Interview with the Editors: Widén and Teixeira on Information Literacy

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays

November 14, 2023

Special Librarians who work in libraries housed within a company, law firm, or other office setting, will want to read a new book which offers insight into information literacy needs.

Gunilla Widén and José Apolinário Teixeira co-edited Information Literacy and the Digitalization of the Workplace. My interview with the co-editors is below.

Please introduce yourselves to our readers.

Gunilla Widén, Professor of Information Studies and Vice Rector of Education Affairs at Åbo Akademi University 

My background is at Åbo Akademi University (ÅAU), Finland, where I started my studies in Library and Information Science in 1986. After graduating in 1991, I worked one year at the ÅAU Library and was then hired as doctoral student and teacher in the LIS department at ÅAU. Moreover, although I thought it would be only for a few years, I have been there ever since, with a short period as visiting researcher at Edinburgh Napier University in 2004-05. I got my PhD in 2001, and became Professor of Information Studies at ÅAU in 2008. Since 2022 I’m having the role as Vice Rector of Education Affairs at ÅAU.

My research interests have focused on the role of information as a resource in organisations as well as in everyday life; information seeking behaviour and information literacy are part of all projects I’ve been involved in. I have had the great opportunity to lead several large projects financed by the Academy of Finland, focusing on key skills in information society, Library 2.0—and recently a project on the impact of information literacy in the digital workplace, and a project on trust in information in the context of migration and integration. I have also been involved in European projects on youth information services development, and on cultural policy decision-making, in the case of Helsinki Central Libary Oodi. 

José Apolinário Teixeira, University Lecturer of Information Studies at Åbo Akademi University 

I joined Åbo Akademi University (ÅAU) in 2017 to work in one of Gunilla’s projects in information literacy funded by the Academy of Finland (recently re-branded as Research Council of Finland). The job at the time was to investigate information literacy in global distributed work. I grabbed the opportunity and investigated information literacy in the context of open-source software development. It was timely, as Gunilla and her team recruited me even before I concluded my dissertation on investigating collaboration among competitors in an open-source way (aka open-coopetition) in 2018. 

My research interests in open-source software started a long time ago when studying computer science subjects at the Universidade do Porto in my home country—Portugal. After my first Master’s degree in Portugal, I worked several years in different firms providing Information Technology for the Retail and Telecomunications industries. I always preferred and advocated for open-source technologies and even ended up at Nokia developing an open-source mobile platform that powered the first so called “Internet tablets” (e.g., N770, N800, and N810) and some smartphones that sold very well (N9 and N900). All before Android ever existed. 

When Nokia turned to Microsoft and away from open-source software, I turned to academia and dedicated years to bridge knowledge on open-source and coopetition management strategy so that organizations (such as Nokia) can better consider, value, and manage the co-production of open-source platforms and ecosystems with others (suppliers, partners, competitors, users, and crowds among others). I coined the term open-coopetition to better highlight the value that can be derived by cooperating with competitors in an open-source way. These days, whenever possible, I investigate information sharing, communication, collaboration and competition in open-source software ecosystems. 

Briefly summarize Information Literacy and the Digitalization of the Workplace.

This book has its origin in a research project on the very same topic, looking into the role of information literacy in the digital workplace. The project group consisted of researchers in information studies, economics, information systems, and international marketing at Åbo Akademi University, and was funded by the Academy of Finland. Towards the end of the research project, we started to discuss the possibility of editing a book, and invited other researchers and collaborators in this area to get involved. The authors of the book represent researchers from Finland (ÅAU, University of Turku), Sweden (Uppsala University, Mälardalen University), Norway (Oslo Metropolitan University), and the UK (Edinburgh Napier University).

During our project, we learned how complex this topic is, and even finding a common way to define information literacy among our multidisciplinary group was a challenge. At the same time, it was both valuable and rewarding to tackle this concept from different viewpoints.

The aim of the book was to bring forward the role of information literacy (IL) in a workplace context and while it is not an easily defined topic, we wanted to discuss it from conceptual, methodological, and impact perspectives and offer a compass through digital transformation. We also wanted to extend the critical debate on the impact of digitalization on both individual and organizational levels. 

Please define workplace information literacy.

