Mark Hepworth, 1955-2016

A researcher who transformed our understanding of how people experience and relate to information has died

January 26, 2017

Mark Hepworth was born in Uganda on 13 August 1955 and educated at the Waterford Kamhlaba School in Swaziland before studying social anthropology and African history at Soas, University of London.

In 1981 while visiting a UN documentation centre run by his father in Java, he came across a research article about the information needs of social workers. This spurred him to do a MSc in information studies at the University of Sheffield.

After finishing at Sheffield, Professor Hepworth worked in industry. He ran Datasolve’s customer support centre, tailoring training to different customers’ information needs, and later became a product development manager, leading the development of an early graphical user interface.

Yet he returned to the academy in 1993 to help set up a new master’s programme in information systems at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, before moving on to Loughborough University in 1999. He rose to the position of professor of people’s information behaviour before ill health forced him to retire and become emeritus in mid-2016.

As a researcher, Professor Hepworth focused on how many different kinds of people – students, informal carers and those suffering from multiple sclerosis – interact with and use information to enable them to achieve their objectives.

He also supervised a wide range of PhDs addressing issues such the information experience of children with parents who have cancer; the information behaviour of female researchers in Saudi Arabia; the information literacy of doctors in Nigeria; the developmental impact of mobile phones in rural Congo; and the use of maternal health resources in rural Tanzania.

More recently, Professor Hepworth instigated a three-year, multimillion-pound project known as AURA (African Universities’ Research Approaches) in collaboration with the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex and the Information Training and Outreach Centre for Africa. Funded by the Department for International Development, this began in 2015 with the aim of developing effective institutional strategies for strengthening research capacity among staff and students in sub-Saharan African universities.

After he retired last year, a funded studentship was set up in Professor Hepworth’s name at Loughborough’s School of Business and Economics to build on his achievements in the field of information literacy and its importance in combating social exclusion, particularly in the developing world.

He died of motor neurone disease on 21 December 2016 and is survived by his wife Joan, a son and a daughter.

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