Monday, November 15, 2010

Article Note: On how informationally poor are the information poor

Citation for the article:

Yu, Liangzhi, "How Poor Informationally are the Information Poor: Evidence from an Empirical Study of Daily and Regular Information Practices of Individuals." Journal of Documentation 66.6 (2010): 906-933.

Read via Interlibrary Loan.

The article deals with the question of how poor informationally are the information poor. This is not just referring to the socioeconomic poor that most studies consider when it comes to the question of being information poor. In other words, this goes a bit deeper than the usual information have's and have-nots. Most previous studies have looked at the economically poor and their disadvantages, and we certainly need to be looking at that as well as working to solve it. This study is different. According to the author, "this study is an attempt to begin the journey of investigation of the information poor on the basis of their experience as information creators, disseminators, seekers, receivers and users, that is, as information agents rather than social or economic agents" (907-908).

Yu points out that it is usually seen as a given that the economic poor are information poor as well. The author goes on to list different elements in the definition of information poor over time in the literature such as ethnic minorities, poor whites, the elderly, single mothers, etc. (908). This made me think a bit of public libraries where you have a lot of low income folks coming it to get computer access. They may be poor economically, but they certainly are not information. And these days, they may not even be "poor" economically as much as just tight (tight as in the money is tight, not tightwads) middle class folks who choose to not have internet service at home and use the library instead.

The author looks more at information behaviors. For example, in citing E.A. Chatman, Yu points that some poor communities may have information behaviors where secrecy, deception, avoidance of having their problems exposed, so on can lead to an increase in information poverty due to suspicion and distrust of outsiders (qtd. in 910). I wrote on the margin as I was reading the article that this made me think of many teabaggers and other misinformed folks; they distrust outside sources, or pretty much any source that opposes their limiter worldview, so over time, they do develop information poverty. I wonder if anyone has done research in that regard or made a similar connection.

A simple definition of information poverty comes from Barja and Gigler, cited by Yu, where information poverty is defined as "a lack of the basic capabilities needed to participate in the information society" (911).

Though insightful, we are looking at a pretty small and limited sample. This study is based on interview surveys done in north China. The study lasted for five years, and the author with assistants interviewed 340 people. They then selected 73 for in-depth analysis. Subjects came from various areas of society (urban, rural, migrant workers).

Some notes from the article:

  • "The usefulness of the information resource base concept hinges on the fact that while information society abounds in information resources, the vast majority of these resources are actually irrelevant from the individual's perspective. Some are prohibited by law, some are withheld by their owners, others are either physically or intellectually inaccessible" (916). The information base is defined as "categories and ranges of material and non-material resources that an individual uses for the purpose of getting himself/herself informed (i.e. to obtain information utilities) in daily and regular activities" (915). For example, my information base would include, but is not necessarily limited to, the Internet, television, and books.
  • Just because you have physical access to a resource, it does not mean you are a user of said resource. For example, someone in your household may buy a newspaper, but it does not make you a newspaper reader just because that newspaper is in the house. 
  • Key concept: information horizon. This is "the composition of a variety of information resources an individual consults in a given context and situation" (Sonnenwald qtd. in 916). 
  • Key concept: information assets. This is defined as a person's "accumulated informational outcomes resulting from his/her utilisation of resources from within and without his/her information base" (918). This includes then skills, experiences, and outlook as well as sources used. For instance, the books I have read become an information asset for me. 
  • "In summary, when examined from the perspective of information practices, the information poor seem to be disadvantaged in a number of ways: they tend to engage in low order and limited variety of information practices in local, confined social settings, which involve limited literacy, numeracy, information and analytical skills. It can be argued that these characteristics impose serious constraint on the abilities of the information poor to claim society's information resources as their own and to obtain information utilities from their information resource bases" (925). 

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