Information Literacy in Sweden

Nina Str�m, coordinator NORDINFOlit

The library culture, the teaching culture and the information literacy concept

Depending on whether you are a librarian or a teacher at Swedish universities, you�re either tired of the buzzword information literacy, or you�ve never heard of it. Academic librarians, striving to integrate information literacy in the curriculum, face the frustration of having to explain over and over again what information literacy is and why it is important. Teachers are understandably sceptical of librarians� insistence that information literacy (a concept seemingly invented by librarians) is absolutely essential to students and that librarians are uniquely qualified to impart it.

Swedish universities today have to handle more students with different backgrounds and academic experience than ever before. At the same time, there is a trend towards more problem-based learning, computer-based learning and distance education. Teaching students to independently find the information they need and solve problems is not a concern solely for academic libraries.

Cooperation between teachers and librarians seems to be the obvious solution, but it�s easier said than done. Fostering information literate students at the universities requires a meeting of two cultures. Aside from the confusion of terms and the lack of time the problem may be that if teachers don�t see the problem they are definitely not looking for a solution.

A multitude of local conditions

What is true for one Swedish academic library is not necessarily true for another. Since progress in implementing user education to promote information literacy varies greatly among academic libraries, giving a complete picture of the status of user education in Sweden is difficult. Some academic libraries, such as the Chalmers university library (, have succeeded in fully integrating user education in the curriculum. More and more libraries now prioritize information literacy issues. The University Library at Karolinska Institute (, for example, has a pedagogical developer working full time with the question. Some libraries offer academic credit for courses in information literacy, for example the Sk�vde academic library (, while some, like the Bor�s academic library (, have chosen not to because they prefer to see it as a part of all credit courses and not as a skill to be learned separately.

Although organization and working methods may differ, all academic libraries seem to share the goal of working more closely with teachers to offer more relevant and subject related user education, since that increases both the real and perceived relevance of the instruction.

David Herron, pedagogical developer at the Karolinska Institute library gave an overview of the user-education field 1999 and what he wrote then is still true today: 

The current picture of user-education in Sweden is complicated by a multitude of local conditions.

In general, university/college teachers seem to initiate new user-education more than library staff do though it appears that Swedish libraries are becoming more and more active in starting off new courses in information retrieval and related areas. User-education is usually financed as part of the normal library budget. A number of libraries take payment for courses for other customer groups than students.

User-education in Swedish research libraries takes place for a number of reasons, both ideological and pragmatic; the dominant current ideology states that students should leave university/college being information literate. User-education is generally regarded as a primary library activity. There are a number of challenges/problems that need constant reappraisal at a local level, such as, ambiguous signals concerning the importance of user-education, the shortage of teachers, shortage of preparation time and time to reflect on current practise, the dilemma of parallel front line activities, library teachers �burn-out� etc.

There are some clear trends in user-education in Sweden: more user-education (less money), more integration (obligatory and mark-giving courses), better quality teaching though improved pedagogical skills, more diverse user-education tailored to specific customer groups, increasing numbers of web-based library guides and self-instruction tutorials and increasing numbers of resources for computer-baser learning. There are also some interesting lines of development at the level of the individual library.

In general, librarians involved in user-education in Sweden have the opportunity to take courses in pedagogy. Despite this, there is a clear demand for more pragmatic (didactic/methodological) courses with the special conditions of user-education as a focus. Such pedagogical courses for librarians are currently emerging.

National reports and research on the topic

One huge influence on the academic libraries and information literacy education was the national BIBSAM-report Studenternas bibliotek : en analys av h�gskolebibliotekens utveckling, 1996. Written as a general policy for academic libraries, it stresses the importance of integrating information literacy into the curriculum. The report was followed five years later by Den f�rsta uppgiften � H�gskolebiblioteket som utbildningsinstitution och l�rande milj� (BIBSAM, 2001) by G�ran Gellerstam who reached the same conclusion� the process of integrating teaching with the library must continue. Changes take time, but it is obvious that the intense debate on information literacy and lifelong learning has influenced the field and the role of the librarian in practice.

