This post has been written for us by Alison Hicks, Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Information Literacy.
[Warning- focuses on questions of grief and bereavement linked to COVID]
Everyday life forms an important topic within information literacy research. The CILIP definition positions everyday life as one of the key contexts in which information literacy plays a key role and we have seen a growth of research that looks at topics as varied as food and activity tracking (McKinney, Cox & Sbaffi, 2019), religion (Gunton, 2011) and citizenship (Goldstein, 2020). Helping to centre our attention on the ways in which people use information within informal settings, everyday information literacy has also been credited with broadening research beyond the more typical academic sphere. However, while community research offers an exciting new direction for information literacy, it also opens the researcher up to the need to deal with the complexity of everyday life, including the potential for information literacy research to (both advertently and inadvertently) touch upon illness, pain, bereavement, grief and other sensitive topics. Academic information literacy research may touch on high stress situations, including anxiety and trauma (Loyer, 2018). Yet, the less stratified focus of everyday information literacy as well as its entwinement with community and family dynamics means that even the most lighthearted of research topics may surface unexpectedly complex and raw emotions. These responses require the researcher to respond sensitively and appropriately in line with ethical research governance processes. They also force us to start preparing for the ways in which we support researcher wellbeing as we continue to broaden the scope of information literacy research topics.
The COVID research that I am currently carrying out with my colleague, Professor Annemaree Lloyd, provides a powerful example (Lloyd & Hicks, 2021) of the ways in which everyday information literacy research can impact researcher welfare. As might be expected, we paid careful attention to participant wellbeing when we applied for approval for this project from UCL’s Research Ethics Committee. We provided full details of the study in advance, we reminded participants that they did not have to answer any questions that they did not want to, and we carefully designed questions to focus on lockdown life- homeschooling and toilet rolls rather than illness and hospitalisation. However, as the UK surpassed 100,000 COVID deaths, it was, perhaps, inevitable that our study would start to intersect with grieving and bereavement processes. When these topics came up, we used a variety of techniques to carefully acknowledge and honour participant emotions in line with our ethical protocol. Yet, it is equally important to recognise the potential impact that this emotional engagement might have on the researcher, particularly if feelings emerged unexpectedly or were particularly upsetting, and especially when the anonymity of research participants needs to be maintained. In our COVID scenario, we were able to debrief together almost immediately and engage in reflective memoing as part of our research approach. But, the potential for distress means that if we, as a field, wish to continue exploring even the most seemingly straightforward or low risk everyday information literacy research projects, we must think carefully about the support that we provide for researchers as well as our research participants.
One way in which we can support researcher wellbeing is to plan for how to deal with any emotions, even when research is not expected to provoke distress. This could take place during the design of the methodology and could centre on working through various questions, including:
- What are the potential risks to the researcher in this research? What can we do to mitigate these?
- If you are distressed/troubled as a result of research, what informal or formal support mechanisms are available to you? Are these acceptable to you? Do you have other self-care strategies in place?
- E.g. Access to a counsellor, Debriefing with supervisor, colleagues, peers, friends and family (while maintaining confidentiality), Memoing/Journaling, Taking time away from the research,
Designed to start a conversation rather than being exhaustive, these prompts could be worked officially into the methodology or could form a private reflection during planning stages. They could also be expanded to focus on physical safety, where needed, as well as forming the basis of conversations around other stressful forms of non-researched focused library work, as is starting to happen in the field of healthcare (NHS, 2020; Point of Care, n.d.).
Goldstein, S. (Ed.). (2020). Informed societies: Why information literacy matters for citizenship, participation and democracy. London: Facet Publishing.
Gunton, L. (2011). Religious information literacy: Using information to learn in church community. The Australian Library Journal, 60(2), 155-164.
Lloyd, A. & Hicks, A. (2021). Contextualising risk: The unfolding information work and practices of people during the COVID-19 pandemic. Journal of Documentation.
Loyer, J. (2018). Indigenous information literacy: nêhiyaw kinship enabling self-care in research. Library Juice Press. In: Nicholson, K., & Seale, M. (Eds). The Politics of
Theory and the Practice of Critical Librarianship. Sacramento, CA: Library Juice Press, pp. 145-156.
McKinney, P., Cox, A. M., & Sbaffi, L. (2019). Information literacy in food and activity tracking among parkrunners, people with type 2 diabetes, and people with irritable
bowel syndrome: Exploratory study. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 21(8), e13652.
NHS (2020). Emotional support for embedded knowledge specialists working in clinical settings: Policy recommendations to NHS Employers. Retrieved from :
Point of Care (n.d.). Schwartz Round. Retrieved from: https://www.pointofcarefoundation.org.uk/our-work/schwartz-rounds/about-schwartz-rounds/