Reachable information - the key to integration

Annemaree Lloyd is the professor who travelled from the other side of the earth to work at the University of Borås, where she spends her time doing ground-breaking research in the field of library and information science. Her driving force is to find insights and knowledge in how information can promote the integration of immigrants in society.

Spring has come to the university. The sun breaks through light clouds, the temperature rises, and many students choose to have their morning coffee outside. Annemaree Lloyd, professor of library and information science, meets me at the Textile Fashion Center with the sun in her eyes.

Facts about Annemaree Lloyd

Occupation: Professor in the Swedish School of Library and Information Science at the University of Borås.
Driving force: Study how people in different contexts take in and absorb information.
Residence: Borås, Sweden, and Wagga Wagga, Australia.
Family: Husband and three grownup children.
Favourite book: Cloudstreet by Tim Winton.
Favourite movie: Love Actually.
Favourite place in Sweden: By the sea.
Favourite place in the world: Where my husband is.

“Sweden is so beautiful these days. I long for being outside, tending my garden”, she says with a smile.

The garden she is referring to is on the other side of the globe, in Wagga Wagga, Australia, where she also has her family and her home. But since 17 months, Annemaree also lives in Borås. There she focuses on researching how immigrants take in information and navigate in their new home country, as well as the role public libraries play for integration.

“In addition to my research in Borås, I am involved in several projects, travel a lot and talk to many different people. Integration and refugee issues are highly relevant topics right now, so we are right on time”, she says.

We have chosen a café for our interview, and Annemaree orders a cup of black tea and sits down at a window table. She states that all this “fika” is the biggest difference between her Australian background and her new Swedish everyday life.

“I really like Sweden, and the University of Borås is an extremely dynamic environment to be in. It is very exciting to be part of a university that is constantly developing and growing. I really like it here and I intend to stay as long as there is fuel for my research and it continues to feel challenging and interesting to stay. The university has a very good reputation internationally, which is the reason I chose to come here. There is a clear vision of the future here, which is very promising.”

Annemaree Lloyd has a background in sociology and archaeology and has always been interested in relationships between people and how they take in information in different contexts. Previously, Annemaree studied how different professions, such as firefighters, nurses, and ambulance staff, learn their professions.

“All of my research stems from the same foundation, which is how you take in and find relevant information. But the most important thing for me is to take into account that all information is not necessarily conveyed in writing. It can also be body language. This is why it is important not only to read but also to view and listen to information.

For those refugees who neither speak Swedish nor English, body language is often crucial as an alternative way to communicate and make yourself understood.

“I am also an immigrant and have long found it interesting to see how we learn and discover a new country as well as to study new experiences in new contexts and see how different people ‘click’ with each other. In order to integrate, you have to use the whole information spectrum. Body language conveys different messages in different cultures and also tells a lot about societal structures.”

The growth of the digital environment has changed my research. 

Today, there are
several studies on refugees, and information specifically directed to that group is frequently created, but this is the first time that someone is researching where this group finds their information and how they relate to it.

“I started my research on the subject in Australia and have continued since I came here. Many people from different countries have been involved in the research process. We know that the need for collecting information is huge for those who come to a new society, and also that it is a complex process. There is no overview or overall picture that in fact is true”, Annemaree says and adds that one of the greatest challenges ahead is to find ways to quality assure information.

“We live in a very information-rich society and are fed with a lot of information in our daily lives. It is not always easy to know which sources are reliable. The information directed at refugees does not always come through and parts of what is spread are false, which makes it difficult to understand which information is true and relevant, and which instances you can trust.

As a result of the dense stream of refugees, many people have chosen to engage themselves, for example by creating their own information material, forming groups in social media, or opening language cafes. Annemaree sees it as a positive thing with all these sorts of efforts but also stresses that there may be problems when information is channelled through multiple instances and become secondary information.

“Above all, this makes it difficult to know which digital sources to trust. The growth of the digital environment has changed my research and has become more important to my study”, Annemaree points out.

Facts about SpIRIT

The project SpIRIT (Supporting Information Practices in Refugees in Transition) consists of the researchers Annemaree Lloyd, professor; Frances Hultgren, senior lecturer; Ola Pilerot, senior lecturer; Gustaf Nelhans, senior lecturer; Ameera Mansour, doctoral student; and Amanda Glimstedt, university lecturer.

The purpose of the project, starting in 2016, is to answer questions about how refugees adapt to a new culture and find the information needed to establish in a foreign society. This was a previously unexplored subject that the University of Borås was the first to study.

