There is increasing interest in carrying out research to do with information literacy, including within institutions, and as part of Masters or Doctoral work. 

This section aims to help people carrying out information literacy research by pointing towards some resources about relevant research methods.

Funding opportunities

If you are undertaking a research project, you need to consider whether it can be incorporated into your normal work routine and resources.
If it is a medium-to-large project, this might not be possible and you would need to seek funding. You can bid for funding from a number of places:

Many institutions will offer funding for learning & teaching projects.  Talk to the equivalent of your Staff / Professional Development Team and your e-learning Team.

  • Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). The ESRC funds research and training in social and economic issues. A whole section of their website is devoted to funding opportunities, including how to apply and what projects are currently being funded.
  • The Higher Education Academy (HEA) discipline clusters often fund projects related to learning and teaching.  A list and links to the subject clusters is available from the HEA webpage. In addition, the HEA’s National Teaching Fellowship Scheme recognises and rewards individual excellence in teaching in Higher Education in England and Northern Ireland.
  • Joint Information Services Committee (JISC).  Every year, JISC funds several medium-to-large projects related to IT and libraries. JISC puts out a call for projects in particular areas.
  • Academic and Research Libraries Group (ARLG): The Innovation Award provides funding up to £1,000. The Alison Northover Bursary provides funding up to £750 for professional development activities.

Research projects

The CILIP Information Literacy Group (ILG) have set up a Research Bursaries scheme to help to fill some of those gaps and, to do so, are seeking imaginative proposals that have the potential for high impact beyond HE and librarianship. Below are some of the completed and current projects that have been supported through this scheme. Information on applying for a research bursary can be found on the ILG’s CILIP pages.

Completed projects

As more services move online, those without the means or skills to access the Internet are at increasing risk of isolation. This project worked to overcome these barriers by providing relevant, local opportunities for those who feel digitally excluded to develop, or improve their information literacy skills. The project acted as a hub for digital inclusion activity across the city, disseminating information, upskilling key workforces, mapping and promoting existing opportunities and addressing gaps in this provision. Ultimately, helping people with the skills, access and confidence they need to get online.

This study analysed how school libraries in Scotland were serving to support young people’s participation in two major political events: the Scottish Independence Referendum 2014 and the UK General Election 2015.

The purpose of the project is to develop a methodology that will allow for the identification of quantitative and qualitative data that demonstrate the benefits of developing IL in workplace settings and assess the return on investment (ROI) of such initiatives. Our approach will be entirely pragmatic: we wish to propose, in terms that enterprises can understand and relate to, a way of identifying, or at least estimating the value that is added by information literacy; in other words, the value that is added by employing and training individuals that have appropriate and relevant knowhow, competencies and skills in the use and handling of information and data, whatever form that takes. The value might be financial, but it might also relate to other factors that are important to enterprises, such as enhanced efficiency or competitive advantage.

The focus of the project was information literacy amongst those involved in hyperlocal democracy in Scotland as community councillors (the equivalent of parish councillors in England). The work of community councillors relates to ascertaining, co-ordinating and expressing the views of their communities to local authorities and taking ‘such action in the interests of [their communities] as appears to be expedient and practicable’. The investigation was undertaken by Professor Hazel Hall, Peter Cruickshank and Dr Bruce Ryan, from the Centre for Social Informatics at Edinburgh Napier University. Three key questions were addressed:

– What are community councillors’ current practices in exploiting information channels for engaging citizens in democratic processes?
– What are public libraries’ roles in supporting community councillors, particularly around their acquisition of information literacy?
– What are the relationships between community councillors’ information behaviours and literacies, resources, and knowledge and experience?

According to the International Organization for Migration (2015) the number of migrants, displaced persons and refugees who arrived in Europe in 2015 has been estimated to be above one million, which presents the highest migration flow since World War II. The conflict in Syria has been the biggest driver of migration. The UK via the ‘Syrian Vulnerable Person Resettlement (VPR) Programme’ has committed to accepting 20,000 most vulnerable Syrian families from established refugee camps a proportion of which have been placed in Scotland. The Scottish Refugee Council (SRC) offers the ‘refugee integration’ (RIS) programme which helps address families’ initial critical needs, such as housing, welfare rights, education and access to benefits. However, all the partners involved in implementation of the “New Scots strategy” “have been working under extreme pressure to ensure the smooth arrival and initial integration of large numbers of refugees in a short period of time” (Scottish Government, 2016). This has involved a number of challenges, such understanding how to best deal with the provision of effective information support at local level but also how to centralise services designed around families’ different socio‐cultural experiences and individual needs.

