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Oct. 22nd, 2005 @ 12:42 pm Readings, Week 7: Human Information Behavior
There are many similarities between two studies of the information needs of understudied sub-sections of the female population; both Harris' (1994) discussion of battered women and Chatman's (1991) analysis of female prisoners locate specific information strategies that arise from the peculiar nature of their situations. In each case the information needs are specific to the sub-group, and change with the intensity of the battery, on one hand, and the severity of circumstances within the prison. Battered women are more likely to rely on informal sources of information and, being under served by more formal venues, are more likely to turn away from the non-existent or inefficient formal services, back to the comfort of the informal information networks. The women are nor quiescent, however, and the popular perception of helplessness of this sub-group derives from “an unresponsive help system that fails for provide the information and the assistance these women have legitimate reasons to expect” (Harris, 58). Imprisoned women tend to develop internal information networks within two types of cliques: “cosmopolitan,” facing outward toward family and friends, and a “local,” an inward-looking behavior focused on life inside the prison. Existence for these women become a Life in the Round in which ambiguity is embraced: “it is a world in which most events fit within the natural order of things” (Chatman, 213).

Lessons that can be drawn from these studies include both the specificity and the fluidity of the information needs needs of social subgroups. Both sub-groups present information needs tailored to the unique nature of their predicament, peer-based networks predicated on close-knit, local affinities, and both are subject to change as the severity of their situation does. The reliance on informal information networks is necessitated by the lack of more formal venues as well as the mistrust of those few which do exist. Left to the information scientist is the challenge of developing both theoretical models that encompass the information seeking needs of subgroups, and formal information networks to serve what the authors demonstrate are under served segments of the population.

Chatman, E. A. (1991). A Theory of Life in the Round. Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 50, 207-217.

Harris, R.M. & Dewdney, P. (1994). Barriers to information. How formal help systems fail battered women. , CN: . Chapters 4 & 8: pp. 47-60, 121-140

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punts, oxford