Nancy Fried Foster spoke of her research of the practices of people who do research, in a university environment. Her research is within the overall scope of helping students become Information Literate (IL). (She stated that due to the newness of the research results, some information shown to the AMICAL audience should not be digitized yet.)
She places this research within the IL Threshold Concepts model. She described how she wanted to start from the premise—that IL should be defined by the actual practices of productive and excellent researchers. The actual practices of these excellent researchers are not just confined to the office/library environment. The 24 hour movements, activities, and places of such researchers—analyzed within an ethnographic model, could reveal and become the definition of IL.
Foster than described several ethnographic study methods, being applied to excellent researchers. The studies are in-progress. The study methods include: Observation; Photo Elicitation Interviews (ref. Douglas Harper method); Map Diaries (ref. Michael Moffitt); Retrospective Interviews (conducted by Merrilee Proffitt at OCLC Research), and the “Day in the Life” approach (referring to a current project by Kornelia Tancheva at Cornell U.). The initial results were shown from these, and other, studies.
Overall, the study (singly or combined) results show the relative importance to excellent researchers of: databases, literature searches, known knowledge, footnotes, personal networks, and search engines. The results also indicate how researchers will spend time, in a variety of activities—such as note taking, manuscript preparation, managing documents, interacting with others directly or remotely—which are also important with respect to understanding his/her IL level.
She noted the status of the researchers involved as subjects in the studies: mostly upper-level graduate students or junior faculty (Cornell U. study); non-tenure stream faculty (U. of Pittsburg study). Often, the research/IL was taught as part of an English composition course. The heavy usage of junior faculty to teach IL skills and concepts to undergraduates implies that such faculty should be a part of the university’s research community.
She concluded by emphasizing that she believes the studies show that excellent IL can be described by activity and thought; IL does not remain an abstract concept. The results show the importance of connecting students to researchers (with work and life activity patterns); IL is not a product, it is instead a process.