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)

Marion Fasel – Jewelry Author, Expert, Journalist and Friend

Rescheduled for March 14th at 3:00 PM in the Katie Murphy Amphitheatre.

On February 28th at 3:00 PM, FIT students and faculty are invited to a Love Your Library 2014 interview with Marion Fasel, jewelry author, expert and journalist. As the person interviewing her, I have to admit that I’m more than a little nervous. Not only is Marion Fasel incredibly accomplished, she’s also an old friend. Somehow this makes the task all the more daunting.

I’ve known Marion since childhood.  Our families attended the same church.  We went to the same high school.  We even briefly shared a BFF, believe it or not. But It was in New York City, after about five years of my moving here that our current friendship really began.  I was working at  St. Martin’s Press in Flatiron building and was visiting a friend for lunch, who worked close by at the soon-to-be-gone Bettman Photo Archives (but that’s another story).  Afraid of being late for a meeting, I was scurrying out of the Bettman offices when whom should I run into but Marion, whom I hadn’t seen since my first days in the city.  She was there to do image research, as it turned out. She and her writing partner, Penny Proddow, were putting the finishing touches on a book, Diamonds: A Century of Spectacular Jewels, which would be published the next yeardiamonds.  I remember being so impressed.  Working in the publishing, rather than the writing end of things, I knew how hard it was to get a book contract. And this was to be Marion’s second.  We were both in hurry, so we quickly exchanged phone numbers and promised to get together. And we did.  And we still do.

Over the years, through all manner of ups and downs, Marion has been a good and constant friend. In fact, when I think about Marion, the first thing I think of is what truly decent and delightfully genuine person she is. I don’t think automatically think about the accomplishments. Could it be that this is why I feel a little less than ready to interview her about her career?   In preparation for the Love Your Library event, I have been researching my friend as a writer, journalist and fine jewelry expert. It has been quite interesting to learn about things that she has done, which she justifiably could have bragged about, but which she has never divulged or volunteered in our conversations.  I was not surprised, however, to see one blog describe her as the “kindest most joyful jewelry journalist.”  Kindness?  Joy?  In the fashion industry?  In the magazine business?  You bet.  Perhaps, that’s the secret to her success.

The interview will cover how she started in the industry, what inspires and motivates her as a writer, her views on contemporary jewelers and jewelry trends, the future of fashion journalism, and time permitting, questions from the audience.   I hope to learn a lot.  Please come, because I think you will learn a lot, too.


Marion Fasel has been the Contributing Editor of Fine Jewelry and Watches at InStyle for over fifteen years. She has also authored or co-authored seven books about twentieth century jewelry design history. For a list of books in the FIT Library’s collection authored by Marion Fasel, click here.

DIY Infographics for Business Students

Would you like to turn this  . . .

Source: “Fall 2011 Product/Health & Beauty Aids” MRI+ Mediamark Internet Reporter database 2011,


  . . . . into this?

This some of the same data made visual using

Video of making an infographic with

Back in September 2012, I wrote about the ready-made infographics that can be found in library databases like Mintel.  Since the time I posted that blog entry, both Hoovers and Business Insights Essentials have added some nice new data visualizations and interactives to their services. Clearly, the database companies that serve industry are getting the message that effective visual communication is highly important in today’s business environment.

But while many industry and market research databases are adding visuals (or at least making graphics easier to locate), business researchers are still more likely to encounter statistics and demographics in the form of raw data.  That’s why, if you’re a business major trying to give this information full impact in a presentation, you might be interested in some of the free DIY infographic and data visualization tools that are available on the web.  Here are some of my personal favorites:

  • – Very easy to use and very clear navigation.
  •  Also easy to use, if you can figure out what to click on to begin the process.  The folks at have created a navigation that leads you back to their fee-based services, unless you know where to click.  After logging in don’t click “Create.”  Instead click “Marketplace” and then click the pink “Start Project” button on the upper right has changed considerably since my posting.  It is now mainly a commercial site connecting designers with clients.  There are a few “instant” infograhic tools left, which are easiest to get to if you use the following address:   You might want to use Piktochart or as an alternative
  • Many Eyes – A little more finicky than the others, but worth it.  Many Eyes from IBM allows you to create interactive data visualizations as well as textual analysis charts.  It also includes a lot of useful information about what types of charts or graphs to use for various purposes.
  • Piktochart – A much richer selection of options than is offered for free from and  Includes graphics and templates that are useful for expressing qualitative information.

These services make it relatively easy to create informative and compelling visualizations of both numeric and non-numeric information.  All of them allow for uploading data sets for the creation of charts and images for use as illustrations.  Many Eyes also allows for the upload of text for the creation of Word Clouds, Word Trees and other interactive visualizations.  Also of note are Wordle, Google Charts and the more complex Google Fusion Tables (which is still in beta).

Like anything DIY and free on the web, these infographic tools are no match for the services offered by skilled graphic or communication designers.  Even though these online services can produce something eye-catching rather quickly, using them well still takes time and some basic visual literacy.

If you need evidence of the rising interest in visual literacy and visual communication in the business world, a quick search of Business Source Complete will bring back a wide assortment of articles advocating visual thinking and visual language curricula for students in business programs. I thought I would include a link to a recent article from the Global Journal of Business Research as an example.

Siu-Kay, Pun. “Visual Language Skills – Do Business Students Need Them.” Global Journal Of Business Research (GJBR) 4.2 (2010): 85-96. Business Source Complete. Web. 5 Apr. 2013.





Fashion Bloggers


Here’s some interesting reading for anyone interested in the influence or information needs of fashion bloggers.  The first of these was a collaborative effort by one of our own at the FIT Library, Nicole LaMoreaux.

For more information on fashion blogging and its influence on apparel merchandising, you might want to check out the IFB website: