Exploring the politics of information practices: The case of visualisations and critical literacies.

21 December, 2015

Veronica Johansson, Ph.D. and Senior Lecturer. Swedish School of Library and Information Science (SSLIS), University of Borås, Sweden.

In December, 2012, I defended and published my dissertation A Time and Place for Everything? Social Visualisation Tools and Critical Literacies ( http://hdl.handle.net/2320/11462 ) (Johansson, 2012). My objects of analysis in that study, as well as in later research projects, are users’ interactions with information resources in the form of visualisations of data (and in particular social data, i.e. data that relate to people; their views, characteristics and actions – hence the choice of the term “social visualisation tools”). My recurring research questions merge a sociotechnical interest in the broad and material manifestations of what might be called “politics of information”, with a sociocultural emphasis on the meanings of information resources as created in situated user interactions. In this blog post, I would like to present my views on the relevance of visualisation tools as objects of study in an information practices/information literacies perspective; my own sociotechnically/socioculturally inspired approach to aspects of information practices in terms of critical literacies; and what venues of research that I find relevant to pursue as an extension of this.

In this age where data is perceived as the “new oil” of the information society, visualisations serve as the main means of “refining” – in the sense of processing and making use of – this raw material. But what are visualisations, really? A simple yet adequate description is that “visualisation” refers to both the process and product of making data “readable” for humans. Through visualisation, data – whether in big or small quantities – that otherwise would have been difficult or impossible to grasp, analyse and interpret in raw or semi-processed state can be represented in more meaningful and intellectually accessible ways. The process has been described in quite poetical terms as “giving form to that which has none” (Few, n.d.). And as a sign of the times, visualisations are no longer a concern for specialised professions, business and research, but a common feature of our everyday information worlds, in all sorts of contexts. The “form” given to data when representing them as visualisations can be of many sorts, as illustrated for example by the UNHCR Historical Refugee Data visualisations ( http://data.unhcr.org/dataviz/ ) (UNHCR, n.d.) or The Guardian’s visualisation comparing Australian states’ and territories’ approach to same-sex marriage rights (http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/datablog/ng-interactive/2015/oct/12/same-sex-marriage-rights-how-australian-states-and-territories-compare ) (The Guardian, 2015). Similarly, people can generate and visualize their own data for health or economy related “self-surveillance” purposes (c.f. Yau & Schneider, 2009), as with the application RunKeeper ( https://runkeeper.com/ ) (Runkeeper.com, n.d.) for monitoring distance, speed, heart rate, calory consumption etc when exercising, or the More Power (http://www.moreassociates.com/research/energy_literacy/ ) platform for visualising energy use in households of the future (More Associates, n.d.).

But not only are visualisations of data everywhere, they are also surrounded by an influential rhetoric that describes them as powerful, quick and intuitive providers of “true answers” – they “tell us how it is” and they “uncover the knowledge that is hidden in data”. I have described this rhetoric as cognitivist and positivist in kind, and it can be seen to fall back on at least three highly persistent and equally problematic ideas, that:

  • images are unmediated (or at least less so then e.g. text), and therefore close to, or the same as, “real” and “correct”;
  • the more technology and automation and the less human agency involved in producing information, the higher the objectivity and correctness of this information; and
  • data are equal to “facts”, in the sense of objective and true representations of the world, unlike e.g. human spoken or written interpretations (Johansson, 2012).

This rhetoric is problematic in more than one way. Firstly, it obscures the constructed nature of visualisations and that they are just as troubled by errors, bias, and subjectivity as any other type of information resource. Secondly, it downplays one of the most important strengths of these types of information resources, namely that they are powerful tools for exploring subjects and discovering new and unexpected questions to ask and investigate further by other information seeking means. Similarly, the rhetoric hides the visualisations ability to provide valuable common grounds for individuals, communities and organisations to discuss, question, reinterpret and advance the analysis and interpretation of various data sets and connected issues. A critical problem, then, given that visualisations are literally everywhere and surrounded by a simplifying and misleading rhetoric concerning their values and powers, is that there has been little corresponding research and discussions on what source criticism, critical literacy, and media and information literacy (MIL) means in relation to these specific information resources. What does it take, for instance, for a person to critically evaluate and use a visualisation such as Pitch Interactive’s Out of Sight, Out of Mind ( http://drones.pitchinteractive.com/ ) (Pitch Interactive, n.d.)?

