Libraries and information society

Focusing on library and information societal issues and concerns, including literacies, social justice and education.

Image of two postgraduate students from the Department of Human Communication Sciences in library

Our research

The Libraries and Information Society Research Group has six rich and interwoven themes; addressing vital issues for the library and information world. Our research is strengthened by our engagement with the library and information profession, nationally and internationally.

Our research themes

Exploring Information Literacy and Information Behaviour in different contexts

The iSchool has made a strong contribution to development of the field of Information Behaviour, starting with Professor Emeritus Tom Wilson’s foundational research (which was acknowledged with the prestigious Association for Information Science & Technology Award of Merit in 2017). It has continued with projects such as the AHRC-funded research into students deep critical information behaviour led by Professor Nigel Ford.

The iSchool also has a focus on exploring information literacy in different contexts: in different cultures and countries; in different areas of life; in formal and informal education; through the lifecourse. Sheila Webber established the Centre for Information Literacy Research in 2007 and significant projects include that on UK academics’ conceptions of Information Literacy. Recent research includes examination of everyday contexts for information literacy, for example in people’s practices in food logging (McKinney et al., 2019 + project link), in health (e.g. Wella and Webber, 2018) and in identifying the Media and Information Literacy needs of older people (Webber & Johnston, 2019).

Engagement with reading and literature

Reading is an important focus of our research, in terms of the development of reading skills, fiction reading and attitudes towards different genres, and reader development and reader-centred practice. This includes, for example, studying readers’ responses to genre fiction (Birdi & Ford, 2018) and minority ethnic fiction (Birdi & Syed, 2011).

Library strategy and policy development

The iSchool has built up a base of research relating to public library research over several decades, and recent inquiry includes examining issues around reduction of the public library service (McCahill, Birdi & Jones, 2020). The iSchool has also examined policy and strategy in the academic library sector (Cox, Pinfield & Rutter, 2019a&b) and in the school library sector - for example Batool & Webber (2019) map out the national context for development of information literacy in Pakistan.

We research specific aspects of library strategy. Examples include interlending (Wakeling et al., 2018), and collection development and management, for example, coverage of LGBTQ* fiction (Chapman & Birdi, 2016) or management of palm leaf manuscripts (Jarusawat, Cox, & Bates, 2018).

Social justice and political engagement in LIS

An overarching theme of Dr Briony Birdi’s research is that of inclusive society, which relates to the social, political and educational roles of public and youth libraries, with a particular focus on diversity, social justice and reading. This is reflected in her own research and that of other colleagues in the iSchool. For example, Badock & Birdi (2017) looked at school library provision for children with English as an Additional Language, and Benson Marshall, Cox & Birdi (2020) examined the role of information in migration experience.

Education & development for library & information work

Library and Information Society Group members are committed to both research-informed teaching and teaching-informed research. This has included exploring the experience of library and information students, for example Dr Pamela McKinney’s investigation into students’ conceptions of group work (McKinney & Cook, 2018). We contribute to the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (Webber & McKinney, 2019) and have also concentrated on practitioners’ development, for example, with Cox & Verbaan’s (2018) work on Research Data Management.

Roles, competencies and professional identities of library, information and knowledge workers

The roles and competencies required of library and information professionals are subject to change in the wider world, and also need to be critiqued and reevaluated by those within the profession. Our research includes examining library and information professionals’ values and attitudes (e.g. the idea of librarian neutrality; Birdi & Macdonald, 2019), their competencies (e.g. in the area of bibliometrics, Cox et al., 2019) and their changing roles in areas such as open access (Pinfield et al., 2020) and as subject librarians (Hoodless & Pinfield, 2018).


Read more

Badock, A. & Birdi, B. (2017). Here to support anybody who needs to come? An investigation of the provision for EAL pupils in secondary school libraries in England. The New Review of Children's Literature and Librarianship, 23(1), 70-93.

Batool, S.H. & Webber, S. (2019). Mapping the state of information literacy education in primary schools: The case of Pakistan. Library & Information Science Research, 41, 123-131.

