...recognize the social, cultural and economic dimensions of information use
Meaning and Importance of Competency
Information has existed since the beginning of time, and yet in today’s world, information has taken on a greater significance than at perhaps any other time in history. We live in what has been called the “Information Age.” Information comes in many forms, from DNA, software programs, and legal codes to books, articles, and websites. One of the fundamental roles of libraries is to provide information to their users. However, the information that is needed or wanted by any particular person or group of people, and the way that information is used, can vary based on many factors, from socioeconomic background, age, or religion to national or ethnic origin, cognitive ability, or political persuasion. The production, publication, and distribution of information are also influenced by various social, cultural, and economic forces; for example, research within a non-profit organization may be made possible only by funding from outside sources, or a magazine owned by a for-profit corporation may present only those viewpoints that align with its corporate interests.
Social, cultural, and economic forces affect all of us in complex and interrelated ways. As individuals, we attempt to navigate through the web of information that permeates our environment in ways that are shaped and molded by the environment itself. Certain shared traits, such as age, education level, nationality, ethnicity, socioeconomic standing, religion, and values, become the basis for grouping people into different categories: children, teens, adults, seniors, college graduates, Americans, Latinos, refugees, the poor, the rich, homeowners, renters, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists, Democrats, Republicans, pro-lifers, pro-choicers, and so forth. In many situations, knowing which groups an individual belongs to can allow librarians and information professionals to provide better service; for example, when providing chat reference service, knowing whether the patron’s age is 13 or 30 can make a big difference in the sources that we recommend. At the same time, while each person belongs to myriad groups, we are all unique individuals and vary quite distinctly from others even within the same groups. This makes it difficult to predict exactly how any given individual will seek, find, and use information. As library and information professionals, we are skilled in instructing, communicating, and collaborating with people from all walks of life.
The social dimensions of information use are a hot topic in today’s discourse. With the rise of online social networks and the social Web, new ways of connecting, learning, communicating, and collaborating are becoming widespread. Whereas communities used to be defined largely by geographic boundaries, now, on the Internet, they have transcended the limits of space to stretch across the globe. With a couple of clicks of a mouse, an image, video, blog post or tweet can be instantly shared on the open Web. The way that we share information has changed. Instant notifications of new content and communications being pushed out by people in our networks are constantly available to us via our computers and smart phones. Social media can even play an important role in response to natural disasters, such as the 2010 earthquake that struck the Canterbury region in the South Island of New Zealand (Dabner, 2011), or in the organization of political protests, such as those which took place in Iran after the June 2009 presidential election (Burns and Eltham, 2009). As social media and online social networking become more ubiquitous, they influence the ways in which libraries serve their users and in which library users access, use, and share information.
Cultural forces can also play a significant role in the information use of different groups of people. Most communities in the U.S. today have populations of immigrants or refugees. These communities are likely to have unique information needs, ranging from ESL materials and materials in other languages to information on immigration, citizenship, and naturalization. The children of immigrants may have special information needs of their own, from bilingual story times for young children to information on college scholarships and grants for teens. Other cultural influences on information use include religious and political affiliations, varying levels of appreciation for the arts, and trends in popular culture. Cultural differences within a community can lead to censorship challenges over materials deemed inappropriate or increased demand for certain materials (such as Russian romance novels or the latest Twilight film on DVD). By taking the time to get to know the different cultures within our communities, as library and information professionals, we can provide services that are responsive and relevant.
Information use can also be strongly influenced by economics. Communities lacking in economic resources may be much more dependent upon libraries for access to basic technologies and instruction than wealthier communities. Without access to the newest technologies, poor people may be shut out of the virtual communities and online social networks that have become so ubiquitous. Libraries have become the sole source of access to information and communication technologies for many people. The ability to provide basic instruction in the use of computers and other technologies has become increasingly important among today’s library workers, particularly those working in public and school libraries. In times of high unemployment, more people may rely upon the library for access to job resources such as skills workshops, resume writing books, and computers to use to apply for jobs online. They may also turn to the library to fulfill their recreation and entertainment needs as they cut spending in those areas. Another economic factor impacting information use is the funding of the library itself. When library budgets are cut, patrons’ access to library materials may be restricted as a result of reduced staff, reduced open hours, and limits on the number of items that can be checked out at one time. On the flip side, wealthy communities may generate more tax revenues for libraries, leading to more robust collections and services.