In my take on the above described problem, I elaborate the concept of critical literacies as an extension and redefinition of prior critical literacy definitions (Johansson, 2012). The term critical literacies was thereby made to denote the situated enactments of meanings through which the users that I studied were seen to identify, question, and transform bias, restrictions and power related aspects of access, control and use with regard to data and visualisations. I describe the expressions of critical literacies that I found in terms of three main directionalities as reactive, proactive and adaptive. The reactive critical literacies are close to traditional notions of “critical literacy” in that they require an information user to “read at a distance” and question the form and content of an information resource by a number of previously learnt strategies. The proactive critical literacies describe ways in which the users demonstrated empowered abilities to reinterpret and take control of data and visualisations in order to counter others’ arguments or produce new or alternative information and arguments to further their own interests. And finally, the adaptive critical literacies describe how critical awareness of errors, bias and restrictions also arose as a direct result of the users’ interaction with the visualisation tools. These types of critical literacies were further found to be intimately and positively connected to the extent of interaction possibilities available in each visualisation.

Against this background, I would say that an important task for research in the visualisation area in general, and for the information practices / information literacies strands of library and information science in particular, is to continue to contribute to more practice situated studies of users’ interactions with, and shapings of, visualisation tools as information resources. Another challenge concerns supplanting the dominant simplified and misleading rhetoric of visualisations with more nuanced alternatives that emphasise their potentials to identify and encourage the asking of new questions and allowing for multiple alternative analyses of the same data. The understanding of critical literacies in relation to images, data, visualisations and more or less automated information resources also needs much work and elaboration and there needs to be joint efforts by many actors to further both theories and practices of critical literacies in these areas, not least between researchers, librarians and teachers. In my own research, I hope to be able to contribute to such developments and to pursue the questions that I find particularly relevant concerning the mutual enactments of visualisation tools and critical literacies in a rich variety of settings and information practices. Apart from the professional settings that I studied in my dissertation (a municipal agency analysing traffic accidents in a city and political organisations analysing data on the development of the world’s countries), I have also been involved in a minor project aiming to introduce and evaluate the use of visualisations as pedagogic and learning resources in a Swedish high school (Omvärld.se, n.d.) ( http://www.omvarld.se/fas2/  ). Regardless of perspective, though, visualisations undoubtedly make for dynamic and interesting research objects and I think that information practices / information literacies research perspectives have particularly valuable contributions to make at this point in time.


Veronica Johansson, Ph.D. and senior lecturer

The Swedish School of Library and Information Science (SSLIS), University of Borås

Website: http://www.hb.se/en/Research/Researchers/Johansson-Veronica/




Few, Stephen (n.d.). Data Visualization for Human Perception. In Soegaard, M. & Damm, R. F. (Eds.) The Encyclopedia of Human-Computer Interaction. 2nd ed. Copenhagen: The Interaction Design Foundation. https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/book/the-encyclopedia-of-human-computer-interaction-2nd-ed/data-visualization-for-human-perception#chapter_start [2015-12-17]

The Guardian / Data Blog (2015). Same-Sex Marriage Rights: How Australian States and Territories Compare. (Visualisation, 2015-10-12). http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/datablog/ng-interactive/2015/oct/12/same-sex-marriage-rights-how-australian-states-and-territories-compare [2015-12-17]

Johansson, Veronica (2012). A Time and Place for Everything? Social Visualisation Tools and Critical Literacies (Skrifter från Valfrid: 52, Diss.). Borås: University of Borås. http://hdl.handle.net/2320/11462

More Associates (n.d.). Energy Literacy: How Can Design Massively Reduce the Demand for Energy in Buildings? (Website). http://www.moreassociates.com/research/energy_literacy/ [2015-12-18]

Omvärld.se – Interaktiv visualisering i skolan [The Surrounding World.se – Interactive Visualisation in School] (n.d.). (Website). http://www.omvarld.se/fas2/ [2015-12-18]

Pitch Interactive (n.d.). Out of Sight, Out of Mind. (Visualisation). http://drones.pitchinteractive.com/ [2015-12-18]

RunKeeper.com (n.d.). Runkeeper. (Website). https://runkeeper.com/ [2015-12-18]

UNHCR [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] (n.d.). UNHCR Historical Refugee Data. (Visualisation). http://data.unhcr.org/dataviz/ [2015-12-18]

Yau, Nathan & Schneider, Jodi (2009). Self-Surveillance. Bulletin of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 35:5, pp. 24-30. doi: 10.1002/bult.2009.1720350507


ECIL 2015 Tallin, Estonia.

