Research Agenda Conversations: Nicole Cooke

Nicole Cooke

Dr. Nicole A. Cooke is an Assistant Professor at the School of Information Sciences, at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, where she is also the Program Director for the MS in Library and Information Science program. Dr. Cooke is a 2012 graduate from Rutgers University with a PhD in communication, information, and library studies. She holds the MLS degree from Rutgers University, and a M.Ed. in Adult Education from Pennsylvania State University.

Dr. Cooke’s research and teaching interests include human information behavior (particularly in the online context), critical cultural information studies, and diversity and social justice in librarianship (with an emphasis on infusing them into LIS education and pedagogy).

Dr. Cooke was awarded the 2017 ALA Achievement in Library Diversity Research Award, presented by the Office for Diversity and Literacy Outreach Services, and the 2016 ALA Equality Award.  She has also been honored as the University of Illinois YWCA’s 2015 Leadership Award in Education winner in recognition of her work in social justice and higher education, and she was selected as the University’s 2016 Larine Y. Cowan Make a Difference Award for Teaching and Mentoring in Diversity. She was also named a Mover & Shaker by Library Journal in 2007.

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

My primary research area is information behavior (the individual, community, and socio-political processes by which people need, seek, and use information), and I consider information literacy and its instruction (ILI) to be a dimension of this area. Looking at information literacy instruction from this vantage point, I would say no, ILI has not developed a singular theoretical perspective or set of methodologies (nor has the larger domain of information behavior). That can be considered a pro and also a con. On the “pro” side, ILI encompasses so many variables and characteristics, it can be a benefit to have multiple theories and methods at our disposal, including those we borrow from other disciplines such as education and psychology. On the “con” side, the sometimes disparate repertoire of theories and methods can hinder us from taking a definitive stance about what we know and how we want to convey that knowledge to those outside of LIS. For example, ILI is still not widely known outside of the field; however, if we reference “critical thinking” others have a better sense of what we do and what we study. I think there is value in solidifying what we do theoretically and methodologically, in a way that preserves the richness of our field, but is better understood outside of LIS.

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

The rapid rise of the “fake news” phenomenon has been curious to me and also very exciting. I have been so busy with this topic since the November 2016 presidential election. The statement I hear often is, “I didn’t know librarians dealt with fake news.” And my response is, “Librarians have been teaching information literacy for decades. This is nothing new!” This is a great opportunity for instruction librarians to work with patrons and students at a different level and interact with them around a hot topic. This work also gives us a chance to spruce up our instruction practices and techniques and give the public a better sense of the important work we do every day.

I have an ALA monograph coming out on this topic (Fake News and Alternative Facts: Information Literacy in a Post-Truth Era, ALA Editions, forthcoming), and I’m working on a book entitled Misinformation Behavior: Reclaiming Critical Thinking in an Age of Alternative Facts and Anti-Intellectualism. I’m having a lot of fun with this topic, and I think it’s one librarians will continue to discuss and teach, even if “fake news” reemerges with a new moniker.

3) What is the single most important (or effective) thing librarians can do to better serve diverse populations

It’s hard to limit this to one thing, but I would say that having empathy is the most important and effective thing librarians can do to better serve diverse populations. We should be serving  diverse populations because we want to,not because we have to, or think that it’s the trendy thing to do. We should be able to appreciate others’ experiences and information needs because we value their humanity, respect their knowledge and culture, and truly want to make a connection with them.   

Two quotes come to mind here (and these are quotes I use in my writing and presentations):

“Go where you are celebratednot tolerated.” Author unknown

It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” Audre Lorde

It is empathy that allows us to celebrate those who are different from us.

4) You have discussed using reading groups to create “space for scholarly conversations about race, power, and privilege.” Do you have any suggestions for those who would like to start such reading groups in their libraries? Are there any titles you would especially recommend for librarians involved in instruction?

Start slow, be consistent, and allow ample time for people to get on board, or not. And if they don’t get on board right away, that’s ok. These are hard topics to address, especially as an extracurricular activity. There should also be guidelines or “rules of engagement” set up in advance to help ensure that these discussions are productive; discussions about race, power, and privilege should address institutional systems and behaviors, and not be used as opportunities to attack individuals. To prepare for such scholarly conversations, I would recommend two titles:

Ahmed, Sara. 2012. On Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.


Sue, Derald Wing. 2016. Race Talk and the Conspiracy of Silence: Understanding and Facilitating Difficult Dialogues on Race. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons.

Outside of these, I would also recommend just about the entire catalog at Library Juice Press. They do diversity and social justice very well, and there are several volumes devoted to instruction and critical information literacy. My favorites are Teaching for Justice: Implementing Social Justice in the LIS Classroom (which I co-edited) and Feminist Pedagogy for Library Instruction by Maria Accardi..

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

Research things that really interest you, topics that you love. There are always going to be hot topics that we think we should research and address in some way, but as we all know, research can be challenging, and the publication process even harder. If we are working on a topic that does not bring us joy, and/or something we’re just truly not interested in, it will be more arduous to work through the entire process.

My Information Services to Diverse Populations book was a two-year process. The “GSLS Carnegie Scholars” article was also a two-year process, during which time the manuscript was rejected by multiple journals. If I did not think my topics were worthy, and if I did not love my subject matter, I may have been tempted to give up and forgo publication.

With that said, I would also say:

  1. Don’t jump on research bandwagons. (For example, embarking on a study about big data or diversity if those are not your areas just because those are the topics currently being funded.)
  2. Be flexible with your research. (Give yourself enough time and have a “Plan B” if your original plans do not come to fruition).
  3. Don’t be afraid to be creative with your topic(s) of study. (Can you use a theory or method that’s not been previously considered in the area? Can you investigate a lesser known, but perhaps more intriguing, dimension of the phenomenon of interest?)

Selected Publications

Cooke, Nicole A. 2010. “Becoming an Andragogical Librarian: Using Library Instruction as a Tool to Combat Library Anxiety and Empower Adult Learners.” New Review of Academic Librarianship 16 (2): 208-227.

Cooke, Nicole A. 2016. Information Services to Diverse Populations: Developing Culturally Competent Library Professionals. ABC-CLIO.

Cooke, Nicole A. 2017.  “The GSLS Carnegie Scholars: Guests in Someone Else’s House.” Libraries: Culture, History, and Society 1 (1), no. 1 (2017): 46-71.

Cooke, Nicole A., Miriam E. Sweeney, and Safiya Umoja Noble. 2016. “Social Justice as Topic and Tool: An Attempt to Transform an LIS Curriculum and Culture.” Library Quarterly 86 (1): 107-124.

Cooke, Nicole A., and Jeffrey Teichmann. 2012. Instructional Strategies and Techniques for Information Professionals. Amsterdam, Netherlands: Elsevier.

Recent Work on Fake News

Cooke, Nicole A.  2017. “Post-truth: Fake News and a New Era of Information Literacy.” Invited webinar for Programming Librarian, American Library Association, Public Programs Office, February 22, 2017.

Cooke, Nicole A. 2017. “Post-truth, Truthiness, and Alternative Facts: Information Behavior and Critical Information Consumption for a New Age.” Library Quarterly: Information, Community, Policy 87 (3): 211-221.

Cooke, Nicole A. 2017. “Tackling Fake News.” Invited webinar for American Libraries Live, American Library Association, November 1,  2017.

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