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What do the conceptions of geo/spatial information tell us about information literacy?

Maryam Nazari (Iranian Research Institute for Information Science and Technology (IranDoc), Tehran, Iran)
Sheila Webber (Department of Information Studies, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK)

Journal of Documentation

ISSN: 0022-0418

Article publication date: 8 March 2011




The purpose of this paper is to report findings from an investigation into the conceptions and characteristics of geo/spatial information (GI) to demonstrate how exploring academics and students' conceptions of GI facilitated illumination of information literacy (IL) in the Geographic Information Science/Systems (GIS) discipline.


Adopting an embedded exploratory case study, the data were gathered from semi‐structured interviews, an open‐ended questionnaire and students' reflection in an online distance learning (ODL) GIS programme. The data were analysed in light of the Grounded Theory approach. Drawing on the conceptions of GI which emerged from the study, this paper highlights several characteristics of GI and discusses their implications for IL. In particular, it compares the emergent IL competencies in the GIS discipline with those in the SCONUL model.


GI was identified as geo/spatial, temporal, geo/spatially contextualised, and geo/spatially technology‐mediated. According to these conceptions, GI is a constructive concept; it has multiple components which need various operations and user inputs to become geo/spatially meaningful and usable. These characteristics uncovered new aspects of IL in the GIS discipline which influence the depth and breadth of the SCONUL model.

Research limitations/implications

Unlike exploratory studies of IL which focus on the IL and IL competencies to explore this phenomenon, the methodological approach taken in this study provides IL researchers with a new approach whose primary focus is on the concept of information as a key contextual element of IL. This helps one to gain a deeper insight into IL in disciplinary areas.

Practical implications

The emergent aspects to the SCONUL model can be taken into consideration when designing and delivering IL programmes in the GIS discipline. Likewise, the emergent picture of IL in this study can be used by GIS educators to develop information‐literate GIS learners.


This study is original in terms of both its methodological approach and its outcomes. These can be of value to IL researchers, educators and practitioners.



Nazari, M. and Webber, S. (2011), "What do the conceptions of geo/spatial information tell us about information literacy?", Journal of Documentation, Vol. 67 No. 2, pp. 334-354.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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