Benson Marshall, M., Cox, A. & Birdi, B. (2020). The role of information in the migration experience of young Polish women in the UK. Journal of Documentation, 76(4). 849-868.

Birdi B & Ford N (2018) Towards a new sociological model of fiction reading. Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology, 69(11), 1291-1303.

Birdi, B. & Syed, M. (2011). Exploring reader response to minority ethnic fiction. Library Review, 60(9), 816-831

Borrego, Á. & Pinfield, S. (2020). Librarians publishing in partnership with other researchers: Roles, motivations, benefits, and challenges. portal: Libraries and the Academy

Cox, A. & Verbaan, E. (2018). Exploring Research Data Management. London: Facet Publishing.

Cox, A.M., Pinfield, S. & Rutter, S. (2019a). Academic libraries’ stance toward the future. Portal: Libraries and the Academy, 19(3), 485-509.

Cox, A.M., Pinfield, S. & Rutter, S. (2019b). Extending McKinsey’s 7S model to understand strategic alignment in academic libraries. Library Management, 40(5), 313-326.

Cox, A.M., Gadd, E., Petersohn, S. & Sbaffi, L. (2019). Competencies for bibliometrics. Journal of Librarianship and Information Science, 51(3), 746-762.

Hoodless, C. & Pinfield, S. (2018). Subject vs. functional: Should subject librarians be replaced by functional specialists in academic libraries?. Journal of Librarianship and Information Science, 50(4), 345-360.

Jarusawat, P., Cox, A. & Bates, J. (2018). Community participation in the management of palm leaf manuscripts as Lanna cultural material in Thailand", Journal of Documentation, Vol. 74 No. 5, pp. 951-965.

McCahill D, Birdi B & Jones RB (2020) Investigating the public response to local government decisions to reduce or remove public library services. Journal of Librarianship and Information Science, 52(1), 40-53

Macdonald S & Birdi B (2019) The concept of neutrality: a new approach. Journal of Documentation, 76(1), 333-353.

McKinney PA & Cook C (2018) Student conceptions of group work: Visual research into LIS student group work using the draw-and-write technique. Journal of Education for Library and Information Science, 59(4), 206-227.

McKinney, P., Cox, A.M. & Sbaffi, L. (2019). Information literacy in food and activity tracking among three communities: parkrunners, people with type 2 diabetes and people with IBS. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 21(8):e13652.

Pinfield, S., Wakeling, S., Robinson, L. & Bawden, D. (2020) Open access in theory and practice: The theory-practice relationship and openness. Abingdon: Routledge.

Wakeling S, Rutter S, Birdi B & Pinfield S (2018) Interlending and resource sharing in UK public libraries: A mixed methods study. Journal of Librarianship and Information Science, 50(2), 168-185

Webber, S., & Johnston, B. (2019). The Age-Friendly Media and Information Literate (#AFMIL) City: Combining policies and strategies for ageing populations in media and information rich societies. Journal Of Information Literacy, 13(2), 276-291.

Webber, S., & McKinney, P. A. (2019). Using a model of the Teaching-Learning Environment as part of reflective practice. In Mallon, M. et al. (Eds). The Grounded Instruction Librarian: Participating in The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. Association of College and Research Libraries.

Wella, K. & Webber, S. (2018). Embodying HIV and AIDS information: experiences of serodiscordant couples. Library Trends, 66(4), 442-465.

Projects and research areas

See details of our projects below.

"isquares": Conceptions of group work

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UK academics’ conceptions of, and pedagogy for, information literacy

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Library stories

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The Library Stories project aimed to explore the origins of the free library network in Sheffield and to consider the use and value of these public spaces both at their inception and today. Dr. Anna Barton (PI, School of English), Dr. Briony Birdi (Co-I), worked with Our Favourite Places and Sheffield Libraries and Archives (supported by Faculty of Arts & Humanities Arts Enterprise Funding, 2014-15).

The project team gave out postcards on which there was the question “What does your library mean to you?”. They also met with book and social groups, interviewed former and current members of library staff, and held public reminiscence events. Over 200 library users shared their memories and stories of the city’s libraries.