WIL is a complex concept, and understood differently in different contexts. In our work, the starting point has been the overall IL concept, which researchers have addressed as an important capacity for nearly 50 years—referring to an overabundance of information, exceeding our capacity to evaluate it. 

The IL concept has primarily been developed within educational contexts, acknowledged as an important support for learning, but is also understood as a socio-cultural construct, affected by situation and context, and with increasing technology-related motivations. The interest in IL has reached disciplines outside education and library and information science, such as health sciences, and media, and the need for a number of new literacies, e.g. financial literacy, health literacy, and internet literacy. 

In a workplace context IL is often seen as a combination of formal information skills as defined within education; skills needed to master digital tools and technologies, but also constructed and affected by workplace information culture and information practices. The main challenge is actually that IL is highly context dependent and it is crucial to clearly define the concept every time it is studied or discussed. 

Why is workplace information literacy important? 

Digital transformation is foremost about change, which in turn requires changes in attitudes, skills and ways of working. It is obvious that we need to increase technical skills, such as programming, digital production, and data analytics. In addition to that, the workplace needs more people with general technological competence, e.g., how to use digital technologies, and how to interact with Artificial Intelligence that is taking over some of the work tasks previously managed by humans only. 

To drive digital transformation we need good information and knowledge management to lead people and information processes, ensuring that information and knowledge are valued as important resources. Part of information and knowledge management is to understand and develop open information cultures in which it is easier to quickly adapt information and knowledge processes to continuous change. In this equation, WIL has a clear role as a key condition for successful digitalisation in today’s workplaces.

It is also important to understand WIL as a collective process, knowing that we cannot always focus on individual IL skills. For example, in settings where information is sensitive, the workplace might need other, collective actions to manage information effectively. WIL can also be seen from a knowledge transfer perspective—how is employees’ IL is transferred between workplaces or throughout their career, so that it is utilized in the most effective way? 

What technology tools do you see as most impactful on workplace information literacy?

This is a hard question. Upon reflection, here are the top three technological innovations on a large scale, requiring a good understanding of how they work in a particular workplace context. 

First: the computer. Not only because computers can store a lot of information but also because they are very good at indexing information. Thanks to the introduction of computers, information became more editable, more interactive, easier to find, and easier to reproduce at acceptable costs. 

Second: the Internet. If the computer impacts information, work, and organizations, we can extrapolate that a Web connecting millions of computers would be also very impactful. Google harnessed the power of the Web by indexing textual content from millions of computers, and enabling us to find what we are looking for in just a few seconds. 

Third: machine learning. The recent advances in machine learning have made Artificial Intelligence popular again. This is a very powerful mechanism for classifying information as we humans classify it. With a good set of data, curated by humans, machine learning can classify information (text, images, and video, among many other things) into categories. Such categories can be predefined (e.g., by humans) or can be emergent-categories “discovered” while information is being processed by machine learning algorithms. 

What are two things you hope all readers take away from the book?

1) Modern work and modern workplaces require more and more computer-based skills and competences. The bar is getting higher and higher, and those who do not reach certain levels of technological skills and information mastery might see their jobs replaced. (Some by people with more skills and competences, other by the computers themselves.)

2) The same computer-based skills and competencies, required by modern work and modern workplaces, can be contextual and vary from place to place. Different organizations require different information literacies to master information and knowledge in organizations. Research in WIL needs to, on the one hand, accommodate such contextual focus, and on the other hand, find common ground on the information related skills and competencies modern workplaces require. 

Is there anything else you would like to share?

This book is a must for those who are interested in IL outside its traditional context (libraries and education). It is also a good read for people interested in the skills and competencies required for the digital information society. Besides expanding the theoretical boundaries of research in IL, there are good methodological lessons learned reported in the book, as well as insights about the impact and importance of focus on IL and information behavior in organizations. These aspects are often overlooked or taken for granted, but actually require clear plans and aims.

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays

Dr. Lauren Hays is an Assistant Professor of Instructional Technology at the University of Central Missouri, and a frequent presenter and interviewer on topics related to libraries and librarianship. Please read Lauren’s other posts relevant to special librarians. Take a look at Lucidea’s powerful integrated library systems, SydneyEnterprise, and GeniePlus, used daily by innovative special librarians in libraries of all types, sizes and budgets.

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