Preparation and Evidence
To demonstrate my recognition of the social, cultural and economic dimensions of information use, I present three assignments that I completed for courses in the online School of Library and Information Science (SLIS) at San Jose State University (SJSU). My first piece of evidence is a strategic plan to which I contributed for a team project in LIBR 204, Information Organizations and Management, in which my team proposes two programs of outreach to specific populations in two different library settings, public and academic. Both proposals aim to better understand and meet the information needs of the target populations and to involve them in the process of planning, implementing, and evaluating the new services. My second piece of evidence, entitled “Analysis and Evaluation of the Collins Memorial Library Collection,” is a paper I wrote for LIBR 266, Collection Management, in which I analyze the collection of the academic library at the University of Puget Sound and how it meets the needs of the campus community. My analysis includes consideration of the demographics of the library’s user population. My third piece of evidence is a selection assignment I completed for the same course, Collection Management, in which, based on community analysis and information usage patterns, I select print materials for a branch of the San Jose Public Library on a $500 budget.
First Piece of Evidence: Team Project, Strategic/Tactical Plan for Outreach Projects to Target Customer Groups, LIBR 204
In Spring 2010, I took the course “Information Organizations and Management,” taught by Brian Reynolds, Director of the San Luis Obispo City-County Library in California. The major assignment of the course was a team project in which we collaborated with several classmates on the development of two programs of outreach, presented in the form of a strategic plan, to specific populations of library users. The user populations were identified based on shared social, cultural, and economic characteristics, such as native language, age, education level, economic constraints, and lifestyle. The team project was the culminating assignment in a series of three interrelated and phased assignments, the first two phases of which were completed independently.
The assignments began by having students take on the role of the mid-manager of a library who conceives of a short- to medium-term project to dramatically improve customer service and make customers more supportive of the library. Customers could be existing or potential users, such as a customer group or niche for outreach. In Phase 1, students created a 1-2 page plan which included a brief vision statement, 1-3 goals, 1-2 objectives per goal, an evaluation component, and a brief statement of constraints and challenges. In Phase 2, students built upon the work done in Phase 1 to create a more comprehensive plan. In Phase 3, students were assigned to teams and given the task of selecting two of the strategic plans from among those created by all team members in the first two phases and developing them into fully formed, concise, clear proposals, including detailed project budgets.
For Phases 1 and 2, I developed a plan for a program of outreach by staff at a fictitious branch of The Seattle Public Library to the Latino/Spanish-speaking community in the Eastlake neighborhood of Seattle. My plan included the development and implementation of a weekly ESL conversation hour in conjunction with a children’s Spanish/English story time. For Phase 3, the instructor named me team leader of a group of six students. Together, our team selected two plans to develop, including both mine and another student’s plan. Her plan for the Lewis & Clark Law Library sought to better understand and meet the information needs of the three law review organizations that use the library, which is part of the law school at Lewis & Clark College in Oregon.
As our team worked to develop the two proposals using collaboration tools such as Google Docs and Elluminate, we fleshed out many aspects of our plans, including our attention to social, cultural, and economic factors influencing the use of information by our two target populations, Latino/Spanish-speaking Seattle residents and busy, cash-strapped law students at Lewis & Clark College. In the Eastlake outreach project, recognizing that “one of the biggest obstacles to patron participation in outreach efforts can be childcare issues” (an economic constraint), we propose that “the adult ESL conversation hour and children's Spanish/English story time will be held concurrently, and childcare will be provided.” The very services that we propose stem from a recognition of the social, cultural, and economic factors—such as native language, immigrant status, the impact of immigration upon younger generations within communities, and family values—that influence the information needs and usage of individuals.
In the Lewis & Clark outreach project, by offering incentives such as gift certificates, food, and refreshments, our team recognizes that economic factors can influence participation in research projects such as surveys and focus groups that are an important part of how library professionals develop and implement new programs and services. In addition, the program that we propose recognizes that members of the law review community—a group with its own social and cultural patterns—have unique information needs and that we could better serve them by engaging with them, soliciting their input, and sharing our services and expertise with them.
Second Piece of Evidence: Collection and Community Analysis and Evaluation, LIBR 266
In Spring 2011, I took the course “Collection Management.” Students in the course were assigned to write a paper in which we combined community analysis and collection analysis in a library of our choosing. For my paper, I chose to analyze the collection of the academic library at the University of X (UX)* and how it meets the needs of the campus community.
