An Emerging Theory for Evidence Based Information Literacy Instruction in School Libraries, Part 2: Building a Culture of Enquiry

Carol A. Gordon


Objective – The purpose of this paper is to articulate a theory for the use of action research as a tool of evidence based practice for information literacy instruction in school libraries. The emerging theory is intended to capture the complex phenomenon of information skills teaching as it is embedded in school curricula. Such a theory is needed to support research on the integrated approach to teaching information skills and knowledge construction within the framework of inquiry learning. Part 1 of this paper, in the previous issue, built a foundation for emerging theory, which established user-centric information behavior and constructivist learning theory as the substantive theory behind evidence based library instruction in schools. Part 2 continues to build on the Information Search Process and Guided Inquiry as foundational to studying the information-to-knowledge connection and the concepts of help and intervention characteristic of 21st century school library instruction.

Methods – This paper examines the purpose and methodology of action research as a tool of evidence based instruction. This is accomplished through the explication of three components of theory-building: paradigm, substantive research, and metatheory. Evidence based practice is identified as the paradigm that contributes values and assumptions about school library instruction. It establishes the role of evidence in teaching and learning, linking theory and practice. Action research, as a tool of evidence based practice is defined as the synthesis of authentic learning, or performance-based assessment practices that continuously generate evidence throughout the inquiry unit of instruction and traditional data collection methods typically used in formal research. This paper adds social psychology theory from Lewin’s work, which contributes methodology from Gestalt psychology, field theory, group dynamics, and change theory. For Lewin the purpose of action research was social reform, while action research in education targeted self through the improvement of practice. The dichotomy between purposes of self and society is resolved by the Lewin-Dewey connection, where the reiterative cycle of action and reflection is the basis for a common intent for both types of action research. Dewey’s approach comprises the metatheory for emerging theory: a philosophy of purpose and methodology that determines how the research is done.

Results – The emerging theory developed in this paper postulates that evidence based information literacy instruction uses action research for two purposes. Self-oriented action research (AR(S1)) targets self-improvement on the local level of teaching and learning in school libraries; social-oriented action research (AR(S2)) targets social reform on the global level of educational improvement. Corollaries of the theory indicate a research agenda and methodologies for the research.

Conclusion – Implicit in the content of the research is methodology that evolves from the distinction between the purposes of self- and social-oriented action research. Clearly, evidence is generated in the field of teaching and learning that is situated in theory-based practices, such as user-centered information processing, constructivist learning, and a culture of inquiry that grows from social processes. Librarianship is well suited to developing practitioner-researchers who are proficient in making the information-to-knowledge connection that informs their professional performance.


Action research; participatory research; school libraries; evidence-based practice; information literacy instruction; reflective practice

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