol is an admixture of culturally rooted meaning and deeply personal experience, and it is always evolving.  Yet color is perceived differently and with varying subtly by each of us.  In fact, it is all in our heads – it’s our brains that give objects color.  For all these reasons and more, using words to talk about color, or to search for it on the web, or to communicate it to another person can be very, very difficult.  Which is ironic fitting, as color itself can communication much more than words can say.

Color by Number


Munsell Color Tree

Over time, various systems have been devised to describe color for the purposes of understanding its power, for pigment mixing, printing, color matching and most recently web design.  Of the systems still in use today, like MunsellPantone, CMYK, RGB, and Hexadecimal, many can be used to search for color online, too.  The following online tools use color systems for discovery and creation.


Find images by color or palette

TinEye Labs – Multicolr Search Engine
Allows users to click colors on a palette and uses the hexadecimal system to retrieve Creative Commons images from Flickr.  Provides users with the hexadecimal number of the colors they have chosen.
Copper Hewitt Museum – Our collection by color
Like the TinEye search, users can click on colors from a square palette and the search uses the hexadecimal system to retrieve matches (or near matches) from the museums extensive collection of textiles, posters, and other design & decorative arts items.
hm74g4[1]Hermitage Museum – Search by Color and Color Layout
The former palace of the Russian Czars, The Hermitage is one of the world’s grandest and greatest art museums.  Teaming with IBM you can now search their collection by color and multi-color layout. кру́то!

Create and find palettes from a color or from an image


Color Hunter
Color Hunter is a website where you can find and make color palettes created from images.To find color palettes on Color Hunter, enter a search term in the box at the top of the page. You can search by tag or hex color code or image URL. If you have an image or image url, you can upload it and get a color palette based on the colors in the image.
The makers of the ColorMunki spectrometer have created an online color palette creation tool, which give users access to both the Munsell and Pantone systems.  You can also brown photo generated palettes and user generated, and when you click on the color chip it will find a match in Munsell or Pantone!
COLOURlovers is a social network, as well as a place to find tools for create and sharie color palettes, seamless patterns, and palettes from from photo graphs.  Registration is required for access to some of the tools


Color ‘n Books (including coloring books)


If you want to find books about a specific color or about color in general, chances are that you would like a expert overview about the history, symbolism, or use of color in a certain fields,  Here are some hints for searching our catalog (or any library catalog) with some precision.

  • Add one or two defining terms to your keyword search.  Some good ones for our collection at FIT include:  art, design, fashion, theory, psychology, symbolism, consumer behavior, marketing 
  • If you are still getting a lot of false hits, try searching for your words in the Subject Headingof the catalog, instead of searching everything.  This will go a long way to eliminate off-topic books, like Green is the New Black or Famous for Fifteen Minutes by Ultra Violet, which have little or nothing to do with color.colourhunting
  • Think of alternate terms that relate to color.  Books about Pigment or Dyes might not have the word color in the title or subject, but might still be very relevant.  Books about Trend Forecasting definitely will have great information about color trend cycles.
  • And, yes, we do have coloring books . . . and we also have scanners and photocopy machines.  Just sayin’