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

A key project within the Libraries and Information research group.


This three year project, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council 2002-2005 used a phenomenographic approach to discover how academics in the fields of Marketing, English Literature, Civil Engineering and Chemistry conceived of information literacy, and how they taught it.

The Principal Investigator was Sheila Webber, with Co-Investigator Bill Johnston (Strathclyde University) and Research Assistant Stuart Boon.

80 interviews were carried out, 20 per discipline, with academics from 26 different British universities (in England, Scotland and Wales) included. There were qualitative differences in the conceptions held by academics in different disciplines.

For example, in Marketing the conceptions were Information literacy as:

  1. Accessing information quickly and easily to be aware of what’s going on
  2. Using IT to work with information efficiently and effectively
  3. Possessing a set of information skills
  4. Using information literacy to solve real-world problems
  5. Becoming critical thinkers
  6. Becoming a confident, independent practitioner.

In contrast, English Literature academics conceived of information literacy as:

  1. Accessing and retrieving textual information
  2. Using IT to access and retrieve information
  3. Possessing basic research skills and knowing how and when to use them
  4. Becoming confident, autonomous learners and critical thinkers.

For Marketing, Civil Engineering and English, one one of the ways in which they conceived of teaching information literacy was that it was 'someone else’s job'.

Invited presentations and workshops on the research were given in France, Sweden, Australia, Canada, the UK and Spain. Some key findings are summarised in the presentation, What does Information Literacy mean? Some examples from different disciplines, presented at Las VI Jornadas CRAI in Pamplona, Spain on 13th May 2008.


Boon, S., Johnston, B. and Webber, S. (2007). A phenomenographic study of English faculty's conceptions of information literacy. Journal of documentation, 63 (2), 204-228. Link

Webber, S., Boon, S. and Johnston, B. (2005). A comparison of UK academics’ conceptions of information literacy in two disciplines: English and Marketing. Library and information research, 29 (93), 4-15.

Webber, S., Boon, S. and Johnston, B. (2006) "Comparaison des conceptions pédagogiques de la maîtrise de l’information chez des universitaires britanniques de différentes disciplines." Actes des 5èmes Rencontres Formist: Lyon: 2005. Lyon: ENSSIB. Link

Webber, S. and Johnston, B. (2005). Information literacy in the curriculum: selected findings from a phenomenographic study of UK conceptions of, and pedagogy for, information literacy. In C. Rust. (Ed.), Improving Student Learning: Diversity and Inclusivity: Proceedings of the 11th ISL symposium, Birmingham, 6-8 September 2004. Oxford: Oxford Brookes University. pp212-224.

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