9 December, 2015

The 3rd European Conference on Information Literacy – ECIL 2015 – was arranged in Tallinn, Estonia, 19 – 22 October, 2015.
The main theme of the third ECIL conference was Information Literacy in the Green Society. Information literacy and sustainability being the main theme, ECIL 2015 aimed to bring together researchers, information professionals, media specialists, educators, policy makers and all related parties from around the world to exchange knowledge and experience and discuss current issues and recent developments. It was also aimed to connect in this conference three different research communities – information literacy, media literacy and digital literacy.

In all, 226 proposals were submitted to the Conference. Contributions came from 50 different countries: Albania, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, India, Iran, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Lithuania, Mexico, Nigeria, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Poland, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, The Netherlands, Turkey, UK, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, and USA. All submissions were subjected to a double-blind review process and 222 were accepted that address a wide variety of different perspectives, methods, theories and outcomes, ranging from the theoretical to practical contributions.
At the conference there were 195 contributions: three keynotes, five invited papers, 89 papers, nine doctoral papers, 37 best practices, 22 PechaKuchas, 18 posters, ten workshops and two panels.

The ECIL2015 conference in Tallinn was arranged together with the COST Action IS1410 meeting “The Digital and Multimodal Practices of Young Children”. 361 participants from 62 countries participated in the conference. The conference had three keynote speakers: Carol Collier Kuhlthau, Professor Emerita of Library and Information Science at Rutgers University, Sonia Livingstone, Professor at the Department of Media and Communications at the London School of Economics and Political Science, the University of London and Susan Danby, Professor in Early Childhood Education at Queensland University of Technology.

Invited speakers were Gobinda Chowdhury from Northumbria University, Heidi Julien from the University at Buffalo, Mandy Lupton from the Queensland University of Technology, Eero Sormunen from the University of Tampere, Olof Sundin from Lund University and Mihkel Kangur from Tallinn University

Sirje Virkus, Tallin University, Estonia.


Notes from research in progress: Information practices regarding HPV vaccination in Swedish school healthcare Johanna Rivano Eckerdal, Lund University, Department of Arts and Cultural Sciences

1 December, 2015

The project Information on and surrounding HPV-vaccine in Swedish school healthcare concerns Swedish school nurses’ information practices related to administering vaccine against human papilloma virus (HPV). HPV is the most common sexually transmitted virus and vaccination against HPV is included for girls in the national vaccination programme since 2010. It is administered in grade 5 or 6 but only after parental consent. Vaccinations are preventive medical interventions that are disputed. School nurses therefore play a crucial role as information sources. Parents need to consider information from different sources, and deliberations concerning their child’s sexual and reproductive health adds complexity. Media reports, being information, influence their decisions. In a previous study media coverage on HPV-vaccine, as well as accounts of two school nurses about how they inform about and administer the vaccine were analysed (Rivano Eckerdal, submitted). It was found that a considerable amount of time was spent on documentation and on receiving the consent forms from the parents. Furthermore, the nurses pointed out that the girls were focussed on the syringe and not on why the vaccine was administered.

In the ongoing project information is gathered by observing school nurses informing about and administering the vaccine, something not previously studied. Both school nurses and parents will also be interviewed. The aim of the project is to gain knowledge about how information practices related to preventive medical interventions within school health care are enacted on a micro-level and how they are understood by school nurses and parents. Vaccinations are construed as intersections at which parents, children and school nurses as society representatives meet the vaccine as a technology to which all of them need to relate. The project is presently carried out in one municipality in the south of Sweden but it will extend to include more schools over time. The project contributes to research-based knowledge about health promoting information practices concerning young people’s sexual and reproductive health.

Rivano Eckerdal. J. (Submitted). “Förståelser av HPV-vaccin mellan hälsopanik och tillit” [Understandings of HPV vaccine between health scare and trust].