The project SpIRIT (Supporting Information Practices in Refugees in Transition) is a research programme that comprises several studies, with Annemaree Lloyd as the research leader. Together with her colleagues, Annemaree has interviewed refugees who have been in Sweden for different periods, ranging from three months up to two years.

“We have come into contact with them via municipalities and libraries. They are of different age and come from different countries. This is a qualitative study, so the method was in-depth interviews and focus groups. We thought it was more important to really listen to them and try to understand them, instead of meeting as many people as possible. We have conducted the interviews in their own languages, and we have also asked them to bring photos of important places as well as documentation of the sources of information they use in order to seek answers to their questions.

What results have you found so far?

“We have identified which information needs the highest priority, and that is information about finding a place to live, finding a job and something to do, getting an education, and getting a permanent employment. Then comes information about how to learn Swedish and how the Swedish health care system works. Something else that is very important for those who come here as refugees is to stay in touch with their friends and families, and here mobile phones are very important. Besides making calls, the mobile phone is important for saving information, taking pictures, and for translations.

SpIRIT also includes a study of librarians’ work with and for refugees, with theory, ideology and interest-driven starting points. This study is about how public libraries work with and for immigrants. It has turned out that many public libraries are active and committed in this area, but their efforts vary greatly.

“Libraries are important to refugees in more than one way. They are safe spots where you can learn and meet new people without anyone judging you. Public libraries are central to all societies, and if you need to use the Internet you can go there. We have also learnt that many young people use libraries in order to help older people with information.”

Many refugees have traumatic experiences in their emotional luggage and need to process their escape before they are able and willing to take in the information needed to integrate. Learning a new language in country where you do not even know if you can stay is a high demand. Many people have trouble focusing on anything else than waiting for a residence permit. Here is an important challenge, Annemaree says.

“We need to find ways to meet people who need to learn a new language while being integrated into a new information landscape. They need to reconstruct a new information system in a completely new country. But first of all, they need to understand the new social constructs and find their role in the new society. At the same time, they need to communicate with different governments and understand how they work. There is an incredibly lot of information to take in at the same time. These people have escaped, which is why it is so important that they are not stressed into their new society, because if so, there is a risk that they learn from incorrect information.”

These people have escaped, which is why it is so important that they are not stressed into their new society.

For native Swedes, public libraries are a natural part of society. Even if they do not visit them frequently, native Swedes are aware of their function and what they offer. But for refugees, it is not always easy to know that this is the place to go in order to find literature, relevant information, or newspapers in their own language.

“We are very interested in expanding this study and cooperate with municipalities and libraries. It is our responsibility to find better ways to inform and help this group integrate in society by finding good platforms where they can meet and create useful language and study programmes. Here, we need to start from studies that tell us what they need. There is no use creating programmes that nobody wants to use”, Annemaree says.

The studies conducted so far have been well received, and both colleagues from other Swedish higher education institutions as well as international dittos have shown interest. Annemaree and her team are planning for future cooperation across national borders, for example with workshops in Great Britain.

“Our vision is to provide higher education institutions in other countries with tools so that they can conduct similar studies on their own by sharing our method and technique. At the same time, we also need to find financiers and make these studies on a larger scale. It is important to me in my research to understand the experience of different social platforms. Libraries are one area but there are many more where you can study the same phenomenon, for example workplaces.”

What do you think about the future in your field of research?

“Information is one of the most critical resources in the 21st century. Information researchers and professional librarians are working to help people understand how to access, absorb, use, structure, and preserve information. This means that libraries will play an incredibly important role in the future, when society will consist of a lot of people from different backgrounds. This will in fact be crucial from education, information and literary perspectives.

 Libraries will play an incredibly important role in the future.

During this interview
, Annemaree’s mobile phone has beeped a few times. She apologises and reads the messages that have come in. She explains that her husband needs a bit of day-to-day consultation and adds that she now “controls the gardening via Skype”, which she describes as an “interesting way to use modern information technology”.

“I travel a lot and I am involved in many different projects. I am only back in Australia during holidays. This is by the way one advantage to communication technologies: You can work where ever you are; it does not matter where you are. But there are of course both advantages and disadvantages to this, as with all sorts of information transferring.

Sun breaks through the window. Annemaree has finished her tea. Before we finish, I ask her what she does when she does not do research.

“I like reading, walking, and listening to music, preferably live. I like going to the opera. They have an amazing opera house in Gothenburg. Then I try to learn as much about Sweden as I can by travelling around. I have been to Torpa Stenhus and I have been to the coast and swam in the sea, which was very cold. And yes, I always check out the libraries in all new cities I come to.”

Read more about Annemaree Lloyd.

Read more about Library- and information science.

Text: Gabriella Fäldt
Photo: Anna Sigge