Research Agenda Conversations: Lili Luo

Lili Luo

Dr. Lili Luo is an associate professor at the School of Information at San Jose State University. She received her Master’s in Information Management from Peking University in China and PhD in Information and Library Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her areas of research interest and expertise include reference and information services, consumer health information, and research methods. She has published actively and led grant projects in these areas. She is a lead instructor in the federally funded program “Institute for Research Design in Librarianship” that provides professional development for academic and research librarians to augment their research skills. Recently she has co-authored a book titled Enhancing Library and Information Research Skills: A Guide for Academic Librarians that aims to help librarians become more competent and confident practitioner-researchers.

1) In your opinion, has library information literacy instruction developed its own theoretical basis and methodologies? If not, should it?

Information literacy (IL) is an increasingly important area for both researchers and practitioners in library and information science. From the theoretical perspective, we have witnessed wide discussion of various pedagogical, information-seeking, and learning theories (e.g., constructivism, behaviorism) in the IL literature. A number of different models and frameworks have also emerged to illustrate/support/interpret the conceptual and practical process of IL, such as ACRL’s Framework; the Big 6 model developed by Eisenberg and Berkowitz (1990); The Seven Pillars model developed in the UK; the Six Frames model developed by Bruce, Edwards, and Lupton (2006); Tuominen, Savolainen, and Talja’s (2005) sociotechnical practice model; and Bloom’s taxonomy. Meanwhile, there have been inductive research efforts that could contribute to theory development, such as research on the relationship between self-reported information literacy levels and actual information literacy levels. Regarding methodologies, both quantitative and qualitative methods and research designs have been used in IL research, depending on the research purpose and needs. For instance, experimental or quasi-experimental research is often used to test the effectiveness of a certain IL instructional approach/tool. In the future, it would be great if there could be more systematic reviews of published literature on different aspects of IL so that the field can develop a strong repertoire of the variables, methods, and theories in IL research.

2) What for you are the most interesting current developments in library information literacy instruction research?

I’m a research methods geek, so in IL research what interests me most is the wide variety of research methods and research designs used in research studies. Whenever I read a published study, I always look for the part where the authors explain why they chose to use the method(s) and design(s) they did. I think it is important for us to understand how methodological choices are made and explicitly state that in our writing. As I mentioned earlier, I hope to see more content analysis or systematic reviews of IL literature, especially reviews or analyses that focus on methodologies in studies about different IL aspects (e.g., instruction/pedagogy, assessment). This would help provide a comprehensive methodological examination of IL research, and also help guide novice IL researchers to better understand how research methods are employed by different types of IL research.

3) In Enhancing Library and Information Research Skills: A Guide for Academic Librarians you discuss the importance of academic librarians performing primary research. What are some salient research areas you think academic librarians involved in instruction should be pursuing?

Librarians are practitioner-researchers. When describing the relationship between research and practice, Jarvis (1999) stated that research is now about “seeking, in a most rigorous manner, to understand and create efficient working practice,” and practitioner-researchers should undertake their own research to meet “the need for more information for use in decision making at the managerial level, the need to keep abreast of new knowledge and procedures in this information society, and the need for continuing education and upgraded qualifications” (ix, 7). So, as IL librarians pursue their research, the best area to consider is their actual practice. Ultimately, research should serve their practical needs – research needs to produce meaningful data to improve practice. If a librarian needs to better work with faculty to incorporate IL into their curriculum, he/she might conduct a study to identify how faculty members interpret IL concepts and understand its terminology. If a librarian tries to figure out the most effective way to deliver information literacy tutorials from several ideas, he/she can design a quasi-experimental study to test their effectiveness. Once librarians reap the practical benefits of conducting research, they will be more motivated to further pursue it and even make it part of their regular routine.

4) You published a content analysis of a decade’s worth of articles published in the Journal of Academic Librarianship, and you suggest your findings will contribute to the enhancement of research culture among academic librarians. How do you think we can best enhance research culture in our profession?

In order to enhance the research culture among academic librarians, we need to overcome the obstacles that prevent librarians from engaging in research: (1) lack of time, (2) unfamiliarity with the process of research, (3) lack of support, (4) lack of confidence, and (5) insufficient training in research methods. A supportive research culture within a library needs to address these barriers and create an environment conducive to research productivity. It is important for library administration to recognize the value of research and encourage research efforts so that research can become an integral part of librarians’ daily responsibilities. It is also beneficial to have a support structure that provides dedicated time and funding for research, and a research-friendly environment where they feel motivated and enthusiastic about research. Adequate research methods training is indispensable as well, without which librarians are unlikely to be familiar with the research process, and therefore unlikely to become confident and competent practitioner-researchers. Currently I’m involved in the Institute of Research Design for Librarianship (IRDL), a project supported by the Institute for Museum and Library Services, that provides continuing educational opportunities for academic librarians to improve their research skills. There should be more of such opportunities.

