thing 10: Searching as Strategic Exploration

Recommended Readings, Resources, and Examples

Simmons, M. H. (2005). Librarians as disciplinary discourse mediators: Using genre theory to move toward critical information literacy. portal: Libraries and the Academy, 5(3), 297-311.

Choose Your Own Adventure Activity

Select one of the following activities to complete:

  1. Locate an example of an article or lesson plan that describes an approach to teaching using the frame Searching as Strategic Exploration. In a comment, post a link to the article or lesson plan (or a citation if paywalled) along with a short summary of what you read. How could you adapt or build upon this approach at your own institution?
  2. Drawing inspiration from one of the recommended readings, draft your own lesson plan related to the frame Searching as Strategic Exploration. Upload your lesson plan to Project CORA and/or the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy Sandbox, and post a link to it in a comment.


  1. While I think this can connect to many different frames, I’ve been thinking a lot about CREATE as detailed here:

    CREATE is a thinking tool created specifically with librarians who work with studio art in mind: Conversation, Revision, Exploration, Authority, Thoughtful, Experiential. Revision and exploration seem the most related to Searching as Strategic Exploration. While the article doesn’t give any specifics for these elements of the approach, just thinking of the framework in a different way with artists in mind has helped me consider ways to bring library instruction to the attention of the faculty in this area.


  2. Simmons’ point of librarians using the discourse of specific departments is a valid one; however, if librarians work at a small liberal arts college, as I do, then there are not librarians assigned specifically to each academic department. Instead, we learn about the nuances of searching in different fields while on the job, picking up terminology from working with students and talking with faculty. During one-on-one sessions, I ask students pointed questions at the start and during the search process to learn how experts in their field approach research; upper class students have usually started to pick up the specialized vocabulary from their field. Reading the instructor’s directions usually provides nuances of a field-specific search, which is especially helpful when working with first-year students and sophomores.

    A lesson from the Sandbox is “From Nothing to Something: Transforming the ‘Failed’ Search”:“failed”-search

    This is a lesson plan from Teaching Information Literacy Threshold Concepts, edited by Patricia Bravender, Hazel McClure, and Gayle Schaub and contributed by Ika Datig.

    The lesson helps students learn how to refine their searches and shows them that they need to be flexible and use different search strategies when a search “fails.”

    The lesson recommends that student peers comment on the “failed” search, hopefully adding other paths to explore. If the classroom has technology that shares desktop images, such as Solstice, then a group could put their search on the main screen and walk the class through their process.


  3. The video, “One Perfect Source,” from the ACRL IL Sandbox (, is a good example of helping students to get out of the mindset that “I can only use stuff from this source…” or of trying to find just one source that will entirely cover their research need.

    I would adapt at my institution by including a handout for students to brainstorm keywords/phrases for their own topics, and then having a discussion around building strategies, using alternative keywords/phrases and synonyms. Ample time would be allowed for students to search databases and find at least three different sources during the Information Literacy session.

    The assigned reading was encouraging in describing how we as librarians are “insiders and outsiders” to many disciplines and as such we can help students see knowledge as “constructed and contested.” We can then encourage students to ask additional questions, relative to the discipline, which would help them find sources more relevant to that discipline.

    It was interesting to learn that the “integration of genre theory” was the basis for Writing Across the Curriculum, the use of which has been increasing.


    • What was striking to me was the fact that this article was published before the Framework was introduced. I did not take the time to explore how it fits into the larger conversation but did observe that the author uses the heading “Critical Information Literacy—Moving Beyond the ACRL Standards” on page 299.

      The challenge for our instruction staff is that we do not have a liaison program and we usually assign our instruction sessions based on who is available. We do make an effort to assign upper level classes to librarians who are more comfortable with that particular area due to inclination and some subject area expertise. But sometimes we end up teaching a subject area where we are very much the “outsider” mentioned in the article.

      So perhaps we are truly the “disciplinary discourse mediator” as we are navigating understanding the difference in using the term “deviance” in a Sociology class as opposed to a Biology class. As a result, I found the following lesson plan the most useful after exploring a few options:

      Many professors are starting to use Research Logs as part of their assignments, so it would be easy to adapt this as part of the teaching. Perhaps even require that the students complete part of the worksheet before arriving in class. I will most likely attempt to turn this into a more interactive, active learning opportunity.

      As an interesting side note, I managed to go down a rabbit hole after looking into CP Snow’s The Two Cultures. This led me to an interesting documentary we have access to via Films on Demand:

      “Ideas Roadshow: The Two Cultures.” Films Media Group, 2013, Accessed 9 Nov. 2017.

      Where Stefan Collins, the author of What Are Universities for? (London, Penguin, 2012), discusses the debate around the Sciences vs. the Humanities and how we ought to organize our universities. Much of which is a debate of the language around how we have conversations in academia. I think this is directly connected to the idea that “research is about constructing meaning through active engagement with the ideas and asking questions surrounding the information itself. “ (Simmons, p. 308)



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