New research on social and cultural access to information After Access: An Inquiry Into ICT Use Factors for Indian Women Anindita Paul (Information Institute of Management Kozhikode, India), Kim M. Thompson (Charles Sturt University, Australia) and Jannica Heinström (Åbo Akademi University, Finland)

26 October, 2015

Nations have made great strides in providing physical access to digital technologies and educational opportunities, yet barriers still exist that prevent those who have strong physical and intellectual access to information and communication technology from taking full advantage of the information and opportunities the technology offers. Women in particular are affected by social barriers which may be quite subtle and are easily excluded from taking an active role in the information society. This study explored how Indian women incorporate information and communication technology (ICT) into their daily lives and what aids or barriers they face in the process.
Previous research has found that factors such as culture, attitude, belief, habit, infrastructure, environment, and social expectations of Indian women are likely to affect their adoption and use of ICT. This exploratory qualitative study aimed at an in-depth understanding of the lives of twelve middle class Indian women and their use of ICT in their everyday lives. The twelve participants were all Indians from similar cultures of the state of Kerala. All the participants were interviewed using unstructured interviews of at least an hour and then engaged in follow-up phone calls to clarify data if needed. The interviews particularly focused on social access in terms of cultural norms, roles and relationships that enable or restrict women’s use of ICT. NVivo10 was used to code the interview responses.
The results confirmed the strong role of the social and cultural context in forming Indian women’s use of ICT. Personal and tangible factors, such as early interest, confidence in ICT skills, ability to use ICT in everyday life and usability and convenience of devices or services influenced the way these women used ICT. Higher engagement in use of ICT was, however, also related to social and cultural factors such as encouragement to engage with ICT and opportunities to help or to be of assistance to others through the use of ICT.
Our study contributed to an understanding of factors that lead to Indian women’s current use of ICT, reasons why Indian women choose to use ICT, and barriers to this usage. More ICT studies on specific profiles of women understanding their barriers to digital use can help formulate education and policies that enhance digital inclusion and lead to a better understanding of women-specific needs that hence can be incorporated in developing better ICT that is relevant for women. Education and policies cannot be developed in vacuum, however, but need to build on an understanding of the interwoven context between women and their social and cultural environment.

Paul, A., Thompson, K. M., & Heinström, J. (2015). After Access: An Inquiry into ICT Use Factors for Indian Women. Proceedings of the Association for Information Science and Technology Conference, St. Louis, USA, 6-10 November 2015


Notes from Research in Progress: Data informed literacy

13 July, 2015

Title: Data informed learning: A next phase data literacy framework for higher education
Researchers: Clarence Maybee (Purdue University), Lisa Zilinski (Carnegie Mellon University) and Jake Carlson (University of Michigan)
This work-in-progress aims to develop a data literacy framework for higher education that places learning about using data in the context of disciplinary learning. The development of data literacy may be informed by the half-century of scholarship aimed at framing information literacy to support learning in higher education. Typically grounded in the ACRL (2000) information literacy standards (Carlson, Fosmire, Miller, & Nelson, 2011; Prado & Marzal, 2013), our analysis has identified that emerging data literacy frameworks and curricula emphasize a skills-centric approach. Equally applicable to skills-centric constructions of data literacy, challenges have been made concerning the efficacy of generic approaches to information literacy, such as the standards, for enabling people to use information in the various contexts in which they live and work (e.g., Bruce, 1997; Lloyd, 2010). To inform an approach to data literacy that addresses contextual concerns, we explored information literacy frameworks that conceptualize using information as integral to learning within broader disciplinary or professional contexts. Informed learning (Bruce, 2008), which emphasizes learning as an outcome of engaging with information, was selected as an applicable framework from which to develop an approach to data literacy for use in higher education.

Drawing from informed learning (Bruce, 2008), our team has outlined guiding principles for data informed learning, which emphasize building on students’ prior experiences of using data, and having them engage with data while simultaneously learning about disciplinary content. For example, to build on students’ prior experiences of using data, the instructor in an accounting course may have students reflect on their own experiences of balancing a checkbook and then relate that to a journal ledger or a general ledger. A computer programming course may have students swap documented computer code with another team, and rerun a script to see if they can replicate the process, providing students with the opportunity to use and manage data in new ways while simultaneously learning about programming. A data literacy framework based on informed learning would support three important aspects of learning to use data in higher education learning contexts by: 1) guiding data-related instruction, 2) encouraging coursework relevancy by relating data use to subject-focused learning, and 3) supporting lifelong learning by enabling students to use data to learn in ways applicable to working in academic or professional environments. As with informed learning (Bruce, Somerville, Stoodley, & Partridge, 2013), the evolving construct of data informed learning needs to be further explored and developed through research. Such research would investigate the various experiences of using data in real-world environments, such as in business, social media, research labs, class projects, and so forth, to inform the design of learning environments where students use data in ways that support disciplinary learning outcomes.

