bird of maps

competency C

recognize the social, cultural and economic dimensions of information use


Introduction

Information is a powerful thing: whether used for entertainment or for intellectual growth, it is imperative to social, cultural, and economic progress. It is truly a commodity, as having information presents an advantage over not having it. This is evident in business and government. It is also true in regards to the ability to make informed decisions on professional, political, and personal levels. Having accessible information is the key to having an informed society, which is necessary for social, cultural, and economic improvements.

As librarians and information professionals, we must recognize the social and cultural aspects of information use. The communities of users to which we provide service each have unique informational needs based on their demographic and cultural situations. It is important that we conduct regular assessments of the people visiting our libraries or using our information services so that we may know how best to support them in their information wants and needs.

Supporting the informational needs of library users by assessing societal and cultural factors will perhaps be most obviously conveyed through collection development practices, in which we will strive to collect items and informational resources that are catered to the particular interests of our user groups. The informational content of the resources we provide, and the mediums in which that information is delivered should reflect the social and cultural expectations of the intended users. For example, elderly users of a public library would probably appreciate a selection of large-print books, while students in a university's library would appreciate electronic access to scholarly articles.

The economic dimensions of information are complex. As a commodity, having access to information can sometimes make the distinction between the haves and have-nots. In business, a competitive advantage is obtained through possessing information that others do not have. Likewise, in education, access to information adds value to the research and learning processes. Libraries are often charged with not only curating informational resources, but also providing tools (i.e. computers and Internet access) with which to access web-based information. There is a long-standing conversation about the digital divide, which represents the barriers to information that individuals with lower incomes or lack of technological skills face in their informational pursuits. A major service that libraries provide is the attempt to bridge this divide by allowing free access to such resources and support in using them.

Another economic dimension of information use is the financial cost of obtaining it. The most poignant example is the astronomical fees associated with gaining access to scholarly journals - in physical and digital formats alike. The costs associated with gaining access to informational resources are testimony to the fact that information is valuable. It is thus very important to maintain positive relationships with patrons so that we have advocates in securing funding for our libraries - be they public or private. We must also solidify our commitment to maintaining and preserving the informational resources under our care. These actions will enable us to continue to fulfill our missions by being able to provide users with access to valuable informational resources.

Evidence

To demonstrate my competency in recognizing the social and cultural dimensions of information use, I am submitting a paper that I composed during my Seminar in Information Science: Digital Libraries course. When librarians and information professionals assess a community's informational needs, the focus is on the content of the materials and services that should be provided, as well as the methods of delivering those materials and services. When these methods are digital, users that must be considered are those with disabilities that may hamper access to digital information. The paper I am submitting discusses strategies to make web pages and digital libraries more accessible to users with seeing and cognitive disabilities, as well as examining issues to consider when acquiring or creating other digital resources. The efforts that we make to cater to the informational needs of our patrons must also be applied to their accessibility needs, otherwise we may be putting some users in our society at an informational disadvantage.

To further illustrate my understanding of the social and economic dimensions of information use, I am submitting a post from a forum discussion, which was based on a question from the instructor. In this post, I discuss how the needs of a public library's population of users should direct the library's decisions in resource acquisition. Since public libraries operate on mostly local government funding, it is important that the library meet the needs of its users in order to keep a positive relationship with its community, in which users feel that library funds are being used wisely. Informational resources are costly, and there is a correlation between user satisfaction with library services and its continued financial support - through ballot measures or advocacy for budget dollars. This has become particularly significant in recent years, as budget cuts from local governments have resulted in library closures and reduced services.

Conclusion

The information needs of a community of library users will vary depending upon social, cultural, and economic factors. By meeting the needs of our users, libraries will benefit from the financing that will allow us to continue to meet these needs. With the evidence that I have provided, I have shown that I am aware of these circumstances. I will continue to recognize the differences in information needs among the users groups I will interact with, and work to provide access to the appropriate resources that will assist in their informational pursuits.