Reviewed By: Esther Chun, Amaris Mang, Tiffany Muñoz, Lisa Salyer, Kyle Shin, and Nhu-y Tran
Link to article: http://informationr.net/ir/15-4/paper451.html
Introduction and Synopsis
When one needs medical advice for weight loss and weight management, usually the first place most people turn to is the Internet. This is what it seems for the American culture, at least, but are the searching habits the same for all people from different cultures and different places, especially for those that exist outside of the United States? Do all individuals seek out information in the same way, and are there any differences when the subject is one of a highly personal nature? Do those international cultural differences show? This is the subject in Askola, Atsushi, and Huotari’s (2010) article titled “Cultural Differences in the Health Information Environments and Practices Between Finnish and Japanese University Students.”
The article represents an international perspective because it is focused on examining the cultural differences between university students from Finland and Japan who utilize the Internet in a technologically advanced health information environment. Since authors have ancestry from the two studied countries, the article presents a different perspective in understanding information-seeking behaviors and environments than strictly relying on an American perspective. Askola, Atsushi, and Huotari (2010) also noted in the introduction that it is more international than the previous study that inspired the current study in that the previous study was focused on the Finnish students’ information seeking processes.
Core Research Question
What are cultural differences in the health information environments and practices between Finnish and Japanese university students? How are the sources identified? Are they relevant to the main topic of the study? What are the limitations of the study?
To assess the health information-seeking behaviors of first-year university students in Finland and Japan, Askola, Atsushi, and Huotari (2010) decided to look closely at two of the four different modes presented by McKenzie (2003): active seeking, which “refers to situations in which a person looks for information with a particular question in mind,” and encountering, which “refers [to] situations in which a person comes across health information … by chance” (p. 26). The selected participants, who all had easy access to the Internet, were emailed a link to a questionnaire. It was originally written in Finnish, translated to English, and then Japanese. In this survey, students were first asked for some background information regarding age, sex, health status, Internet skills, and average time spent on the Internet each week. After answering additional questions about their preferences for web-based information sources, participants were either brought to the end or asked to continue on. The two questionnaires (one in Finnish and one in Japanese) differed in some areas, so there may be some inconsistencies with merging similar answers.
Findings and Conclusion
Research done by Askola, Atsushi, and Huotari (2010) reflected the health information environments and practices between Finnish and Japanese university students. The study focused
on web-based and non-web-based forms of information-seeking behaviors of Finnish and Japanese university students. Data for the study was collected utilizing a web-based survey targeting first-year Japanese and Finnish students. A total of 371 students comprising of 19.4% Japanese students and 81.6% Finnish students were studied. The age range of the students were 18 to 22 years old. Women comprised the majority of the study with 71% Finnish women and 68% Japanese women (Askola, Atsushi, & Huotari, 2010). Results of the study showed that Japanese participants tended to seek health-related information mainly from family members rather than the web, while Finnish participants sought health-related information from the web and from medical professionals. The study indicated the cultural differences between the two groups as the reason for the difference in information-seeking behaviors. The Japanese tended to be more family-centric, thus, trusted health information from family members for minor health matters and sought medical professionals for only serious health matters, while the Finnish tended to rely on healthcare professionals even for minor health problems.
What American Libraries Can Learn From Global Practice
Through international examinations, analyses, and studies conducted via a global perspective, American libraries can learn effective practices that serve to enhance user experiences, particularly with diverse populations, and create a more inclusive and productive platform for information searching. As emphasized throughout the article, the existence of cultural differences creates idiosyncratic search processes. However, the ways in which these distinctions manifest themselves in information-seeking behaviors/patterns serve as a determinant for American libraries to analyze and subsequently implement inclusive practices within system processes, which serve to create a more effective, inclusive, and equitable information environment. For instance, it would prove beneficial for American libraries to consider the ways in which cultural, social, and personal factors such as age, sex, literacy, and ethnicity directly or indirectly affect information patterns/tendencies and seek to provide relevant and inclusive applications such as enhanced language-based opportunities/programming, technological literacy assistance, and culturally relevant works and processes that impact information searching as is represented through Finnish and Japanese students. The distinct juxtapositions between the groups and the results serve to emphasize not only the ways in which these cultural differences complicate notions and processes of information-seeking behavior, but produce applicable and internationally relevant questions such as, “How can information organizations and information professionals alike objectively and effectively utilize and subsequently implement these revelations so as to enhance the experience of diverse users while simultaneously championing equitable information dissemination and access?” As information professionals recognize and embrace that in which information-seeking behaviors are subject to the idiosyncrasies of human culture with distinct associations to ethnic, cultural, social, and geographical factors, opportunities to create and implement inclusive opportunities that seek to serve all populations and reconcile the limitations of standardized and homogenous approaches to information searching.
In Askola, Atsushi, and Huotari (2010) article, the researchers wanted to know if the information-seeking behaviors varied between Japanese and Finnish university students. It is important to note that there have been studies that showed differences in information-seeking habits based upon different criteria, such as the gender or the levels of education, but there was limited information regarding different searching habits of diverse cultures. In their research, Askola, Atsushi, and Huotari (2010) found distinctly different information searching strategies between these two cultural groups. Also, by “having ancestry” to the two countries, provided the international perspective and this helped in adding validity of their results. Ultimately, their findings will help educate American libraries to use more effective and inclusive practices when serving more diverse patrons. As a result, libraries will be better able to serve all patrons by incorporating elements that better serve their more diverse audiences, and that go beyond the “standardized and homogenous” searching methods that have been historically adopted by most informational organizations.
Askola, K., Atsushi, T., & Huotari, M-L. (2010). Cultural differences in the health information environments and practices between Finnish and Japanese university students. Information Research, 15(4). Retrieved from http://informationr.net/ir/15- 4/paper451.html
McKenzie, P. J. (2003). A model of information practices in accounts of everyday-life information seeking. Journal of Documentation, 59(1), 19-40. doi:10.1108/00220410310457993