Research and Practice

Below are the details of projects and research-based aspects of work I have undertaken, in a range of areas including: online learning; evidence use in social services; impacts of digital surveillance; access to higher education; and political information experiences. Related publications are listed here.

Senior Liaison Librarian, Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh
May 2020 onwards

Leading the liaison librarian team, providing strategic planning and co-ordination for student and academic support. Liaison librarian for Psychology, Sociology, Mad Studies, Media and Communication, and Performing Arts.

Digital Support Librarian, University of Edinburgh
April 2019 – May 2020

Supporting the Digital Learning at Scale Programme including MicroMasters and MOOC course development and delivery, I manage the Library and University Collections’ contribution to the project, working across disciplines to identify, negotiate and develop high-quality open access information resources, create digital skills learning materials appropriate for online students’ needs, and support academic course leads in designing effective and accessible courses.

Evidence Search and Summary Service, Institute for Research and Innovation in Social Services (Iriss)
October 2017 – February 2019

Contributing to Scotland’s national Knowledge into Action Strategy, ESSS aimed to bridge the knowledge-practice gap, supporting practitioners, planners and policy-makers to identify and apply evidence, ensuring that decisions about frontline practice, service design, development and delivery are based on sound evidence.

Whilst managing this service I was responsible for service design, launch, delivery, assessment and continuous improvement. Within the role I undertook evidence-informed practice and generated practice-based evidence and support resources for the development of the service around: evidence searching, evaluation and communication; reference dialogue; information literacy support; and capturing impact.

Self-censorship and surveillance concerns of Scottish writers
September 2016 – December 2017

In the human rights and free expression communities, it is a widely shared assumption that the explosive growth and proliferating uses of surveillance technologies must be harmful—to intellectual freedom, to creativity, and to social discourse. But how exactly do we know, and how can we demonstrate, that pervasive surveillance is harming freedom of expression and creative freedom? We know—historically, from writers and intellectuals in the Soviet Bloc, and contemporaneously from writers, thinkers, and artists in China, Iran, and elsewhere—that aggressive surveillance regimes limit discourse and distort the flow of information and ideas. But what about the new democratic surveillance states?

The question of the harms caused by widespread surveillance in democracies, is under-explored. In partnership with Scottish PEN, we are conducting a survey of Scottish writers to better understand the specific ways in which awareness of far-reaching surveillance programs influences writers’ thinking, research, and writing.

Widening Access to Higher Education for Students from economically disadvantaged households: ‘What works’ and why?

August 2015 – August 2016

In Scotland, there are significant social inequalities in regards to access to higher education. Students from the most disadvantaged households are less likely to enter higher education, and when they do, are more likely to go to college rather than university. Research suggests that several factors including poor academic performance and subject choice at secondary school account for this access gap. Over the last two decades there have been various attempts to tackle the educational access gap associated with poverty in Scotland. A recent flagship approach has been the signing of outcome agreements between higher education institutions and the SFC/Scottish Government. This agreement commits universities and colleges to widen access and increase the proportion of students coming from areas of high deprivation. Additionally, the SFC has funded the Schools for Higher Education Programme (SHEP) widening access initiatives to help quicken the pace of change. While modest progress has been observed with respect to the increase in number of disadvantaged students entering university and for those attending SHEP initiatives, it’s not entirely clear what is facilitating this process. As far as we are aware, there is currently no systematic documentation of evidence on what makes these programmes successful. Additionally, a starting point to quicken the pace of progress in Scotland is to examine evidence from the wider literature on ‘what works and why’, in order to widen access for disadvantaged students.

Learning, lending, liberty? Can school libraries be engines for youth citizenship?
May – October 2015
CILIP Information Literacy Group research bursary

Recent studies have identified a lack of research into the impact of school libraries in Scotland (Williams 2013), particularly in how they can contribute to the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE). Research in this area is of particular relevance in the face of significant proposed cuts to school library budgets in Scotland and cuts to education more widely across the UK.

This research will explore the role of school libraries within the wider school environment including citizenship education and the role of teachers. The project will identify how Scottish school libraries support the CfE in its curriculum areas and ‘four capacities’, including the capacity of young people to be responsible citizens. One aspect of responsible citizenship is political participation, which supports healthy democracy. This is also a fundamental value of libraries. This research will identify the role libraries played in supporting young people’s political participation in two major political events – the Scottish Independence Referendum 2014 and the UK General Election 2015. The project will also explore the information and information literacy needs of young people outside the school environment and identify how IL provision is vital to help them become informed and meaningfully participate in politics.

Working in partnership with YoungScot, a young people’s information charity; the Scottish Library and Information Council (SLIC); The Right Information, Scotland’s information literacy community of practice; CILIPS; and researchers from the University of Strathclyde, this project will provide school librarians with the resources to advocate for the value of school library services not only for the educational attainment of pupils but also for the development of responsible citizens who are able to meaningfully participate in political processes. The project will also provide the library and information profession with research outputs that can be used as advocacy tools and examples of the role of libraries in supporting democracy.

Williams, D. (2013). “Impact of School Libraries on Learning”.

Critical information literacy for the development of political agency: using personal construct theory, phenomenography and critical pedagogy to explore young people’s constructions of political information
2012 – 2016
Economic and Social Research Council Scottish Graduate School of Social Science studentship
Department of Computer and Information Sciences, The University of Strathclyde.

This work focuses on young people’s experiences of political information, to identify how information literacy instruction may support young people to develop political agency. To explore the phenomenon of political information, the study uses three theories: personal construct theory, phenomenography and critical pedagogical theory. The methods used were surveys, repertory grid interviews and semi-structured focus groups. Prior to the collection of substantive data, a survey was conducted to gain insight into the participants’ political knowledge and attitudes. To identify what sources of political information young people are exposed to, 23 repertory grid interviews were conducted with 14 and 15 year old pupils in a secondary school in South Yorkshire, England. To map the different ways in which these sources are understood, three focus groups were conducted in line with the phenomenographic approach.

Parents, friends and teachers were found to be the most influential sources of the wide range of political information the participants use and are exposed to. Additionally, mass media and social media were found to be significant. The interview and focus group data was analysed using personal construct theory and phenomenographic techniques to produce a set of personal construct categories and a phenomenographic outcome space. The participants experienced the production of information, the evaluation of information, the relationship between their use of information and their sense of political agency, and their conception of politics in variously complex ways. Although the majority of experiences of political information were found to be lacking a critical dimension, the potential for young people to critically evaluate information and its sources was identified. Several critical pedagogical concepts were identified as being of potential use to practitioners seeking to support young people in the development of critical capacities. The most relevant of Giroux’s critical pedagogical concepts to illuminate the structural issues affecting young people’s experiences of political information were identified as political illiteracy, the banking model of education, media literacy, political agency, civic literacy and critical consciousness.

These findings contribute to information literacy and information behaviour theory. Most significantly, the recommendations emerging from the analysis of the research data through the outcome space and construct categories may help practitioners in their work, to better understand the information literacy needs of young people in relation to political participation.


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