Chatman & others

Chatman, E. A. (2000). Chapter 1: Framing social life in theory and research. In Taylor Graham’s (ed.) The New Review of Information Behaviour Research. Cambridge, UK: Taylor Graham Publishing.

Höglund, L. and Wilson, T. (2000). Introduction. In Taylor Graham’s (ed.) The New Review of Information Behaviour Research. Cambridge, UK: Taylor Graham Publishing.


In the Introduction to the book, an outcome of a conference, Höglund and Wilson (2000) state Chatman covers topics such as “dissemination theory, opinion leaders, motivation, alienation, gratification theory, social norms and (social) location” (p. 2).

Chatman’s chapter derives from her keynote address to the ISIC, III, or the Third International Conference on Research in Information Needs, Seeking and Use in Different Contexts held in Göteborg, Sweden in 2000 (Title page). In the keynote, Chatman explains why the various theories and ideas listed by Höglund and Wilson and thought to apply to information behavior do not work, citing specific examples from her 1996 CETA study as proof. For instance, diffusion theory provides for the presence of opinion leaders who spread new ideas but, in Chatman’s study the people she identified as leaders did not parcel out information.

First, Chatman equips her audience with her understanding of the term “small world” (p. 3) presumably derived from the small degree to which an inhabitant of the small world may choose to change their behaviors due to the constraints placed by others in the social context.

Next, Chatman relates that her research interests emerge from asking, “What constitutes a poverty lifestyle” (p. 4) and that what follows is in response to what she learned while conducting her 1996 CETA study. According to Chatman, she was able to identify four main problems:

  1. deception
  2. the element of risk-taking
  3. secrecy
  4. situational relevance

The poverty situations Chatman surveyed for CETA included:

  • women sentenced to life imprisonment
  • the elderly
  • a group of janitors
  • geophagy (literally earth eating) in rural Florida

In my opinion, the main idea of this chapter is Chatman’s turning point brought on by the CETA study. In other words, her hypothesis was “networks exist to facilitate resource exchange” (p. 6), but her actual findings did not support that. Chatman describes this as the point where she starts to try to build her own theories and goes on to discuss them.

  1. Theory of Information poverty (published)
  2. Theory of Life in the Round (published)
  3. Theory of Normative Behaviour

In her conclusion, Chatman relates that the important takeaways are:

  • social networks do matter as they impose and enforce norms and mores upon members
  • researchers must find a way to balance the dichotomy that some information may be good for people but the people would rather ignore it
  • information poverty means some are users and some are non-users – how can we address our research to address their view of information without our own bias
  • researchers need to consider how information behavior is a way of manufacturing life; what the informational building materials for this construct might be and how to help people build better constructions

Immediately my mind jumped to a personal event: Driving with some of my friends in the car as a teenager during a time when it was popular to disrespect any authority. An ambulance came up behind us traveling to some point beyond where we were. My friends told me to keep driving and ignore the ambulance siren but, my house lay in the direction of the ambulance’s travel and I thought about my brother who had recently fallen out of one of our trees. I told my friends that we didn’t know who the ambulance was for and that it could be one of our family members. I share this because of the boundary my friends attempted to draw to hem me in that resembles the boundaries surrounding the subjects of Chatman’s research. This memory also lays a foundation that group boundaries can be broken, but the question of how and why remain to be studied.


Chatman,  E. A.  (1996, March).  The impoverished life – world of outsiders.  Journal of the American Society for Information Science.


