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Information Literacy in the Workplace

Information literacy skills training is most solidly based in universities but is also gaining ground in secondary education, in the employability, workplace and work based learning sectors as well as in the wider community.

The Scottish Information Literacy Project was begun in October 2004. The initial aim  of the Project was to develop an information literacy framework, linking secondary and tertiary education and this is now in draft as ‘A National Information Literacy Framework: Scotland’. However workplace and adult literacies agendas have emerged strongly and the project’s aims have now expanded to include researching and promoting information literacy in the workplace and identifying and working with partners in the wider community.

In 2006 a small exploratory study - The role of information literacy in addressing a specific strand of lifelong learning: the work agenda was carried out.  The findings emphasised the importance of information literacy in student employability agendas and in the workplace but also drew attention to a lack of understanding among employers. Gerber (1998) identifies various means by which people learn in the workplace but identifies  the use of information as only one factor among many while Felstead et al. (2005) distinguish between ‘learning as acquisition’ and learning as participation’ and situates information firmly in the former and only in a minor role. Kirkton and Barham (2005) list some case studies within the context of a wider discussion.  The unstructured nature of learning in the workplace, the failure to recognise an information need and formulate information questions are key recurring themes. On the basis of this preliminary data, an exploratory Project 'The role of information literacy in the workplace: an exploratory qualitative study' funded by The British Academy will clarify areas of uncertainty, generate usable research data and pose precise research questions which will be the subject of further work.

The objectives are:

  1. generally- to better understand information needs in the work environment
  2. to discover which workplace environments are learning organisations
  3. to discover whether different workplace environments can be classified by information literacy skill requirements: e.g. SMEs, large corporate organisations, public bodies and NGOs
  4. to identify whether there is a laddered hierarchy of information literacy skill requirements in different work environments
  5. to identify whether the skills listed in ‘ A National Information Literacy Framework: Scotland’ can be applied to the work environment and at what level depending on the type of organisation (See2)
  6. to plan workplace information literacy learning schemes in outline matched against data derived from objectives 3-5

Because of the difficulty in formulating precise research questions which would make quantitative methods appropriate a qualitative methodology will be used which will utilise the grounded theory approach and will allow research questions and hypotheses to arise from the data collected. Two main techniques will be used:

  1. Interviews – these will be used to collect in depth data from key figures such as workplace trainers and adult literacy co-ordinators. The method will also be used where appropriate with workplace employees and adult learners where more data can be extracted from a one to one encounter
  2. Focus groups – this method will be used where ‘group values’ apply. This will probably be most useful with groups of workplace employees.


  1. In general terms to construct a coherent narrative of information literacy in the workplace in order to deduce more general lessons (Brophy 2006,p.30)
  2. An understanding of the Information literacy needs of different working environments
  3. An identification of laddered information literacy skills needs appropriate to each environment
  4. To clarify the applicability of the National Information Literacy Framework to the work environment
  5. Some pilot outline learning programmes for the work environment
  6. A highly focused set of research questions to inform further work

Project Timescale

September 2007 - April 2008

Research outcomes published in Crawford, John and Irving, Christine, (2009) Information literacy in the workplace: a qualitative exploratory study, Journal of librarianship and information science, 41 (1) pp. 29-38

John Crawford & Christine Irving

The role of information literacy in addressing a specific strand of lifelong learning: the work agenda

In order to better understand the role of information literacy in the work place and how this varies in different working environments interviews with 6 -10 people ideally in a spread of occupations and interests will be carried out. Subjects for interviews will be drawn from three sources:

  • former students contacted through the University's alumni office
  • trade union learning representatives contacted through the Scottish Centre for Work Based Learning
  • Lifelong Learning and Development MSc students who work for a range of employers across the public, private and voluntary sectors.

Learning and Teaching Scotland has provided funding to support this small interview based research project. The findings will be made available to teachers via the NGfL (National Grid for Learning) research information for teachers as part of their continuing professional development (CPD) and with a better understanding of the overall situation might lead to an extended research project.

Christine Irving