ACRL. (2000). Information literacy competency standards for higher education. Chicago, IL: Association of College and Research Libraries.
Bruce, C. S. (1997). The seven faces of information literacy. Adelaide: Auslib Press.
Bruce, C. S. (2008). Informed Learning. Chicago, IL: American Library Association.
Bruce, C. S., Somerville, M., Stoodley, I., & Partridge, H. (2013). Diversifying information literacy research: An informed learning perspective. In M. Hepworth & G. Walton (Eds.), Developing people’s information capabilities: Fostering information literacy in educational, workplace and community contexts (pp. 225–242). Bingley, UK: Emerald Group Publishing Limited.
Carlson, J., Fosmire, M., Miller, C., & Nelson, M. S. (2011). Determining data information literacy needs: A study of students and research faculty. portal: Libraries and the Academy, 11(2), 629–657.
Lloyd, A. (2010). Information literacy landscapes: Information literacy in education, workplace and everyday contexts. Oxford: Chandos.
Prado, J. C., & Marzal, M. Á. (2013). Incorporating data literacy into information literacy programs: Core competencies and contents. Libri, 63(2), 123–134.


Research in Progress.

19 June, 2015

Identity positions and information activities in teacher trainees’ digital interactions

Fredrik Hanell  Lund University, Department of Arts and Cultural Sciences

This text presents research-in-progress concerned with how students in teacher training position their identities as learners when digital tools are used and appropriated as tools for learning.

Socio-culturally informed research from the field of information literacy suggests that identity is closely related to the ways that information activities are performed. For example, Lloyd (2009) shows how the professional identity of ambulance drivers is connected to their use of information sources, and Eckerdal (2013) analyses how information literacy practices when choosing contraceptives are part of young women’s identity construction. The increase in the use of popular digital tools, such as Facebook and blogs, in educational settings means that students are provided new tools for communication and learning (eg. Kyung-Sun, Sei-Ching Joanna, & Eun Young, 2014; Manca & Ranieri, 2013), as well as new venues for the construction of identity. A great deal of identity research on Facebook has been carried out, although mainly concerned with user profiles (see Wilson, Gosling, & Graham, 2012). Some studies on identity and communication between individuals on Facebook have been conducted (eg. Josefsson & Hanell, 2014). How students position their identities when using digital tools in academic settings and how this can be related to the information activities performed is an area of research that needs to be explored in order to better understand how information activities unfold as digital tools are appropriated as tools for learning.

From a socio-cultural perspective, which emphasizes the social and contextual nature of learning and information (Lupton & Bruce, 2010), information literacy is an empirical lens that highlights information related activities, for example information activities performed in connection to an assignment in school (Sundin, Francke, & Limberg, 2011). These situated information activities can include searching, assessing, producing and sharing information (Francke, Sundin, & Limberg, 2011). The relationship between individuals and the tools they use to perform different information activities can be understood in terms of appropriation, which occurs when a tool is re-purposed and put to use based on the situated needs and the identity of the individual (cf. Wertsch, 1998).

Giddens (1991) suggests that the construction of identity is a narrative, reflexive and on-going activity. Erstad, Gilje, Sefton-Green, and Vasbø (2009) have developed the concept “learning lives” that may contribute to our understanding of the relation between information activities and identity. The concept emphasizes the connection between learning, identity and agency during the course of a person’s life. In particular, the positioning and repositioning of learners’ identities on different “sites” is explored (Erstad, 2012).
The material for this study has been produced at a pre-school teacher-training programme at a Swedish university. Using an ethnographic approach, online and offline participant observations and interviews have been carried out among a class of 249 students who started on the programme in 2011. This research project draws on material collected from two digital sites during 2013-2014: a Facebook Group created for discussing issues concerning teacher training where 210 students and two teachers are members, and a blog created by one of the students. In the current analysis, 147 conversations from the Facebook Group are closely read and thematically arranged in order to identify information activities, modes of appropriation and ways of positioning identity. 10 interviews with students and 6 interviews with teachers are analysed to contextualize and validate the findings from the online interactions (cf. Davies, 2008).

The analysis will focus how students’ identity positions relate to the way information activities are performed in the process of using and appropriating digital tools in teacher training.


Davies, Charlotte Aull. (2008). Reflexive ethnography : a guide to researching selves and others. London: Routledge.

