PhD Studentship: Mental models of the organisation of scholarly information across the academy.

  • PhD Title: Mental models of the organisation of scholarly information across the academy: disciplinary similarities and differences.
  • Funding body: AHRC
  • Deadline for applications: 21 May 2021
  • Interview date: 28 May 2021
  • Start date of the PhD: 1 October 2021
  • Duration: 42 months

The University of Glasgow and the Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford are seeking a doctoral student for an AHRC-funded Collaborative Doctoral Award, with the Scottish Graduate School for Arts and Humanities (SGSAH). The successful candidate will work with the University of Glasgow and The Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford. The supervisors will be Dr. Paul Gooding (Information Studies), Prof. Lorna Hughes (Information Studies), and Dr. Frankie Wilson (Bodleian Libraries).

The studentship will commence on 1st October 2021, and the successful student will be based in Information Studies at the University of Glasgow. There will be the opportunity a paid internship at the Bodleian Libraries, to be determined in collaboration with the student. The award will include a number of training opportunities offered via SGSAH, and their development will be supported by a £500 p/a mobility allowance provided by the Bodleian Libraries.

This is a fantastic opportunity to work with two leading organisations in the Library and Information sector, and we expect it to appeal to suitably qualified candidates with a postgraduate degree in Library and Information Science, or cognate disciplines. Applications from current library practitioners are particularly welcome. The successful student will benefit from the opportunity to work on a timely and impactful study that will directly inform research and implementation of a cross-collection search and discovery tool at the Bodleian Libraries, and to influence future debates into the practical and cultural concerns around library discovery in the digital age. Students will be encouraged to develop their own approach to the topic, which may include questions around the decolonisation of library search, gender bias in the use of scholarly resources, and the development of methodological and critical frameworks for future research into library discovery systems.


This studentship aims to develop understanding of the cultural and organisational differences that inform library resource discovery for academic disciplines. It addresses the following key research questions:

  • How do researchers’ mental models of the organisation of existing knowledge in their field vary across disciplines?
  • How does this impact upon their approach to discovering collection items?
  • How might this knowledge inform the development of library search and discovery interfaces?


In 2004, Google Scholar fundamentally changed the way scholarly literature was discovered, by providing a search engine that indexed the full text and metadata of academic journals, books, conference papers, theses, pre-prints, technical reports and patents across every discipline. Before this, library users needed to search multiple subject- or typological-based abstracting indexes or full text databases; and libraries devoted resources to helping them navigate complex specialised search interfaces.

Mirroring Karen Coyle’s (2017) observation that 21st century libraries, traditionally innovators in organisation technology, have fallen behind private sector technology innovation, libraries and their software suppliers scrambled to catch up and provide ‘single search box’ solutions. Without Google’s resources, solutions relied upon developing a resource discovery layer to cover their diverse collections. As a result, libraries generally provide a single interface that searches across multiple databases in a simplified and accessible manner. Overall, this development has been welcomed, with increased simplicity making things easier for users and no longer necessitating dedicated training sessions to familiarises users with various interfaces.

However, the removal of complexity also removes nuance, risking a mistaken assumption that search and discovery behaviour is universal. Research on information search and retrieval has focused on three areas of individual differences where this does not hold true: differences in user expectations of what should be returned via library search algorithms and what is actually returned; differences between the information seeking behaviour of ‘digital natives’ and ‘digital immigrants’, and the subsequent problematisation of these categories; and individual preferences for interface design. The impact of this research has influenced the design of library discovery tools offered by library software suppliers.

However there is a gap in our understanding of how academic disciplines influence users’ mental models for knowledge organisation; their expectations of how a library discovery system should work. This understanding of disciplinary difference in expectations for online search is vital to developing more effective library discovery systems. Furthermore, while existing research concentrates on an artificial divide between “physical” and “digital” library resources, this distinction is often not made by searchers exploring literature in their field. As unique items such as digitised special collections are increasingly made available for cross-searching via standards such as the International Image Interoperability Framework, it is also necessary to consider how users approach discovering diverse typologies of information resources via a single online interface.

These observations form the basis for this project, which aims to develop our understanding of how users’ mental models of library search and organisation are influenced by their disciplinary background:

  • To produce case studies of the disciplinary practices of researchers at the University of Oxford and University of Glasgow.
  • To re-establish a holistic view of collection, in order to address a stratification in the literature between usage of physical and digital information resources.
  • To deliver an analysis of the search interface preferences of scholarly researchers that focuses upon disciplinary differences in cultural organisation structures of knowledge.
  • To develop a set of good practice recommendations for implementing support for alternative disciplinary practices into library software development.


From the academic year 2021/22, the AHRC via SGSAH is offering awards to PhD researchers from the world (UK, the EU and International). All funded PhD students, whether UK or international will be eligible for a full award – both a stipend to support living costs, and fees at the HEI’s UK rate.

To be classed as a home student, candidates must meet the following criteria:

  • Be a UK National (meeting residency requirements), or
  • Have settled status, or
  • Have pre-settled status (meeting residency requirements), or
  • Have indefinite leave to remain or enter

If a candidate does not meet the criteria above, they would be classed as an international student, and required to fund the difference between UK and international fees.

UK National Residency Requirements:

A UK national may have spent an extended period living outside the UK, either for study or employment, and still be eligible for home fee status. Candidates in those circumstances are required to show that they have maintained a relevant connection with their home country and therefore claim that the absence was temporary. ‘Temporary’ does not depend solely on the length of absence.
To be eligible you will also need to have been accepted onto the PhD programme via University of Glasgow Admissions.

Eligible qualifications:

  • At least an Upper Second-Class Honours degree (2:1);
  • 1st class / Distinction / Merit expected or earned in Master’s Degree;
  • For non-native English speakers, test scores meeting the requirements for the College of Arts;
  • Degree from a CILIP or ARA-accredited programme, cognate discipline, or relevant vocational experience, preferred.


  • Scholarship funded for 3 years and 6 months (42 months full time).
  • Open to candidates from the world (UK, EU, and International).
  • Fully funded PhD studentship with a stipend of around £15,560 per annum plus fees at UKRI rate.

How to apply – Application process and deadline

Further information

If you have any questions, please email Dr. Paul Gooding:

First published: 3 May 2021

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