Working with Sheffield Archives, Library Stories delved into the history of the public library system in Sheffield. It traced the decisions involved in setting up the libraries, and gained a sense of what it was like to use the libraries at the turn of the 20th century. The website includes photos of library life over the decades.


A selection of thoughts and memories of the city’s libraries, as shared on the postcards, are presented and can be presented by theme e.g. Family, Pleasure.

The project received press coverage, for example on the Library Campaign website and in the Yorkshire Post.

Investigating interlending

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This was a scoping study of resource discovery, sharing and cooperation. It was led by Dr. Briony Birdi (PI), with Professor Stephen Pinfield (Co-I), Sophie Rutter and Dr. Simon Wakeling (Research Associates), working with, and funded by, The Combined Regions Management Board.

The research consisted of three phases, conducted sequentially in 2015:

Phase 1: A review of the relevant academic and professional (including policy-related) literature.

Phase 2: An online survey was distributed to key mailing lists. The primary objectives of the survey were to establish the current levels of provision of interlibrary loan services in public libraries, and to investigate library managers’ views of the role of the digital environment in resource discovery and resource sharing.

Phase 3: Interviews were conducted with twenty people associated with interlending in public libraries. The interviews explored perspectives on current interlending services, the impact of the digital environment, and visions of the future for interlending.

Taken together, results from these three phases of research indicate several areas of consensus within the interlending community, namely:

Interlending rates are declining nationally The sharing of e-content was highly problematic. Higher Education involvement adds value.

The Executive Summary gives a summary of each of these issues, and the full 123-page report gives results from all three phases, together with recommendations for stakeholders (see below) and for further research.

Recommendations for stakeholders arising from the report were

To establish a consistent terminology for interlending that is used in discussions in order to promote coherence in policy-making and service delivery To develop unified marketing tools, material and strategies for libraries keen to promote interlending, emphasising the value of the service to library users  To develop further marketing tools for use by managers and senior stakeholders to lobby other organisations and national organisations to gain their support for developing a more unified approach To identify action that needs to be taken regarding licensing e-content, possibly including an education program and liaison with publishers, followed by implementation of the identified actions To establish an inter-consortia forum for sharing best practice – perhaps facilitated by the FiL or TCR, or alternatively discussed in a free-standing summit To review the current relationship with other sectors, particularly the higher education sector, with a view to developing possible synergies To coordinate discussion regarding the feasibility of a universal, national catalogue with reservation functionality (potentially by enhancing the FABLibraries system), and specifically, to determine whether further investment is justified.
  • There is a lack of public awareness of services
  • There was potential for a national catalogue
  • Interlending Terminology is not used consistently
  • There is variation in how schemes operate
  • Opinion was divided over the extent to which public libraries operated under a moral imperative to offer interlending.
  • The digital environment has made things more challenging
  • Complex issues around interlending, collections and shrinking budgets

Group members

Click on a name to see more information and contact details.

Academic staff

Sheila Webber (Head of Group)

Dr Briony Birdi

Pam McKinney

Professor Stephen Pinfield

Dr Peter Stordy

PhD researchers

Rana A Abdulrahman

Eiman Alshamari

Laura Barber

Marc Bonne

Xuanning Chen

Victoria Edwards

Rosie Higman

Xinyu (Joseph) Jia

Catherine Robinson

Khulud Sahhari

Laura Woods

Funders and collaborators

Research carried out within this group is funded by a wide range of organisations:

  • Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC)
  • Resource, the Council for Museums, Archives, and Libraries
  • British Library Research and Innovation Centre
  • South West Museums, Libraries and Archives Council.
  • The Combined Regions Management Board
  • Yorkshire Museums Libraries and Archives Council
  • Museums Libraries and Archives Council North West
  • Arts Council England
  • The British Council
  • Department of National Heritage
  • European Association for Health Information and Libraries (EAHIL).
  • Learning and Skills Council
  • University of Sheffield Faculty of Arts & Humanities Arts Enterprise Funding

A global reputation

Sheffield is a research university with a global reputation for excellence. We're a member of the Russell Group: one of the 24 leading UK universities for research and teaching.