Eckerdal, J. R. (2013). Empowering interviews: narrative interviews in the study of information literacy in everyday life settings. Information Research, 18(3).

Erstad, Ola. (2012). The Learning Lives of Digital Youth–Beyond the Formal and Informal. Oxford Review of Education, 38(1), 25-43.

Erstad, Ola, Gilje, Øystein, Sefton‐Green, Julian, & Vasbø, Kristin. (2009). Exploring ‘learning lives’: community, identity, literacy and meaning. Literacy, 43(2), 100-106.

Francke, H., Sundin, O., & Limberg, L. (2011). Debating credibility: the shaping of information literacies in upper secondary school. Journal of Documentation, 67(4), 675-694.

Giddens, Anthony. (1991). Modernity and self-identity : self and society in the late modern age. Cambridge: Polity press.

Josefsson, Pernilla, & Hanell, Fredrik. (2014). Role confusion in Facebook groups. In M. Kent & T. Leaver (Eds.), An Education in Facebook? Higher Education and the World’s Largest Social Network: Routledge.

Kyung-Sun, Kim, Sei-Ching Joanna, Sin, & Eun Young, Yoo-Lee. (2014). Undergraduates’ Use of Social Media as Information Sources. College & Research Libraries, 75(4), 442-457. doi: 10.5860/crl.75.4.442

Lloyd, Annemaree. (2009). Informing practice: information experiences of ambulance officers in training and on-road practice. Journal of Documentation, 65(3), 396-419.

Lupton, M., & Bruce, C. (2010). Windows on information literacy worlds: Generic, situated and transformative perspectives. In A. Lloyd & S. Talja (Eds.), Practicing information literacy: Bringing theories of practice, learning and information literacy together. Wagga Wagga: Centre for Information Studies.

Manca, S., & Ranieri, M. (2013). Is it a tool suitable for learning? A critical review of the literature on Facebook as a technology-enhanced learning environment. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 29(6), 487-504. doi: 10.1111/jcal.12007

Sundin, Olof, Francke, Helena, & Limberg, Louise. (2011). Practicing Information Literacy in the Classroom: Policies, Instructions, and Grading. Dansk Biblioteksforskning, 7(2/3), 7-17.

Wertsch, James V. (1998). Mind as action. New York: Oxford University Press.

Wilson, R., Gosling, S., & Graham, L. . (2012). A Review of Facebook Research in the Social Sciences. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 7, 203-220


Information activities in social media

5 May, 2015

Information seeking, sharing, and encountering are for many people activities that take place to a large extent via informal, mediated contacts. Not least, social media provide platforms both for sharing information about people’s lives and for keeping informed on issues related to business, politics and everyday life.

To grasp what information literacy means requires understanding the social situation in which information activities take place; to understand how to ask about or share information, what (or who) is considered to be a relevant and trustworthy source, and how to make use of information in fruitful ways. In social media environments, such understandings include sociotechnical knowledge, for instance knowing that in order to effectively share information from a conference using Twitter, you need to use not only a hashtag, but the same hashtag as everyone else. But it also requires learning what are acceptable topics to raise and views to hold in a community, such as a Facebook group or a discussion forum.

The sociomaterial performance of information activities in social media is being investigated in several past and ongoing projects in Sweden at the moment, partly within the Social Media Studies programme at the University of Borås. Already a few years ago, studies in the EXACT project of how credibility was assessed in relation to Wikipedia articles showed clearly the differences in cultural tools available to high school students and to active Wikipedia editors in making decisions about what editors and articles to trust. By being active in the Swedish Wikipedia community, editors had formed opinions about contributors and acceptable editing patterns that they could use in assessing credibility; tools that were not available to those who have not very actively engaged with the production of Wikipedia. [1]

Information exchange in social media sometimes concerns societal changes, such as climate change. These changes can have more or less direct implications for the people involved in the exchange. In a study of climate change blogs, a very active interaction between participants with more or less expertise on the subject was observed. Sources drawn on in the arguments included news media and social media, but also scientific articles. Quite a sophisticated critique of the peer review system took place. However, the ideologies which were constructed within the blog community strongly shaped and co-constructed which sources were viewed as credible and which arguments were considered to be valid. Thus, both political and scientific convictions did to some extent shape what were acceptable types of sources to endorse on the blog. [2]

In Ameera Mansour’s ongoing PhD project where she studies a closed Facebook group centred on motherhood, she has similarly noticed the importance of what Patrick Wilson termed intrinsic plausibility [3] in how some of the members talk about which information they take into consideration when making decisions for their families. In particular, a similar background and family situation is important when deciding whose advice to follow. Even though the group members may know very little about each other outside of the group, the mothers, just as the Wikipedia editors, form an opinion of the other active group members based on their activities in the group. They use that knowledge to inform how they use information they get through the group, but also which information they share in the group.