Last year my colleagues and I published a study about developing online communities for librarian researchers as a way to better motivate and sustain them in their research process. Librarians may draw ideas from it to form such online communities to stay connected and move each other forward in their research journey.

5) What advice would you give to librarians who are trying to formulate their own research agenda?

Recently I asked this question to some librarians who participated in IRDL and have been actively engaged in research, and from their answers I identified five key messages. I will share them here – each point is also illustrated with the librarians’ quotes.

  • Set aside time for research
    • “I block off 20% of my week for research and service. On those days, I’m not actually in the library. My usual agreement with my staff is that I will check email three times on work-from-home days: once in the morning, once at lunch, and once around 4pm.”
    • “I set appointments with myself in my calendar. The appointment shows in Outlook as “busy” so nobody tries to set an appointment on top of that existing one. I set aside two half-hour blocks each week to read articles.”
    • “The Pomodoro technique [] hands-down has made me more productive than anything else.”
  • Find a “support” person
    • “I’d say try to find a mentor, collaborator, or some other person for support. It’s hard to do research without someone there whom you can ask questions. Either in the library or in the social sciences on campus. I liaise with psychology, and some professors have been nice enough to be sounding boards for research projects.”
    • “Bouncing my ideas off people is very helpful in fleshing out my ideas, especially those in the area in which I want to publish (outside of librarianship).”
  • Connect research with job responsibilities
    • “If you are just getting started with research, I would suggest tying your research with job responsibilities – it will help you kill two birds with one stone.”
  • Divide and conquer
    • “I have a list of research things and divide it into two categories. The first is “things to do for my research that takes little to no brain power.” And the second list is “things to do that takes a lot of brain power.” I keep on schedule by making sure I’m doing something on either list.”
    • “I do a lot of reading on my phone and rough drafts on my phone so I always have something, even bullet points to work with.”
    • “Break down the tasks into tiny chunks, like having a folder of articles to read that you review between meetings.”
  • Keep yourself going
    • “I always try to make a note about what I was doing so that it is easy for me to dive back into it.”
    • “I have a white board in my office that tracks the status of different projects through the different phases. This reminds me of the things I’ve actually accomplished instead of just feeling antsy. It also helps others see what I’m already doing.”

6) Are there any publications you especially want us to include aside from those we’ve mentioned already?

I will recommend a few books on research process and research methods that librarians may find beneficial:

  • Babbie, Earl. 2013. The Practice of Social Research. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.
  • Bernard, Harvey Russell. 2012. Social Research Methods: Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.
  • Creswell, John, and J. David Creswell. 2017. Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.
  • de Vaus, David. 2001. Research Design in Social Research. London, UK: SAGE.
  • Kumar, Ranjit. 2014. Research Methodology: A Step-By-Step Guide for Beginners. London, UK: SAGE.

Selected Publications

Benedetti, Allison, John Jackson, and Lili Luo. Forthcoming. “Vignettes: Implications for LIS Research.” College & Research Libraries.

Luo, Lili. 2010. “Web 2.0 Integration in Information Literacy Instruction: An Overview.” The Journal of Academic Librarianship 36 (1): 32-40.

Luo, Lili, Marie Kennedy, and Kristine Brancolini. 2017. Enhancing Library and Information Research Skills: A Guide for Academic Librarians. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.

Luo, Lili, Marie Kennedy, Kristine Brancolini, and Michael Stephens. 2017. “Developing Online Communities for Librarian Researchers: A Case Study.” College & Research Libraries 78 (4): 512-526.

Luo, Lili, and Margaret McKinney. 2015. “JAL in the Past Decade: A Comprehensive Analysis of Academic Library Research.” Journal of Academic Librarianship 41 (2): 123-129.


Bruce, Christine, Sylvia Edwards, and Mandy Lupton. 2006. “Six Frames for Information Literacy Education: A Conceptual Framework for Interpreting the Relationships Between Theory and Practice.” Innovation in Teaching and Learning in Information and Computer Sciences 5 (1): 1-18.

Eisenberg, Michael, and Robert Berkowitz.1990.  Information Problem-Solving: The Big Six Skills Approach to Library & Information Skills Instruction. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger.

Jarvis, Peter. 1999. The Practitioner-Researcher Developing Theory from Practice. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 1999, xi, 7.

SCONUL Working Group on Information Literacy. 2011. The SCONUL Seven Pillars of Information Literacy: A Research Lens For Higher Education.

Tuominen, Kimmo, Reijo Savolainen, and Sanna Talja. 2005. “Information Literacy as a Sociotechnical Practice.” The Library Quarterly 75 (3): 329-345.

Read more ‘Conversations’

This entry was posted in news. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.