The information worlds of a disadvantaged community
Information seeking in context is a developing area of research, which explores the subject in settings ranging from high schools to legal practices to health organisations. Relatively little research, however, has been devoted to information behaviour in disadvantaged communities from a non-library perspective, particularly within a UK context. This study contributes to this field of research by exploring the information worlds — the everyday lives and information behaviour — of people living on a disadvantaged estate in Northeast England. The project was firmly rooted within the qualitative paradigm and employed a combination of ethnographic data collection methods to explore information behaviour including episodic narrative and extended participant observation. Interviews were carried out with 21 estate residents and with 13 key workers. The study discovered that everyday life on the estate was difficult and complex, a fact mirrored in the participants' information needs and in their information seeking behaviour. Cognitive information needs stemmed from everyday life issues such as debts, employment and health problems and were often met only with affective support from informal networks of family, friends and trusted on-estate regeneration workers. Trust was a major factor in information seeking owing to the insular nature of the estate and the participants' need for confidentiality and privacy. Participants often used the term information to indicate what was happening on the estate in terms of gossip and local news, but they also found the term a worrying one, associating it with intrusive questioning and with formal institutions. Formal, off-estate information providers were used for health reasons or in crisis situations, and the public library was not considered as an information source. In order to overcome the many barriers to information seeking, information providers need to focus on working in ongoing partnership with other agencies and on developing trusting relationships with people within their communities.