Seven pillars and five minds: small business workplace information literacy

Date09 September 2019
Publication Date09 September 2019
AuthorHayley Lockerbie,Dorothy Williams
SubjectLibrary & information science
Seven pillars and five minds:
small business workplace
information literacy
Hayley Lockerbie and Dorothy Williams
School of Creative and Cultural Business,
Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, UK
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to develop and test a theoretical framework for understanding
information literacy (IL) within the context of a small business workplace environment. The theoretical
framework developed related IL competencies to competencies for success as described by the psychologist
Howard Gardner in his book Five Minds for the Future.
Design/methodology/approach A theoretical framework was developed using the CILIP Seven Pillars
for IL and Howard Gardners Five Minds theory. Indicative connections between the Seven Pillars and Five
Minds were identified by the researchers. The framework was tested through analysis of transcripts from
qualitative interviews conducted with four small business owners.
Findings Connections were found between the Seven Pillars and the Five Minds; some which had been
projected by the researchers and others which had not. The theoretical framework aided description of and
understanding of IL within small business workplace environments.
Research limitations/implications A small sample size limits the generalizability of the findings, and
further testing of the framework is required. The findings do, however, suggest that the context in which IL
manifests remains significant and should be further examined in wider and divergent contexts.
Originality/value Using theory from psychology paired with a well-known theory of IL to develop a new
theoretical framework is novel. The framework developed offers a new way of understanding the role of IL
within the context of small business workplaces.
Keywords Competencies, Information literacy, Workplace, Small to medium-sized enterprises, Theory,
Information research
Paper type Research paper
Defined as the ability to think critically and make balanced judgements about any information
we find and use(CILIP, 2018), information literacy (IL) is arguably the most valuable life skill
required as the world government services, education provision, socialization, economic
advancement becomes increasingly information, knowledge and technology reliant and
intensive. IL has been linked to both lifelong learning and participation in the Information
Society (Prague Declaration, 2003). A concept which began in library and education contexts, IL
has increasingly become a focus of research in workplace environments. This paper describes
the development and testing of a theoretical framework for conceptualizing IL in small business
workplace environments, using a well-known model of IL and theory from psychology, in a
small scale proofofconceptstudy.
Literature review
Numerous descriptions, frameworks, skill sets and concepts of IL exist (cf. ACRL, 2015;
ANZIL, 2004; CILIP, 2018). These have historically been developed in and focussed on
educational and information service contexts (see, e.g. Bruce, 1995; Webber and Johnston,
2003; Rader, 2002),and much IL research has been conducted in educational settings (see, e.g.
Doyle, 1992; Bruce, 1995; Johnston and Webber, 2003) with focus on students of business
(see, e.g. Feast, 2003; Varga-Atkins and Ashcroft, 2004; Sokoloff, 2012) and engineering and
technology (Tucker and Palmer, 2004). Such studies, however, remain inwardly focussed
Journal of Documentation
Vol. 75 No. 5, 2019
pp. 977-994
© Emerald PublishingLimited
DOI 10.1108/JD-09-2018-0151
Received 20 September 2018
Revised 26 May 2019
Accepted 28 May 2019
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
Seven pillars
and five minds
measuring studentsinformation skills (Varga-Atkins and Ashcroft, 2004; Walsh, 2009), and
effectiveways of implementing IL instruction( Feast,2003), rather than exploringmore deeply
the skills required for entry into an increasingly information heavy working environment.
There have been attempts to acknowledge the need for IL skills beyond traditional
environmentsand the emergence of concepts such as digital literacy(see,e.g. Bawden, 2008)
and 21
century literacy(The New Media Consortium, 2005) seek to address this. Recent
revisionsto IL descriptions and frameworks(ACRL, 2015; CILIP, 2018;SCONUL, 2015) clearly
representa shift change in understandingthat IL manifests in differingcontexts dependent on
the environment, with workplaces taking a more prominent role in IL descriptions.
Achieving an understanding of IL in the workplace is challenging as a tick the box
approach to IL instruction and measurement, described by Webber and Johnston (2000), does not
allow for effective observation of IL outwith structured, educational contexts. In reality IL is not a
linear, unit driven process; it is messy, ever changing and difficult to understand (Mutch, 2000),
made ever more difficult in workplace contexts where goals shift and the properway of doing
things may not actually be conducive to working quickly, cheaply or for addressing business
goals and drivers. There have been explorations of IL in workplace settings; Hepworth and
Smith (2008) studied the IL of non-academic staff in higher education which uncovered a more
fragmented realization of IL in the workplace than in academic contexts; Lloyd (2004) explored
the information practices of fire fighters and concluded that conceptions of IL from an
educational context do not adequately describe IL in workplace settings; Katz et al. (2010)
assessed the relationship between IL and writing for business and suggested there should be
greater acknowledgement of the enhancement IL can bring to business communication practice.
Research has also been carried out into the role of information in business workplace
environments. The role information plays in successful business mechanisms has been
highlighted (Grieves, 1998) and the context in which decisions are made influences the
interchange of data, information and knowledge (Cortada, 2009). Williams et al. (2014) presented
an annotated bibliography on the relevance of IL in the workplace which identified 41 items
specifically relating to IL in the workplace. Their summary highlighted descriptions of workplace
IL which focus less on formal searching and finding skills tending to be associated with IL
education. More recently Wu (2018) has explored the relationship between IL, creativity and
work performance, and Middleton et al. (2018) have looked at IL and innovation in workplaces,
suggesting a shift in understanding about the role IL plays in more fuzzy work goals. Ultimately
to understand the transferability of IL the way IL manifests in different environments needs to
be understood (Webber and Johnston, 2017). Forster (2017) brings together a range of recent
research into IL in the workplace, examining IL from an experiential perspective and
emphasizing that IL is experienced differently in different contexts. Much of this workplace IL
research has focussed on professional contexts and/or within larger organizational settings, and
little is known about the role and value of IL within small and medium enterprises (SMEs).
With 21m SMEs in the EU, employing 88.8m people (European Commission, 2015) they
represent a significant proportion ofboth the workforce and of economic contribution. SMEs
are defined by both their employee numbers and turnover or balance sheet figures, and are
categorized as micro, small or medium. There have been very few studies which have
explored IL and SMEs. De Saulless (2007) exploratory research into IL amongst UK SMEs
concludes that government initiativeshave focussed too strongly on the ICT requirements of
SMEs, instead of the underlying information skills required to use such technologies
effectively, an issue noted by others (see, e.g. De Saulles, 2008; Duan et al., 2002).
Williams (2003) found SMEs can lack the expertise to conduct effective research: with
limited awareness of information sources and ability to evaluate and understand information.
This could impact an SMEs competitive advantage, and therefore its ability to survive and
thrive. High costs have been attributed to information work (see, e.g. Bates, 2004; Cheuk, 2002;
De Saulles, 2007; Feldman and Sherman, 2001) and employee time, irrespective of company size

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