This research aims to explore the information services available to ‘New Syrian Scots’* as well as their own information needs and their perceptions of the information services they consider important for their resettlement and adaptation, their habitual and adaptive information practices and the barriers and enablers they encounter within their new socio-cultural setting via their interaction with people, tools and processes. The research will be conducted via focus groups with New Syrian Scots and interviews with key SRC representatives. The outcomes of this research will help towards making recommendations on how to best aid the newcomers in their social inclusion and support their emerging information landscapes for their resettlement and adaptation.

*This is a preferred way of referring to the Syrian refugees in Scotland.

Current projects

Where does “How to teach…” & “What is…” infolit coming from for new teachers and how can we influence this? This study asked a number of trainee teachers, along with their teacher trainers, in 2 universities and a number of FE colleges in England questions designed to elicit some answers to these questions. The trainee teachers were spread across a wide range of sectors, from Primary Education, to Adult Education in the community. Primarily based on free text answers to a survey, the study looked for patterns in the beliefs expressed on what information skills are important and who should teach them, and aims to develop recommendations for where it may be possible to intervene and influence those beliefs for those interesting in building the information literacy of students and relationships between teachers and learning support workers such as librarians.

There is a strong research presence within Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, however, nurses, midwives and Allied Health Professionals are under-represented in the area of ‘home grown’ research. There is much innovation in day to day clinical practice and yet very little of it gets translated into research output. This project will develop a set of Information Literacy workshops that will seek to facilitate an increase in research output in a profession-specific group in an NHS Trust. We will be working with Radiographers, measuring their confidence and motivation levels as well as looking at any research they produce as a result of the project. The research team has members of staff from Library Services and Research and Innovation, strengthening the collaboration between these two departments. The project will result in a set of workshop plans and support resources that will be freely available and could be used by other information professionals in a health setting.

It is not known to what extent mis-information (e.g., religious extremism) effects young peoples’ (aged 16-24) well-being (including psychophysiological responses) and to what extent information discernment (i.e., the ability to make complex judgments about information) is a protecting factor against ill-being. People aged 16-24 are the most likely users of the Internet (ONS, 2015) and therefore are exposed to mis-information and as a result may develop ill-being, especially via social media use (Booker, 2016).

This collaborative project brings together experts in information literacy, user experience, applied psychology and psychophysiological stress reactivity. The team believes that, information discernment moderates the relationship between misinformation and cardiovascular reactivity in stressful social situation(s). This research has wide implications for policy makers, educationalists and governments, indicating for the first time that information literacy has a social and physical, as well as educational benefit and that it should be added to preventative measures against misinformation.

Here, psychophysiological well-being is determined using challenge and threat cardiovascular reactivity, where challenge reactivity (driven by Sympathetic AdrenoMedullary activation) indicates an adaptive reaction to stress, and threat (driven by Pituitary Adreno-Cortical activation) indicates a maladaptive reaction to stress
(Blascovich & Mendes, 2000). We will break new research ground and make a substantial contribution to the extant literature by exploring how mis-information about religious extremism may affect young peoples’ cardiovascular reactivity, and subsequent cognitive functioning. For the first time the extent to which information discernment moderates challenge and threat reactivity will also be investigated.

There are two research questions:

1: To what extent does information discernment (an essential component of information literacy) moderate the effects of mis-information (stigmatized vs. nonstigmatized) on psychophysiological reactivity?

2: To what extent does psychophysiological reactivity influence performance and interpersonal interaction in a collaborative pressurized attention task?

Information literacy is a key life skill for students and graduates. However, there is little awareness or use of information literacy research in careers services, graduate recruitment, and workplaces. Examining the disconnect between higher education and the professional world will help careers and related services to better prepare students for the path ahead. This project will foster engagement between stakeholders (librarians, careers staff, employers, job-hunters) and help library and careers staff to understand the information skills graduates need in their early careers. It is vital that careers staff are aware of the working world. They use a range of labour market reports to inform their work, but these reports do not contain sectoral-specific details on the use of information skills. This project will produce a valuable additional resource in the form of a pilot information skills mapping e-resource tool which will help students and support services more effectively design, develop and communicate transferable competencies.

