Advice from a Librarian: information literacy skills in the research process

Contributed by:

Kari-Mette Walmann Hidle

Kari-Mette Walmann Hidle
Associate Professor, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Agder, Kristiansand, Norway

Kari-Mette researches questions of plurality and unity and their ethical consequences in legislative processes and professional practices, and lectures in the vocational studies.

Hilde T. Drivenes Johannessen

Hilde T. Drivenes Johannessen
Head of Section for Teaching and Research Services, University of Agder Library, Kristiansand, Norway

Hilde's work is concentrated on library instruction, research support and knowledge management.


Using information literacy skills in the research process to achieve researcher and institutional goals

Academic librarians serving research communities must be familiar with research processes and methodologies to stay abreast of these challenges. Establishing partnerships between individual researchers and research communities, and liaison librarians, is a valuable practice that can enable libraries to achieve multiple goals. Partnerships help librarians upgrade their level of knowledge on the disciplines, research subjects and methods they will support. Furthermore, participating alongside researchers can contribute to a deeper understanding of the specific challenges their audiences face. This, in turn, may help in harmonising the library and research entities’ development, and thereby influence the role of the library in the larger organisation. Finally, and very importantly, such partnerships may improve relationships, enhancing the researcher’s benefit and learning outcome of the support services.

Even though active relationships with the research community may improve the quality of research and thereby help the institutions reach their goals, such partnerships may seem utopian compared to many librarians’ - and researchers’- daily experiences. Both parties sometimes consider library services as impersonalised and divided, rather than specialised support through personal and developing relationships. If this is the case, the library's approach to the support of literature reviews and thorough searches is a good place to start.

Researchers must be information literate to be able to publish, research and teach with excellence and climb international rankings. Research, by definition, is to find new knowledge. Consequently, the first task of the researcher is to remain at the forefront of knowledge. She needs to know what has already been discovered in her field of specialisation. Reading up on existing knowledge is quite a job, and it cannot be done without sound literature searches.

Literature searches for the purpose of disclosing the knowledge gap in a field of study should be systematically constructed. Besides field knowledge, such construction requires in-depth information literacy skills. Researchers acknowledge that librarians are equipped to help with this, and many researchers request the support of librarians in this phase of their process. Seeing such requests as opportunities to build cooperative relationships, research librarians should be especially aware of the future possibilities concealed in the cooperation between researcher and librarian at this stage of the research process.

In our experience, many researchers are less aware of librarians’ capability to support them in the other aspects of information literacy skills: transforming the gathered information into knowledge and passing it on in an ethical manner.

In our book, New Roles for Research Librarians, we contend that academic libraries play a key role in achieving the strategic goals of an academic institution by providing systematic information literacy support and training. In order to best utilise the libraries’ services, researchers must know which services are provided and how to obtain them. In terms of motivation, it is crucial that researchers feel confident that engaging the research librarian will be worth the effort. For example, they need to know where to go or who to ask for help with referencing. Previous experiences with research support from the library also often shape researchers’ expectations and inclination to use their research librarian. This is an important reason to see any request for searching support as a bridge to promoting additional services.

Even though help with searches can be set up and passed on digitally, we encourage research librarians to prioritize meetings with the researchers to do this. Besides the practical task at hand, engaging in physical meetings provides opportunities to informally learn a researcher’s personality, research interests, skills and approach to information literacy and learning. The research librarian can, in other words, use the opportunity to build rapport and tune into the researcher’s preferences to better provide future support.

There is, however, no reason to sit down and wait for requests. Here are three practical tips from our book, to help librarians develop partnerships and good relations with the research community:

  1. Get in touch with the researchers!
    Physical meetings encourage informal learning for both researcher and librarian. Knowing what researchers actually need is often more easily discovered in conversation face to face.
  2. Know the research subject!
    Knowing the field of research is knowing work methods and the theoretical common ground. This will not only give librarians more trust and credibility in the research environment, but also a deeper understanding of the researchers’ needs.
  3. Learn on demand!
    Not every question needs to be answered at once, nor should they be. The answer, “I don’t know, but I can find out,” provides librarians with the time and opportunity to discover the answer and to expand knowledge of the topic. It also signals devotion to the research environment and interest in doing the best job possible.