Supporting caregivers in their search for information

Nicole DalmerLibrary and Information Science PhD candidate Nicole Dalmer has long been fascinated with the human brain as it ages.

As an undergraduate student in neurosciences, she studied neurodegenerative disorders, conducting a microscopic, quantitative examination of aging. As a Master of Library and Information Science student, she used a macroscopic, qualitative lens to approaching and understanding aging.

Now working on her doctorate, Dalmer’s dissertation research strives to understand the intersection between information work and eldercare.

“Information work is one dimension of care work and includes, but is not limited to the seeking, management, evaluating, creating or sharing of information,” says Dalmer. “It might include looking up information about the side effect of a new drug that the care recipient is taking or it might be managing information about different long term care facility options or it could be sharing (and translating) information from a doctor’s visit with other family members.”

She hopes to uncover why the labour-intensive nature of using, managing, and sharing information that family caregivers of older adults living with dementia do is often invisible and poorly supported and studied. Dalmer aims to map how different institutions related to policy and discourse on “aging in place” (the ability to live at home for as long as possible) might contribute to this invisibility.

“While I was initially interested in examining how older adults assess the reliability of health information they found online, after some reading I realized what piqued my interest were the complex information activities in using information on behalf of someone else – in particular, family of caregivers of older adults,” says Dalmer. “I found the concept of caregivers’ needing, searching for, using, and sharing information that is for them, but necesarily not about them, quite intriguing.”

In her third year of studies at the Faculty of Information & Media Studies, Dalmer has been given more time to tackle her dissertation research after receiving a Joseph-Armand Bombardier CGS Doctoral Scholarship from SSHRC, valued at $35,000 per year for 36 months. With this award Dalmer is eligible to receive the Michael Smith Foreign Study Supplement, which provides additional funding to travel to and collaborate with research institutions outside of Canada. She plans to apply for this supplement in order to attend LIS schools in Sweden and Norway, where she will share her own research, participate in doctoral workshops, and take part in some research projects.

Out of the 430 Bombardier scholarship recipients in the 2015-16 award year, Dalmer is one of only two PhD students in library and information science to receive the scholarship, which left her stunned. “I’m still a bit mystified that only two research projects undertaken by Canadian doctoral students in LIS were awarded – this may be evidence that the importance of LIS research is still not fully understood by those outside our area of research, or perhaps we have more work to do to be able to translate and describe the research we do.”

As she delves into her research, Dalmer ponders the role LIS plays in caregiving and information work. “How can we, in LIS, best support both an increasing number of older adults living in the community who may be without the assistance or support they need and those caregivers providing care? And more specifically, why don’t we, in LIS, seem to talk about or qualify all the information activities that caregivers do when using information as work? What might be the impact of using different words to talk about how caregivers use information?”

In addition to her PhD research, Dalmer is working with FIMS Professor Heather Hill and LIS PhD student Claire Burrows on the creation of an online, open-access platform with posted contributions on the topic of aging and disability and its intersections. The platform will offer a publishing function that is in a state between a blog post and journal article and aims to develop and expand the role of students in the academic publishing sphere. The project is being supported by a Student Local Interdisciplinary Network (LINK) Seed Grant in Aging from the Canadian Association of Gerontology, awarded to Dalmer at the association’s annual conference in the fall of 2015.

“This site has the fantastic opportunity to serve as a foray into academic writing for students at any stage in their educational and scholarly career,” Dalmer says. “This site aims for contributions from students, faculty, members of the community, practitioners, etc. that are reflective of the unique and diverse perspectives that may be underrepresented in aging and/or disability-related resources and media, as well as those that exist between the more industry-driven journalistic views and more traditional academic positions.”

Dalmer says she has been fortunate in her time at FIMS to be able to work with a number of faculty members and students from each of the programs in the faculty. “In working with a number of faculty members, as a TA, RA, or in casual conversations over coffee, I’m continually impressed with and struck by their desire to ensure my learning and my academic success. This is especially so with my supervisor, Dr. Pam McKenzie. I’ve observed an increasingly collaborative environment amongst doctoral students, spanning programs, which is allowing for exciting and enriching conversations and the sharing of perspectives and experiences.”