I begin my paper with a survey of the demographics of the UX campus community, describing its unique mix of men, women, residents of various states, undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, and staff and demonstrating my recognition of social, cultural, and economic distinctions within the library user population. After analyzing the library collection via the peer comparison tool on the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) website, I consider survey data from LibQUAL+, a national survey measuring user perceptions of campus library services. Included in the survey’s findings is information about the information needs of specific user groups, such as undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty. Based on the survey’s finding that database and journal access and interlibrary loan are among the most valued and demanded services and on the NCES ranking of the UX library’s serial subscriptions and use of interlibrary loan, I conclude that the UX library is effectively meeting the research needs of the campus community. In drawing this conclusion, I demonstrate recognition of the ways that social, cultural, and economic distinctions within the user population influence information use and contribute to the effectiveness of the library in meeting different information needs.
Third Piece of Evidence: Selection Assignment, LIBR 266
Another assignment I completed for my course in Collection Management was one in which students were assigned to select adult level books for a branch of the San Jose Public Library on a $500 budget. Using current review sources such as Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, and Booklist, and basing my selection choices on community analysis and information usage patterns, I created a list of recently published books that I would purchase for my branch. I also include in my paper a rationale for my selections, including discussion of my criteria, my collection development philosophy, my thought process, and why I did or did not purchase certain materials.
Much information about community demographics and library usage patterns was given in the assignment, and I confirmed the information given by conducting my own research using sources such as City-Data.com and Nielsen Claritas’ PRIZM market segmentation website. My research confirmed that the user population of the library is young, relatively affluent, includes many children, and is made up of a large number of different ethnic groups. In my paper, I describe how the community demographics and my limited budget led me to adhere to a demand-oriented philosophy of collection development and to select “primarily non-fiction works in high-demand categories such as business, cooking, home and garden, parenting, and personal finance.” I also describe how I selected some works that would be of interest to older users, works that would appeal to both current library users and non-users, and works about the history and experiences of ethnic groups that are found in the local community. Based on the assignment’s specification that primary patron groups include “Seekers,” “How To-ers,” “Enjoyers and Builders,” and “Community Builders,” I describe how I “tried to select works that would likely satisfy multiple categories of readers, such as Blake Mycoskie’s Start Something That Matters, which would appeal both to readers interested in business and those ‘community builders’ concerned with learning and civic engagement, and Danyelle Freeman’s Try This: A Modern Guide to Global Eating, which would appeal not only to foodies and cooks but also to recreational readers and travelers.” My detailed rationale demonstrates my recognition of the various factors that influence information use and the need to balance the interests of many groups in order to provide the best library collections.
The evidence I submit here demonstrates that I recognize the social, cultural, and economic dimensions of information use. Through my coursework and experiences working in public libraries, I have gained knowledge that will help me to provide responsive library service to individuals from all walks of life. I know that in order to be an effective information professional, I must recognize the complex ways in which social, cultural, and economic factors come into play and be vigilant in surveying, learning about, and listening to the people who make up my community. I must be skilled in communicating and collaborating with diverse groups of people and in helping them to evaluate information. Part of my success in serving patrons will come from recognizing the diverse ways in which they use information as well as the social, cultural, and economic forces that influence the information that is available to them. Through community analysis and engagement, I can contribute to the development of programs, services, and collections that meet the needs and desires of the diverse populations that I serve.
Burn, A., & Eltham, B. (2009). Twitter free Iran: An evaluation of Twitter’s role in public diplomacy and information operations in Iran’s 2009 election crisis. In F. Papandrea and M. Armstrong (Eds.), Record of the Communications Policy & Research Forum 2009. Retrieved from http://ww.networkinsight.org/verve/_resources/CPRF_2009_papers.pdf#page=322
Dabner, N. (2011). ‘Breaking Ground’ in the use of social media: A case study of a university earthquake response to inform educational design with Facebook. The Internet and Higher Education, 15(1), 69-78. doi: http://dx.doi.org.libaccess.sjlibrary.org/10.1016/j.iheduc.2011.06.001
*NOTE: Out of respect for the organization evaluated in my Collection and Community Analysis and Evaluation, I have removed, changed, or obscured names and other identifying information.