We, along with many others, continue to investigate the sociomaterial entanglements that make up information activities in social media. We are also interested in how people learn to become proficient participants in these activities. Using social media is quite rarely part of formal education, even at the more general level of understanding how platforms work. This may be useful both in using the platforms to communicate and to critically assess them. However, taking part in particular social interactions is something that must be learnt through participation (at least in the form of lurking). It is therefore important to study such situated interactions for understanding how information literacies are conceptualized in social media.

Helena Francke & Ameera Mansour, University of Borås


[1] Francke, H. & Sundin, O. (2010). An Inside View: Credibility in Wikipedia from the Perspective of Editors. Information Research 15.3, Special supplement: CoLIS, London 21-24 June, 2010. http://informationr.net/ir/15-3/colis7/colis702.html

[2] Francke, H. (2014). Dimensions of Credibility: Review as a Documentary Practice. Proceedings of the iConference, Berlin, 4-7 March 2014. https://www.ideals.illinois.edu/handle/2142/47357

[3] Wilson, P. (1983). Second-hand Knowledge: An Inquiry into Cognitive Authority. Westport, CT & London: Greenwood Press.


Professor Limberg Eminent Visiting Fellow at Curtin University

29 March, 2015

As a further step in the Scandinavian-Australian information literacies research collaboration Professor Louise Limberg visited the Department of Information, Curtin University, Perth, during a fortnight in March. The visit was made possible through Curtin’s Faculty of Humanities Eminent Visiting Fellowship Programme.

Dr Anna Hampson Lundh was delighted to welcome Louise to Western Australia and to continue to work on various projects with her Swedish colleague.

Among many activities at Curtin, Louise gave a public lecture during her visit, summarising core findings from her extensive research career. The lecture, Research on information seeking and learning during 25 years: challenges, lessons and prospects, can be found here.


Professor Limberg presenting at Curtin University

Professor Limberg presenting at Curtin University



New Publications from Chrisitine Bruce QUT

6 March, 2015

Hello everyone,
Latest publications from QUT Research Group.  References supplied by Professor Christine Bruce.
Book Chapters

  • Bruce, Christine S., Partridge, Helen L., Davis, Kate, Hughes, Hilary E., & Stoodley, Ian D. (Eds.) (2014) Information Experience : Approaches to Theory and Practice. Library and Information Science Series, 9. Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley , UK.
  • Bruce, Christine, Davis, Kate, Hughes, Hilary, Partridge, Helen, & Stoodley, Ian (2014) Information Experience : Contemporary Perspectives. In Christine, Bruce, Kate, Davis, Hilary, Hughes, Helen, Partridge, & Ian, Stoodley (Eds.) Information Experience : Approaches to Theory and Practice (Library and Information Science, Volume 9). Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, U.K., pp. 3-16.
  • Bruce, Christine, Davis, Kate, Hughes, Hilary, Partridge, Helen, & Stoodley, Ian (2014) Information Experience : New Perspectives and Research Directions. In Bruce, Christine, Davis, Kate, Hughes, Hilary, Partridge, Helen, & Stoodley, Ian (Eds.) Information Experience : Approaches to Theory and Practice (Library and Information Science, Volume 9). Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, UK, pp. 315-320.
  • Bruce, Christine, Somerville, Mary M., Stoodley, Ian, & Partridge, Helen (2014) Diversifying Information Literacy Research : An Informed Learning Perspective. In Bruce, Christine, Partridge, Helen, Davis, Kate, Hughes, Hilary, & Stoodley, Ian (Eds.) Information Experience : Approaches to Theory and Practice (Library and Information Science, Volume 9). Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, UK, pp. 169-186.
  • Gunton, Lyndelle, Bruce, Christine, & Davis, Kate (2014) Information Literacy Research : The Evolution of the Relational Approach.In Du, Jia Tina, Zhu, Qinghua, & Koronios, Andy (Eds.) Library and Information Science Research in Asia-Oceania : Theory and Practice. IGI Global, Hershey PA, pp. 82-101.
  • Stoodley, Ian D., Bruce, Christine S., Partridge, Helen L., Edwards, Sylvia L., & Cooper, Helen (2014) Health Information Literacy and the Experience of 65 to 79 Year Old Australians. In Du, J.T., Zhu, Q., & Koronios, A. (Eds.) Library and Information Science Research in Asia-Oceania : Theory and Practice. IGI Global, Hershey, PA, pp. 102-123.
  • Wijaya, Stevanus Wisnu, Watson, Jason, & Bruce, Christine S. (2014) Migrant worker empowerment in online communities. In Khosrow-Pour, Mehdi (Ed.) Encyclopaedia of Information Science and Technology [Third Edition]. IGI Global, pp. 6503-6513