Crucially, this collaborative work will examine the financial sector, which is of interest to many students; the Financial and Insurance sector being in the top five of most common destination for UCL graduates for the last nine years. It will act as a pilot for wider cross-sectoral work in future. The insights of careers services will be integral to this project, enabling a new opportunity to develop a wider view of information literacy issues, which are currently strongly located within library silos. Research on workplace learning will be used to inform the project design and analysis, encouraging cross-fertilisation of ideas.

A workshop presenting the project and the tool will be targeted towards employers, careers services, candidates, librarians and academics in an attempt to develop and strengthen cross disciplinary links and contribute to the development of strategies enabling transition of information literacies from HE into employment.

With the ever-increasing importance of the Internet for many information needs, the ability to search for, understand, evaluate and synthesise information represents a critical contemporary skill. Many governments and local authorities increasingly offer their services, sometimes exclusively, through online means. While this may lead to a number of benefits, there is concern about the expectation this places on people’s Information Literacy. Although many will benefit from this, others will struggle to find and use the services they need and may feel increasingly disconnected from society. While such skills are clearly important in all aspects of life, this is particularly so in education as many school tasks necessitate use of these skills.

Although existing research has given us insights into the information behaviour of young people, these insights generally come from only a small sample of participants and come from asking people to evaluate their own skills, rather than actually measuring them. We therefore propose that a more thorough understanding of secondary school-aged children’s information behaviour, including how they feel when performing tasks, would help to develop better teaching practice. We will ask participants (in this case a large sample of around 100 secondary school pupils from schools in Edinburgh, Scotland) to perform a number of pre-defined search tasks, for which the correct answers (relevant documents) are known. Students will use a basic search system to collect a small set of relevant documents for a chosen topic over a time-constrained period of between 15 minutes and half an hour. All interactions with the system will be recorded, yielding large volumes of precise data about the participants’ information behaviour and performance. This data will then be used to evaluate where difficulties arise and which groups are most likely to make poor decisions, leading to concrete recommendations for teaching IL.

This research will build on the work of a digital participation project called IT & Me, investigating its impact on the employability of both library users and volunteers. IT & Me was a joint project between Stirling and Clackmannanshire Libraries, funded by the Scottish Library and Information Council for 18 months.

A body of Digital Champion volunteers has been recruited, classes and computer clubs for the public are underway and staff training is ongoing. Volunteers receive a high level of support and training and Stirling Libraries and Archives recently had our respected Investing in Volunteers accreditation renewed for the next three years. Funding for IT & Me ran out in March 2017 but the post of Digital Inclusion Officer has been extended for a further three months during which the postholder will work full-time in Stirling Libraries.

In Stirling we have identified an impact on employability which we would like to investigate through action research. We would like the IT & Me Digital Inclusion Officer to extend and research work begun with unemployed and benefit claimants through DWP surgeries, CAB job clubs, CV and jobseeking workshops and advice drop-ins. We offer help with these partner-run activities hosted in libraries and critically, we offer ongoing support to the independent users thereafter. We build both digital and information literacy skills to enable jobseeking and income maximisation, identifying the hook that highlights the benefits of digital participation to each individual. This might include making savings online, navigating fuel comparison sites, finding out what benefits they are due, exploring internet safety or discovering how to evaluate the glut of information available online.

A second strand of our research would concern volunteers. Several of our volunteers have gone on to find full-time work, some after long periods of searching. Specialised training and volunteering to enhance digital participation has taken their employability to a new level and we would like to explore this further. Their circumstances and skill levels would be very different from the majority of jobseekers attending our organised activities but if they have not been in full-time work regularly for one reason or another, volunteers can still face barriers to successfully securing employment themselves. Some volunteers have experienced physical or mental health difficulties and volunteering is a first step towards employment for them.

Staff at Aston University Library Services in collaboration with Aston University Engineering Academy (AUEA) will take part in a three year-long study to investigate how information literacy skills teaching affects the transition from school to higher education among Year 12 and Year 13 students. The study will be supported by a member of academic staff at the School of Engineering and Applied Science who are also part of the Aston STEM Education Centre (ASEC) and a member of staff at the Learning Development Centre (LDC).

