Blog Post #2

By cmcrilly

Blog Article #2

In our class discussions, I often wonder about the under-represented groups of people who are not able to access the technologies on which we focus.  This could be because of physical restraints, mental restraints (not having the knowledge or skills necessary to access information), geographical restraints (not living near a library or having access to internet at home), or a variety of other hindrances that I sometimes feel are swept aside in order to narrow the discussion into a workable framework.   For the sake of narrowing it down and to talk about a group with which I have personal experience working with, I’m going to try to focus on those with special needs, that is, those with developmental disabilities and physical impairments.

In class we have looked heavily at the user experience within the library system.  While we have touched on those lesser represented in the studies and research we’ve looked at, I would like to flip the lens and see how little those studies would apply to those with special needs.  I was reminded of Wilson’s article “Human Information Behavior” and wondered how well his definitions would apply to certain minorities.  Wilson defines information seeking behavior as the “purposive seeking for information as a consequence of a need to satisfy some goal. In the course of seeking, the individual may interact with manual information systems (such as a newspaper or a library), or with computer-based systems (such as the World Wide Web).”  I like this definition when I apply it to myself.  However, I have huge issues with this definition when I try to apply it to individuals with whom I have worked with developmental disabilities.  One is a young woman who is my age and would be a fully functional individual had she not been, at four years old, plagued with a sickness that resulted in the non-verbal, non-ambulatory life she now lives.

Even though this young woman is unable to speak or get around on her own, she is still able to make herself known and heard.  She is able to communicate her wants and needs to those she works with.  Now, according to Wilson’s definition, she would only portray information seeking behavior if she were to actively seek that information and interact with information systems.  So say she wanted to have the opportunity to listen to a book on tape.  She wouldn’t be able to go to the computer room and look up the books on tape available at her local library.  She wouldn’t be able to drive to that library and ask questions of the librarian.  She wouldn’t be able to check the item out on her own, nor would she be able to return it on her own.  So what are her options according to Wilson to demonstrate information seeking behavior?  As far as I can tell, she has none.

Would it be beneficial to alter Wilson’s definition of information seeking behavior in order to make it more widely applicable?  Should there be a completely separate definition based on various groups of people?  I would argue that there should be a broader definition to determine intent of the user as opposed to simply actions of the user in order to include those that may not be able to act on their intent.  I’m concerned that if there is a separate definition created for those groups of people that are already marginalized, it will further the perception of their being placed on the outskirts of the community.  Although this doesn’t happen in all cases, and in many cases there are communities within communities made up of these particular underrepresented groups which make a lot of headway in making sure there is equality across the board.  I am speaking of general societal perception and stereotypes that go along with these groups.  I have found that there is a distinct discomfort in talking about such things in the company of those who have not have personal experience working with people with developmental disabilities.  I think an open dialogue is a necessity for considering the creation of new, broader, more-inclusive terms of the “user” and “behavior.”

The assumed notion of health, accessibility, and skill is what bothers me primarily when I am looking at research and studies about user friendliness and something as narrowing as “experience.”  It trims the fat and focuses on the meaty majority that has the resources and skills available to them.  I am not saying that there are not resources available for people with special needs, I am simply arguing that there is not much, if any, recognition of this group in studies or research.  I feel that this pushes us to look further into underrepresented or misrepresented groups like prisons, halfway houses, psychiatric hospitals, the VA, rural schools, immigrant populations, visually and auditory impaired persons, this list could go on forever.  In a world that is increasingly focused on the individual can’t afford not to include such groups of people when looking at the future of information and librarianship.

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