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Information Literacy


What Should Geosciences Majors Know?

  • How to find research articles using standard databases, including those like
    Web of Science, that enable forward and backward searches of citations within
  • How to recognize the differences between research articles and popular-science articles.
  • How to access and download real-time geosciences data from websites of
    scientific agencies, such as the U.S. Geologic Survey.
  • How to access and interpret geologic maps, topographic maps, and field guides.
  • How to relate information from multiple sources to students' own geosciences
    observations and interpretations.
  • How to present scientific information through clear writing, proper citation of
    sources, graphical representation of field observations and analytical data, and
    oral presentations.
  • How to use information literacy skills in self-directed and lifelong learning.

Writing Intensive Classes and the Geosciences Major

The geosciences department is committed to having students use information resources and information technology as an integral part of their education in the geosciences. Every geosciences major will have had a writing intensive class during their first year. These students already should have learned the following information literacy skills:

  • Being able to describe, identify and find the type of information they need. This means students should be aware of sources of scientific information beyond web search engines and should realize that web search engines often are inadequate for scholarly research.
  • Knowing how to describe and apply criteria for evaluating the information. What is its reliability? Who wrote it? Who published it? When was it written and published? Was it peer reviewed?
  • Being able to distinguish between popular and scholarly materials in a variety of formats (for example: books, periodicals, web sites).
  • Knowing how to properly acknowledge and cite sources used in conducting research by applying acceptable style guides as well as being able to discern when it is necessary to cite sources and being informed about ethical and unethical citations.
  • Being capable of locating appropriate online sources (such as the Neilson Library Reference Department's Ask a Librarian options) both for review and for help with the above literacy skills.

Faculty members in the geosciences department must be aware that the information literacy skills possessed by students beginning the geosciences major will require immediate and continuous reinforcement and development as students begin and advance through the major.

Beginning Geosciences Majors

After completing an introductory geosciences course (Geo 101 and 102, or FYS 103, or 108) students should be able to:

  • Write reports that include the major sections of an article - abstract, introduction, body, conclusions, and references.
  • Graphically present information in a clear and accurate manner (including basic uncertainty analysis, where useful and appropriate).
  • Appropriately cite sources.
  • Identify (and avoid using) plagiarism.

After taking an intermediate class (any 200-level Geosciences class), geosciences students should be able to:

  • Locate journal articles through databases and citation searches, both backwards and forwards.
  • Use software to write a paper with proper citations (e.g. RefWorks, Bibtex) and with typeset mathematical equations (equation editor, LaTeX).

Advanced Students

Advanced geosciences majors should:

  • Be familiar with diverse sources of information (including primary research literature, review articles, popular science publications, web resources, etc.), understand the nature and scope of different kinds of information sources, and understand their appropriate uses.
  • Understand the fundamental difference between peer-reviewed and non-peerreviewed sources of information.
  • Be able to use bibliographic resources (e.g. GeoRef, Web of Knowledge) to find literature on a subject of interest, to find articles written by specific authors, and to follow developments in a particular field by finding recent literature that cites older works.
  • Be aware of the availability of publicly accessible databases and other sources of organized information (e.g. government agencies, professional organizations, research consortia, etc.) and be capable of searching for them effectively.
  • Be able to organize and manipulate large amounts of information using appropriate software, including spreadsheets and bibliographic database programs.
  • Identify pertinent sources and cite information appropriately in written and oral presentations.

Information Resources for the Geosciences

Resources Link

Libraries Resources in the Geosciences

Links to scholarly articles, internet resources, reference tools and more...


Geoscience "News" Journals Call Number/Access


SC Science Per QE 1 .G56 / online


SC Science Per QE 351 .E44 / online


SC Science Per QE 500 .A6


SC Science Per QE 1 .G528 / online


Databases of Articles in Geoscience


GeoRef [EBSCO]

Extensive index to articles, books, maps, papers, reports, etc. on the geology of North America from 1785 to the present and world geology from 1933 to present.

Geobase (1980+)

Covers 2,060+ journals, books, monographs, conference proceedings, and reports with information about geography, geology, ecology, and more.

Web of Knowledge

Indexes and abstracts science & technical journals (1899 to present), social science journals (1898 to present), and arts & humanities journals (1975 to present) published around the world; offers cited reference searching.




Journal Locator

Search by name of journal

GeoScience World

Online access to over 40 journals

Interlibrary Loan

Request journal articles not owned by Smith


Internet Resources


USGS – U.S. Geological Survey

NOAA - National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

NASA - National Aeronautical and Space Administration

EPA - U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

In Which Classes Should Students Learn These Skills?

In the introductory courses students will primarily learn about citing and plagiarism via their project reports. In intermediate course laboratories students will be assigned library research and will learn how to locate and use articles. The biggest focus of information literacy training in our curriculum will be advanced (300-level) geosciences courses. In these courses students will be expected to locate and read journal articles, and do their own writing and presenting. All of the skills described above will be taught and/or reinforced in these classes. These skills will also be included in many of our intermediate level required courses, where students will be asked to read and discuss journal articles in the different areas covered by the courses. In some of these courses, students write a research paper and will thus have a direct application of the skills that they have learned. In addition to the information literacy in these required courses, there will be additional content for students doing honors or special studies projects.

In What Ways Will Student Skills be Assessed?

In most introductory and intermediate-level geosciences courses students work on hands-on field and laboratory assignments that commonly involve approaches and methodologies used in the process of conducting actual research. Throughout this process the instructors introduce and keep the students up to date on the current status and advancements in the area of geosciences information literacy. The complexity of assignments increases as the students progress through the geosciences curriculum and the students performance is expected to reflect the skills appropriate for their level. This includes the ability to locate and appropriately use information by students in introductory courses. Students in intermediate-level geosciences courses are expected to critically and resourcefully use information from multiple sources and relate it to their own observations and interpretations in their quests for answers. Most geoscience students also engage in conducting research in advanced-level courses or through working on independent projects or senior thesis research. At this level the students are expected to clearly and critically think about and analyze information as they work on defining questions, designing research approaches, building arguments, synthesizing ideas, and creatively constructing and presenting their results.

Ethical Issues

It is imperative that geosciences students are able to acknowledge when they incorporate the work of others into their own work. Such ethical use of information is founded on the premise that students can make clear distinctions between new knowledge that they produce and received knowledge from others. Thus, the Department of Geosciences requires that students clearly state the sources of all information incorporated into every written and oral product produced in any geosciences course at Smith College.

March 8, 2013