April 2013

Information Poor: Removing gates and gatekeepers
The current proposal is for librarians or information professionals to compassionately embed in community service agencies directed towards addressing the needs of the financially poor in order to subsequently meet the information needs of the information poor. Compassion in this sense means to feel with and to provide care for the client community. Information poverty means the lack of information that leads to positive change in the circumstances of members of the community.
This researcher believes that embedding an informational professional within the community provides a pathway to removing gatekeepers, building trust, and subsequently information engagement as the pathway becomes a two-way street.
Needs Assessment and Background
In [my name redacted] (2013) user group analysis a surprising result became evident: Gatekeeping and gatekeeper observance of the gatekeeper boundary exacerbates information poverty. In simpler language, gatekeeping occurs when information is withheld by an individual or group. Observing the gatekeeper boundary happens when an individual knowingly submits to lack of access to information in order not to cross an invisible line of respect for the gatekeeper, fear of formal institutions, and/or respect for community norms, even if this means the detriment of oneself.
Based on Hersberger’s (2001) assumptions that information improves quality of life, this project proposal includes embedding within an information poor community agency in order to increase the information engagement of community members. User group analysis on the information poor reveals mistrust and avoidance on the part of community members regarding formal institutions and even those in formal attire, Hayter (2006). Instead, community members self-report seeking information and advice from “Yu’s (2010) “low order resources” (p. 922), meaning family, friends, or other nonprofessional resources that are close by. [My name redacted] (2013) analysis reveals an acceptance of members of formal institutions when those members compassionately embed in the impoverished community in a provider role.
Project Objectives
The main objective of this project is to determine whether embedding enables trust building and eventual gate opening or removal of the invisible boundary gates represent.
[Note: A quandary is at once perceived: is it ethical to embed with the purpose in mind to gain the trust of the community in order to change their behavior? Do I, as an outsider have the right to determine what is best for community members? Public health officials address this quandary of ethics – does the right of the general public to health override that of the individual, Wynia (2005)? Still this researcher is not entirely at peace with this idea.]
Pilot Project
The events described below were unplanned but lend themselves to the current research as a kind of feasibility study. This researcher hereafter referred to as R, volunteers in a dual capacity for a local church: in its library and its food pantry or food bank. Discussion at the food bank is directed by way of a set of interview questions regarding family and financial status. Once food has been distributed, prayer requests are taken. Activities are presented in this order to remove the actuality or appearance of obligating clients to listen or respond to a gospel presentation in order to obtain food.
In full disclosure of variables it is known that the small group of food bank clients met R in a hallway of the church’s building and later through the food bank. At the initial meeting, R asked the names of the women who would later become clients and about their activities with the church. Therefore, embedding within the food bank as a specific agency is not a controlled variable. If the church can be seen as a greater agency, then that variable is controlled. Another uncontrolled variable involves the measure of poverty. Clients of the food bank are asked to demonstrate need in an honor system, meaning that clients state the need but do not have to provide any actual proof. Therefore, level of poverty is an uncontrolled variable.
R has volunteered at the church’s library since November 2012. Due to time constraints, she has only been present for food distribution twice, once in March and once in April.
The two clients R previously met in a hallway came to the food distribution area in March but were not there to obtain food at that time. They presented to the food bank in order to obtain food in April. R interviewed Client A while Client B was interviewed by another volunteer. Grocery carts are preset with two sacks of food prior to opening for clients. These carts are lined up in a back hall so that when the client is ready to leave, the cart can be pushed out to the car. Volunteers take the carts to the cars as a service for clients. After the conclusion of the interview, R went to the cart storage area and pushed one of the carts to Client A’s car.
Client A remained inside and spoke at length with Volunteer A, then came out to her car. In the intervening time, Volunteer B stayed at the car and R went back inside to help another client, Client C. When Client B came outside it became obvious that she was riding with Client A, but Client A’s car was still locked as she was still inside. Language barriers prevented a complete understanding of what Client B was thinking, but when Client C came out Client B spoke to her briefly then asked R if she would tell Client A that Client B had returned to the church building with Client C. R agreed and Clients B and C departed. R returned to the building while Volunteer B, with Client A’s cart, remained at the car. When R got to the door, Client A and Volunteer A were exiting. R got Client A’s attention and informed her of Client B’s departure with Client C as they walked to the car. Details provided to show relationship building as well as describe events as they occurred.
Since Client A’s car had dealer tags, R and Volunteer B, who had been waiting at the car, made conversation about her car’s newness which Client A seemed very excited about. The trunk latch did not work properly so it took some time for her to get it open so we could load her food. Small talk ensued during this time. It was not until a week or later that these events took on significance.
During R’s regularly scheduled volunteer time in the library, Client A came to the library door to say hello. Since this did not occur previous to the food pantry embed, it is tempting to attribute Client A’s greeting to events at the food distribution. Much more research is needed to determine if this result can be replicated but it offers hope that the barriers will not just be removed but that clients will find ways to cross those boundaries that previously held them at bay.
Materials and Costs
To volunteer in an agency supporting the poor costs time and wear and tear on the emotions as well as the physical plant or body. Materials necessary are compassion and desire to help others.
Evaluation and Conclusion
Since one of the clients came to the library, it can be stated that this client demonstrates crossing the invisible barrier and apparent greater trust in the librarian volunteer as well as limited engagement with what is, to her, a new set of information objects. That these milestones have been reached so quickly, within one or two months, provides impetus and much hope for a greater outcome from a longer period of embedding. The results give the researcher greater confidence for conducting future research. It is hoped that her professors will be able to provide guidance in developing an actual research project.
Future research
The next step is to conduct further research incorporating an adaptation of Ek and Heinström’s (2011) Likert scale, Appendix A, to determine health information engagement and the change in that engagement over time. The proposed site of the future study is the building the food pantry is housed in which will soon house a free clinic as well.

Appendix A
Yes/no questions and Likert scale from Ek and Heinström (p. 202, 2011) and administered as an interview questionnaire follows.
Interviewee demographics/Name or ID Male Female Age Education

Self-perception of health
Using a scale of 1 (totally agree) to 7 (totally disagree) please respond to the following:
Statement 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
At the moment I have no health problems.

I am careful with the way I live in order to feel very good and to be full of viability.

I am attentive as to how the products I buy affect my health.
I feel that my health is to a high degree influenced by chance.
It is difficult to influence health on my own.

Locus of control
I use information acquired directly from health providers: Yes or No.

Using a scale 1 to 3 where 1=not at all, 2=slightly, 3=a lot, please answer the following:
Statement 1 2 3
How much are you influenced by health professionals?

Using a scale of 1 to 4 where 1 = very unreliable, 2 = rather unreliable, 3= rather reliable, 4=very please answer the following:
Statement 1 2 3 4
I trust information acquired directly from my health provider.

Measuring information interest or ignoring

Please answer the following based on a 7 point scale:
1= very interested or very actively to 7 = not at all interested or mostly avoid this type of information
Statement 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
I am interested in information on the relationship between health and living habits (food, physical exercise, use of alcohol, smoking).

How actively do I seek information discussing the relationship between health and living habits?

Ek, S. and Heinström, J. (2011). Monitoring or avoiding health information – the relation to inner inclination and health status. Health Information and Libraries Journal. 28. 200-209.
Hayter, S. (2006). Exploring information worlds in a disadvantaged community: A UK perspective. The Canadian Journal of Information and Library Science. 30(1/2).
Hersberger, J. (2001). Everyday information needs and information sources of homeless parents. The New Review of Information Behaviour Research: Studies of Information Seeking in Context. 2. 119-134.
[My name redacted] (2013, March 25). The Information Poor. Unpublished user group analysis for SLIS 5040 assignment.
Wynia, M. K. (2005). Oversimplifications II: Public Health Ethics Ignores Individual Rights. American Journal Of [sic]Bioethics, 5(5), 6-8.


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