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.
  • 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.
  • Information Literacy Group (ILG): The IL Group awards the Information Literacy Award annually at the LILAC conference. There is a nomination process.

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.

An ILG funded research project, Facilitating Research amongst Radiographers through Information Literacy Workshops, has been completed and the resources created by Emily Hurt and Alison McLoughlin from Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust are ready to share.

The project came about as Emily and Alison wanted a way to move research engagement forward in the Trust with specific groups of staff. They worked with Radiographers and delivered a set of six workshops, using the Information Literacy Self Efficacy Scale (ILSES) as an outcome measure before and after the workshops were delivered. All participants who completed pre and post ILSES had an increased score.

The lesson plans and handouts that were created as part of the project are now available from the project website. Part of the ethos of the project was to ‘do once and share’, meaning that other information professionals wanting to run similar sessions in a healthcare setting could use the material as templates rather than starting from scratch.

As the project will be ongoing, new session plans and learning materials will be added to the website as they are created. A set of detailed accompanying guides to each session will be developed, giving context and background for anyone wanting to take the sessions and deliver them in their own organisation.

The project has now been re-branded the ‘Research Engagement Programme’. Emily and Alison have presented at numerous conferences (including LILAC in April 2017) and the full findings will be published in a journal article in 2018. The project was a runner up for a Sally Hernando Innovation award.

They both wanted to thank ILG for their financial support:

‘Without the funding from ILG we would have struggled to get this project off the ground. The bursary helped us fund extra staff hours to dedicate to the project and was essential for our dissemination strategy, paying conference fees and associated costs. The application process was really straightforward and the ILG team were very supportive.’ (Emily Hurt)

Check out this video for more information and feedback from the project stakeholders.

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 was held on Friday 2nd February 2018.

Mis-information especially in the form of fake-news, dis-information or alternative facts is becoming ever more pervasive and problematic, to such an extent that the UK Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sports Select Committee has been running an inquiry into fake news during 2017 and 2018. To date, it is unclear how mis-information effects the well-being of individuals and to what extent it might have a protective effect. One possible answer may be in the form of information discernment, a sub-set of information literacy which is a person’s psychological ability to make well-calibrated judgements about information. Indeed, research indicates that individuals with high levels of information discernment tend to make very complex and balanced judgements about information whereas those who are low information discerners use a limited set of, or no, criteria when judging information. This is the first inter-disciplinary study to draw upon information science, psychology and user-experience to determine whether users react physiologically as well as psychologically when making judgements about information.

Despite almost unremitting access to information, the combined psychological and physical impact of exposure to mis-information such as ‘fake news’ upon healthy individuals remains poorly studied. Psychological responses have been measured to determine whether exposure to mass-media related terrorist events influence the reporting of stress symptoms, yet the combined physiological and psychological evidence remains scarce. Thus far, only two studies have investigated the effects of viewing the news and the physiological consequences to stress. This is why  our study is the first to use a multi-disciplinary approach to measure how users behave, think and react physically when making judgements about online information.

This research set out to investigate the impact on employability of public library digital participation programmes.  The research concluded that the need for help, guidance and support that is offered by IT sessions in Stirling Council Libraries has become increasingly apparent. A lack of digital skills is a barrier not only to claiming Universal Credit but also to entering employment and carrying out daily tasks such as paying bills, accessing public services and communicating. By becoming digitally engaged and gaining the skills needed to get online, people are able to communicate with others, learn new information and gain access to the wider world. The IT & Me and Work IT sessions are instrumental in ensuring people are digitally included but also combat social and economic isolation.

Work IT Summary Report

Work IT FINAL Report

Work IT final report List of Appendices

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.

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.

This research will explore ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) learners’ abilities in managing their everyday information. ESOL learners are people who have settled in the UK and are learning English as part of adult basic skills.  They are important because there are a significant number of migrants in the UK who lack functional English, and because ability in English has been seen as central both for social integration and unlocking individual capabilities (Paget & Stevenson, 2014). There has been limited previous research about the information literacy of ESOL learners, although there is a growing interest in information research on migrants more generally. Equally, while information literacy has had little impact on the practice of ESOL teachers, digital literacy is of increasing importance in the sector. This convergence suggests that further research in this area will be mutually beneficial.

This project is a collaboration between an ESOL professional and an information researcher and draws on expertise from the academic and community learning sectors. The outcomes of this research are therefore relevant to both the ESOL and information communities.

The principal investigator’s doctoral research suggests we need to understand more about how ESOL learners, particularly those with low levels of education and literacy, manage information in their everyday lives.   This project will therefore explore ESOL learners’ ability to manage information through participant- led research where we work with a small number of ESOL learners and their households. A series of home visits mean we will develop an in-depth understanding of their information management literacy practices. We will then use our research to offer these households personalised advice about their information management. The final stage will be to build from this to provide more general guidance to ESOL teachers and IAG (Information, Advice and Guidance) workers.

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 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 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.

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

Doctoral students at UCL will have the opportunity to study with leading international information literacy researchers and join the vibrant Forum on Information Literacy (FOIL) community, which aims to address the theoretical and methodological issues of IL in workplace, academic, critical, health and everyday contexts.

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.

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.

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.