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The social constructionist viewpoint on gays and lesbians, and their information behaviour

Reviewed By: Maria Burton-Conte, Sierra Byrd, Stephanie Frey, Marian Griffin, Melyssa Kimbell, Guadalupe Martinez

Link to article: http://informationr.net/ir/13-4/paper364.html

Blogging Open Access Research

Article Synopsis and International Perspective
Nei-Ching Yeh’s study aimed to explore the information-seeking behavior of gay and lesbian Taiwanese citizens from self-realization to acceptance and beyond. Her study also sheds light on the idea of homosexuality in Asian culture and how that affects its gay and lesbian population. Yeh (2008) found that the Internet was an invaluable source for the lesbians and gay men she studied. In Taiwanese society, homosexuality is still considered “abnormal” and many believe homosexuals do not have as promising a future as their heterosexual counterparts. These beliefs stem from “Taiwanese traditional filial culture which emphasizes the importance of getting married and having children and sees this as corresponding to social norms” (Yeh, 2008, para. 31). Therefore, respondents in the study felt the need to protect themselves when searching for information regarding homosexuality, and the Internet provided a safe haven to do so and remain inconspicuous at the same time. They were also able to seek information that facilitated “self-understanding and representation…used to clarify and affirm their homosexual identity” (Yeh, 2008, para. 47). Sadly, Yeh’s respondents felt that they could not conduct these searches in an actual library. Besides the inability to remain anonymous, respondents also felt that the collections in their libraries relating to homosexuality were limited and outdated. One respondent even felt as though “the homophobic condition [was] still prevalent in Taiwanese libraries” (Yeh, 2008, para. 50).
The results of Yeh’s (2008) study highlighted several key factors that influenced how her respondents set out on their information-seeking journey. The first was “self-awareness” – many young homosexuals consider themselves abnormal until they research what they feel and discover that their feelings are indeed quite normal. This information helps them initially accept their sexual orientation and set them on their next information seeking path, which is to find people they can form a connection with. Other reasons for respondent’s information-seeking behavior included a broadening of their information horizons on homosexuality, to be better informed themselves, and to help educate others.

Core Research Questions
Question 1.
How do those who identify as lesbian and gay develop their knowledge of their orientation?
Question 2.
How do those who identify as lesbian and gay construct meaning of their identity through interactions with others within their community?
Question 3.
What are the information behaviors of lesbians and gay people when they are developing their knowledge of their orientation and community?
Question 4.
What are the information needs of lesbian and gay people when they are developing their knowledge of their orientation and community?

The methodology of this research took a social constructionist viewpoint. Researchers collected data through interviewing participants that had volunteered to be part of the study. These interviews were conducted one-on-one and face-to-face with each interviewee and researcher. The fourteen participants each chose the environment for the interview, which seemed to average between an hour and a half to two hours, covering seven individual questions. Their answers were comparatively analyzed to gain the data used in this research study. In comparing and analyzing this data using the constant comparison approach, the researchers were able to focus on clues that identified information behavior. These clues identified patterns among the participants that indicated how they each went about constructing their world as a member of the lesbian and gay community. The researchers noticed a few patterns that stood out among the responses given and identified three main sections of this discovery and creation process. The analysis of the interview responses illuminated how these participants were able to process social construction and highlighted the role that informational behavior played in that construction as well.

Findings and Conclusions
Yeh (2008) found that a majority in the community were taught that homosexuality was abnormal, and the bias society has against them. The Internet is where most go to learn more about their sexuality and sex but reframe from the library as they see the collections for gay people as outdated and limited. Yeh (2008) has found that accumulation and monitoring are useful for investigating and obtaining information and complement the concept of information seeking. This study also concludes that having a community, whether on the Internet or in-person, as important and can let those who are heterosexual understand this community at a deeper level.

What American Libraries Can Learn
As much as we want to understand how our patron communities configure their identities for themselves and within society, so must librarians define how they perceive identity in others. Furthermore, librarians should consider how those perceptions are related to the quality and impact of their services, considering the ubiquitous nature of the Internet. The Internet allows for libraries to have layers of interactions that allow the individual to control how to present themselves online, i.e., anonymously, with known aliases, etc. The anonymity of the Internet also allows LGBTQ+ people to create virtual spaces to facilitate knowledge production, form meaningful connections with other community members, and freely seek and share information via the network. In particular, the LGBTQ+ community uses the anonymity of the Internet to seek sexual health information; it is important for libraries to offer accurate, inclusive health resources that can be accessed anonymously.
Additionally, many LGBTQ+ patrons seek information online due to the limitations of many traditional library spaces: outdated collection policies, cultural stigma against gay and lesbian people in public spaces, and indiscretion from library staff who may be homophobic or lack the sensitivity training for discretion. Libraries should address these valid concerns by focusing on authentic, diverse collection development and hiring and training culturally competent staff. Although this article comes from the perspective of Taiwanese society, American libraries may still harbor the same ideological blind spots, policy oversight, or have limited control over the stigma that continues for LGBTQ+ patrons in and out of the library. Virtual spaces are ways for the LGBTQ+ community to channel the power to self-educate, build a chosen community, and self-identify to the patrons without the librarians as the middlemen.

Yeh, N. (2008). The social constructionist viewpoint on gays and lesbians, and their information behaviour. Information Research, 13(4). http://informationr.net/ir/13-4/paper364.html