Limberg, Louise, Hultgren, Frances & Jarneving, Bo. Informationssökning och lärande: en forskningsöversikt [Information seeking and learning: an overview of research] Stockholm: Skolverkets, 2002. 191 p.
In publishing an overview of research concerning information seeking and learning the authors contribute by making visible a research discourse on the topic. To embark on an enterprise of claiming to grasp such a discourse is also to exercise some sort of academic power.
What is an overview of research good for? Without much pre-meditation answers to the following questions about the literature of the topic can be included: What is included? Where is the delineation relative to adjacent fields? What are the characteristics of the literature? What cognitive authorities are there? Are there certain theoretical perspectives, beliefs, persuasions or biases to distinguish? Where are the research fronts? Where are the dead ends? Which research methods have been used?
There are three distinct parts in the study:
Over the years there has been much concern in library quarters as well as in the (LIS) academic community regarding how to teach bibliography, library skills, information skills, or information literacy. To actually study the information behaviour of pupils or students has not been an activity of the same priority in recent years. Research studies in both fields have, evidently, at the beginning of this millennium reached a substantial output level. To concentrate on an overview of the production of the 1990s has been a big enough task for the authors. Contemporaneous work on a sideline of the present project by one of the authors has proved to be fruitful (Limberg, 2002).
A key problem seems to be related to the (lack of) cooperation between two professions. Conceptions innate in their respective roles is still more to the point. Put in a generalised way, teachers do not understand the complexities of information seeking and librarians are concentrated on techniques and procedures.
An important effect of research is to detect shortcomings in education. A frequent flaw is the pupils' propensity to find the 'right answer' or otherwise plain facts. Time and again even assignments are constructed in ways that do not require pupils to understand the text they are searching for. There is a probable link to an inadequate system for the assessment of tasks and assigning marks.
Another interesting finding is the lack of progression in information literacy. Ten-year-olds and people in their late teens tend to make their searches in an invariant and time-honoured way. There is a contrast to the information seeking career found among professional researchers (Seldén, 1999).
However, advancements in information literacy have been observed also in conjunction with a special didactic view of the learning perspective, and less to the teaching perspective, and with a clear view of the complex dimensions of information seeking and use. I take it that this is a promising research front to be explored.
My impression of the field is that in all the studies to choose from, there is an ample amount of research of a normative kind. They seem to stem in many cases from school library quarters. Educational recipes from practice are transformed into research projects, often with a behaviouristic perspective, with the intention to make obvious the value of the actual practical experience. This kind of research has not been emphasised in the overview and this is not to be deplored.
An especially helpful feature in the overview is recurring summing-ups. Even if the material is competently categorised, truthfully related, and capably assessed, the reading of overviews easily tends to raise a chaotic image of the content. As a reader of the overview I welcome the assistance to consider the studies, not just individually but also as a part of a group or subgroup.
A reflection to make is the importance of some distinctions made a long time ago by Patrick Wilson. The first one is the difference between descriptive and exploitative power. The power to produce a list of items is not the same as the power to exploit an item on a list and in particular to decide which one to exploit. The second one is about how to detect what is knowledgeable: how to find one's cognitive authorities. 'Some people know what they are talking about, others do not. Those who do are my cognitive authorities.' (Wilson, 1983: 13) The third one is about to know: How much is enough? (How is one to satisfice?) It is about how to avoid 'costly' ignorance. It is also about relying on advice instead of on information (Wilson, 1977). All of these findings from long ago seem to me to relate to some of the findings regarding the abdication of teachers and other adults from their supervisory role. If one's knowledge bag is small and one's advisors are absent one's chance of picking a good choice is minuscule.
A concern rising from the growing importance of web and other Internet use in educational settings is the continued commercialisation of the Web. The more valuable parts will have a price and will not be accessible for non-payers. It will be increasingly difficult for pupils and students belonging to poorer establishments to find valuable cognitive authorities .
The idea to link information seeking and learning is obviously a viable one. To make an overview of research in education adjacent to that topic and combine it with LIS research in the vicinity of didactic and school library issues is likely to produce a connotation of a field with some characteristic qualities. It is also likely to make an impact on the doctrines of LIS and education. To include a citation analysis and mapping a selection of clusters within the LIS community in the book itself makes this argument still more valid.
To sum up: There is a natural difficulty in defining what has been excluded from the overview, but there is a statement of intended exclusions given by the authors. Characteristics are presented in words as well is in well-founded categories. The careful reader will understand which cognitive authorities there are. Theoretical perspectives are made clear - especially when not of a mainstream kind. The dead ends of research are not emphasised - it is the promising directions that are given. Research methods have not been a particular interest of the study but obscurities are made visible. Such affirmative opinions of an overview are not a matter of course. In a study of my own I lamented on unhelpful overviews (Seldén, 1999: 281) and so did Maxine Reneker (Reneker, 1993). In short: the present overview of research will serve us well. Translation into English would be welcomed.
How to cite this review
Seldén, L. (2003) Review of: Limberg, Louise, Hultgren, Frances & Jarneving, Bo. Informationssökning och lärande: en forskningsöversikt. Skolverkets: Stockholm, 2002. Information Research, 8(3), review no. R085 [Available at: http://informationr.net/ir/reviews/revs085.html]