Refereed Articles

  • Sayyad Abdi, Elham, Bruce, Christine S., & Stoodley, Ian D. (2014) The experience of learning in “The Cube” : Queensland University of Technology’s giant interactive multimedia environment. Informatics, 1, pp. 126-146.
  • Wakimoto, Diana K. & Bruce, Christine S. (2014) Academic librarians’ varying experiences of archives : a phenomenographic study.The Journal of Academic Librarianship.
  • • Harlan, Mary Ann, Bruce, Christine S., & Lupton, Mandy (2014) Creating and sharing : teens’ information practices in digital communities. Information Research, 19(1).
  • • Wakimoto, Diana Kiyo & Bruce, Christine S. (2014) Experiencing archives at universities : archivists, librarians, understanding, and collaboration. Reference Services Review. (In Press)
  • Tucker, Virginia Miller, Weedman, Judith, Bruce, Christine S., & Edwards, Sylvia L. (2014) Learning portals : analyzing threshold concept theory for LIS education. Journal of Education for Library and Information Science, 55(2), p. 150.
  • Gibbings, Peter, Lidstone, John, & Bruce, Christine S. (2014) Students’ experience of problem-based learning in virtual space. Higher Education Research and Development. (In Press)

New Publications and projects

20 February, 2015

Talja, Sanna & Nyce, James M. (2015) The problem with problematic situations: Differences, between practices, tasks, and situations as units of analysis. Library & Information Science Research.

How should we define the context for our research when we study how people come to possess something that can be called expertise? When we want to understand how and under what conditions people become skilled in information filtering, finding, and sharing? Information literacies researchers agree that information activities should always be studied within the work and everyday life contexts where these activities take place. But researchers are interested in studying different information skills challenges. Some choose to concentrate on what happens when a person must come up with sources, or interact with an information system. Some want to follow how people set out to solve a specific type of task. Some are more interested in the specifics of a situated activity setting or domain where information exists and is applied by those with appropriate competences and tools.

The concepts of situation, task and practice are frequently used in studies of information use in work and everyday life. As analytic concepts, these concepts are not interchangeable: they originate from divergent intellectual traditions and give rise to different kinds of research problems and programs. Explaining how exactly the underlying assumptions of person-in-situation studies, task-based studies, and practice-based studies differ, is the goal of this paper. We argue that there is a long line of research that decontextualises the knower and ignores the potentials for knowing and learning which a specific activity environment represents. We suggest that situations and tasks be understood not as key analytical concepts, but as elements of a situated activity setting, a practice.

Another paper we (Nyce, James M., Talja, Sanna & Dekker, Sidney) have been working on is called “When Ghosts Can Talk: Informant Realities and Ethnographic Policies.”

Sometimes, when conducting fieldwork, we as researchers encounter situations in which we perceive that our informants accept as truthful claims or ideas that in our view are fallacious or even ridiculous. If we wish to maintain the stand that as researchers, our task is to understand the cultures and knowledges of those we are studying, how can we write intelligently when people refer to things like ghosts, witches, or magic, as information sources or explanations for events? Generally, researchers find a strategy which allows them to give the “supernatural”, in our terms at least, a natural explanation. This article pins down the range of strategies researchers use for dealing with refractory categories and events like ghosts and other “non-existent things.” We could and should use these testimonies to widen our understandings and reportages. Our education and the genres of writing available to us as scholars can seriously limit what we feel able to report and how. Even if we feel unable to take on radically different epistemologies and ontologies, we can at least use informants’ accounts to more deeply understand the taken for granted truths and reportages of our own culture.