Building on feedback from a workshop delivered to Year 12 students in March 2016, this longitudinal study will conclude in mid-2019. The research will involve Year 12 and Year 13 students attending workshops delivered by Information Specialist staff from Aston University Library Services during which they will be supported in developing their Information Literacy skills. In order to find out how this impacts the students’ approach to learning, evidence will be gathered from teachers as well as student assignment results. In addition to this data will be gathered using online surveys, focus groups and interviews to follow-up on their progress and how they feel their information literacy skills have developed from year 12 to their first year of a degree course or degree apprenticeship programme. Due to their close relationships with the pupils AUEA staff will help to recruit students to the study using their existing communication channels and relationships with students. Small incentives (vouchers) will be offered to the students for completing the survey, attending a focus group and follow-up interview. The aim of the project is to examine the impact of information literacy interventions with Year 12 and Year 13 students and how they develop their skills over the period of transition to Higher Education.

Research opportunities

There are several UK universities that offer doctoral research degrees in information studies. This page collates this information in one place, focusing on UK and Ireland institutions, and listing any relevant information literacy work affiliated with each institution.
There are, of course, many other opportunities worldwide for information literacy studies and research.

The University of Sheffield Information School has offered PhD/ MPhil doctoral studies in information science for many years.

Doctoral students also have the opportunity to be a part of the Centre for Information Literacy Research (CILR) at Sheffield, which seeks to explore and develop the field of information literacy.

Additionally, the Centre for Inquiry-Based Learning (CILASS) is also located at Sheffield. The centre is interested in research about information literacy that can be taught using inquiry-based pedagogies.

The Department of Information Management at Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, offers doctoral degrees in information management. Information literacy and digital literacy are listed as topics that can be pursued as doctoral degrees.

Additionally, this university also offers a Doctorate in Information Science (DinfSci), which is aimed at professionals working in an information environment.

An information literacy project that this university is currently leading is producing an annotated bibliography about information literacy in the workplace. The bibliography is updated annually and it can be found in full on the InformALL website.

The Department of Computer and Information Sciences at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, offers MPhil degrees over the course of one year or a PhD degrees over the course of three years.

The Strathclyde iSchool Research Group is particularly interested in information seeking behaviour, with a related interest in information literacy and health literacy.

The Department of Computer and Information Sciences at Northumbria University, Newcastle, welcomes applications from prospective PhD students interested in research topics in the field of Digital Consumers, Behaviour and Literacy.

Northumbria University was involved in the
AMORES project – an approach to motivating learners to read in European schools. This was an EU project with the aim to improve learning through literature  and improving digital literacies of students and teachers through the creation of e-artefacts, critical reflection on their production and their use in social participation.

The Department of Information Studies at University College London has offered doctoral degrees in librarianship, information studies and information science for many years.

On the Move, funded by the CILIP Information Literacy Group, aims to foster engagement between stakeholders (careers staff, librarians, academic staff, employers, job-hunters) and help them understand the information skills graduates need in their early careers. The project will produce a valuable e-resource which will help students and support services more effectively design, develop and communicate transferable information skills.

The Department of Information Studies, Aberystwyth, offers doctoral degrees in librarianship and information science. Its three main areas of research activity are:

  1. Knowledge and Information Management
  2. Information Organisation
  3. Social, Cultural, and Behavioural Aspects of Information

The UCD School of Information and Communication Studies offers PhD research degrees in information studies. The School is keen to hear from prospective research students who wish to pursue doctoral research in information and digital literacy – this is one of its main research areas.

The School is currently working on an information literacy research project: Seeking the perfect blend: creating innovative digital learning spaces in ICS. This is embedding bespoke e-tutorials into the modules of programmes delivered by the School with the aim to improve students’ critical and digital literacy skills.

The Centre for Social Informatics, in the School of Computing at Edinburgh Napier University, offers doctoral opportunities in eGovernment, Information Science, Information Society, and Social Informatics. Current PhD projects are listed on the website, some of which are on information literacy topics.

Top tips for researching

Top tips for your information literacy research, from members of the Information Literacy Group (ILG) committee.

Dr Jane Secker, Chair of the CILIP Information Literacy Group.

Stéphane Goldstein, Advocacy and Outreach Officer of the ILG.