LIBR 200 Blog Post #3 – Information Needs and Information Seeking Behavior

In discussing the information needs and information seeking behavior of North American Indian groups, it needs to be understood that these groups are not monolithic in nature.  Different tribes have different cultures, and there is tremendous variation even between individual members of a single tribe.  Beatty, for example, describes her Dine students as follows:

My students ran the gamut from tech-savvy urban Indians to those who followed traditional lifeways, moving between sheep camps that lacked water, telephones, and certainly computers.  Many lived in both worlds, busily texting their friends and updating their MySpace pages on the library computers before rushing home to care for the family flock of sheep. (2011:132)

That being said, there are some tenuous conclusions I can draw based on my interview with a tribal member coworker, and some more information questions asked of other tribal members and employees.  All of them will be referred to by initials only in these publicly visible blog posts, but will be cited in full in my final paper.

My primary informant, D. (personal communication, September 26, 2014), stated that information that is important to her in her everyday life primarily consists of local and national news and entertainment news, which she obtains from newspapers, local news broadcasts, entertainment magazines, and the internet.  She also stated several things I think are of great importance as it relates to tribal members and their ability to obtain information important to them.  One, that even as a tribal employee, she doesn’t always know the process of obtaining certain documents or information.  Two, that the tribal website is not updated frequently enough to get important information out to tribal members.  And three, essentially, that she doesn’t know what she doesn’t know.  I asked her if there were information sources she’d like to have access to but doesn’t, and she replied that she didn’t know.  This is indicative of a more general problem relating to information use.  People don’t know what sources are out there.  Even as an LIS student with a previous graduate degree, I’m often surprised at what information sources are available, often at amazing levels of specificity!

I’ve also observed D. engage in the act of information encountering (Erdelez 1998), although primarily in the context of her job and less in the context of Everyday Life Information Seeking (Savolainen 2009).  While looking for information regarding a current project, she often encounters information related to other current, past, or future projects.

Another co-worker, A. (personal communication, September 2014), who is an enrolled member of a different tribe, indicated that he had heard that tribal members would like to have access to tribal member oral histories.  However, in most cases, confidentiality agreements prevent this from happening, although tribal members can request access to oral histories with members of their immediate families.  But, as D. alluded to, they may not be aware of this possibility.

It appears to me, based on both further conversations with D. and on years of observation, that many tribal members seek information related to everyday life and cultural needs.  I’ve seen many tribal members come into the office unsure how to request fish for ceremonial purposes.  They come in to find out where there is room to bury a family member who has recently passed away, or to find out where they can legally gather food or materials such as tule.  They inquire at the Human Resources office about how to get on the emergency hire list, or at Enrollment about changing enrollment, enrolling a child, or requesting materials for funeral ceremonies.

Makanani (2011) states that the library services offered to indigenous populations should be services that address those populations’ needs — primarily services that serve to increase cultural continuity.  In two weeks, I will further address the information services available to tribal members, those that are lacking, and how available resources and services are utilized.

Beatty, V. (2011) Empowering indigenous students in the learning library. In L. Roy, A. Bhasin, & S. K. Arriaga (Eds.), Tribal libraries, archives, and museums preserving our language, memory, and lifeways (pp. 131-140). Lanham, MD: The Scarecrow Press.

Erdelez, S. (1999, February/March) Information encountering: it’s more than just bumping into information. Bulletin of the American Society for Information Science.

Makanani, K. (2011) Beyond books and portals: proactive indigenous librarianship. In L. Roy, A. Bhasin, & S. K. Arriaga (Eds.), Tribal libraries, archives, and museums preserving our language, memory, and lifeways (pp. 33-41). Lanham, MD: The Scarecrow Press.

Savolainen, R. (2010). Everyday life information seeking. In M. J. Bates & M. N. Maack (Eds.), Encyclopedia of library and information sciences (Third ed.; pp. 1780-1789). doi: 10.1081/E-ELIS3-120043920

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