On campus learning centers that integrate the library as a pedagogical resource are being built at universities, for example L�randets galleria at Stockholm university ( se). A newly started project initiated by the Netuniversity in Sweden called Learning Resource Centre p� Campus ( focus on testing different models for meeting places at campus between students, teachers, librarians for developing ICT- supported learning.

The relevance of information literacy today is reflected in the number of conferences, courses and seminars held on the theme. One example is the conference Creating Knowledge, first held at Malm� H�gskola in 1999 and now held every other year by the Nordic forum on information literacy, NORDINFOlit ( Several organizations and interest groups in Sweden work on and discuss the subject, for example Svensk Biblioteksf�rening ( with a special group for pedagogical issues at the library. Librarian Ola Pilerot at Sk�vde University library has published a webbliography about information literacy (, which gives an idea of the number of articles written on the subject.

Today in Sweden librarians have many opportunities to take courses and/or pedagogical training. Another important development is the establishment of a new library and information science program at V�xj� university starting in the autumn of 2003 ( The new program will focus on the pedagogical role of the librarian.

Research on the subject is flourishing. Louise Limberg�s doctoral thesis Att s�ka information f�r att l�ra (Bor�s, 1998) is concerned about the relation between searching for information and learning. She discovers that how students searched affected how well they learned the subject matter. The learning process involves both the search and the use of information. How you search depends on how you are planning to use the information found.

Among the numerous master�s theses recently written on information literacy in the last few years, two are worthy of special mention: H�gskolebiblioteket i den pedagogiska processen by Linda Karlsson (2001) and Informationskompetens � f�rdighet eller insikt? by Susan B�ge & Lena Ekelund (2003). Karlsson examines the relationship between the university library�s user education and the faculty at the university and concludes that the user education still is often separated and that the library seldom has a pedagogical policy to build their practice on. B�ge & Ekelund compare Christina Doyle's and Christine Bruce's definitions of information literacy. Doyle's cognitive and skill-oriented view is compered to Bruce's relational phenomenographical view.

These two views exist side by side in Sweden as well. The approach to information literacy at Chalmers library is skill-oriented � information literacy is seen as a competence that can be learned step-by-step. Karolinska Institute library has a written pedagogical platform which supports a phenomenographical view and is sceptical towards standardised information literacy skills. Information literacy is instead seen as a more holistic understanding of information and information retrieval, based on Bruce�s relational model for information literacy.

Basically we see two different philosophies of knowledge meeting. You can either look at information literacy as a skill (object) which a user (subject) can learn, or you can have a phenomenographical philosophy and believe that information literacy depends on the situation � who is searching for information and for what reason? The phenomenographical or relational view is not as easy to describe, define or standardise as the skill-view, but it seems to be the most frequently expressed view in the information literacy debate in Sweden today.

You can find a longer article about the different perspectives on information literacy in the article NORDINFOlit � ett nordiskt forum f�r samarbete inom omr�det informationskompetens (NORDINFOlit � a Nordic Forum for co-operation in the area of information literacy) by Nina Str�m, published in Tidskrift f�r Dokumentation (The Nordic Journal of Documenation), nr.2, vol.58, 2003, p. 49-54.

There is still work to do

Librarians argue about definitions and teachers are still unfamiliar with the concept. Meanwhile the importance of being information literate just expands. The explosion of information technology has given users direct access to an ocean of information. Increased availability puts increasing demands on the ability of students and researchers to search for, filter, and structure information. The term literacy has broadened. To be literate in an information society you have to be information literate. In response, the role of the research library must shift from being primarily an information resource to being an educational resource with a focus on teaching users information literacy in cooperation with teachers and integrated with educational programs.

There is obviously still work to do, so keep on working!