Out of Information Poverty: Library Services for Urban Marginalized Immigrants

Reviewed By: Marina Rose, Ellie Epperson, Samantha Edwards, Avery Campbell, & Christopher Clark

Link to article: http://academicworks.cuny.edu/ulj/vol19/iss1/4/

Lan Shen’s 2013 article is a literature review which provides “an analytical overview of … information poverty and strategies of reducing [it] for urban marginalized groups from cultural and structural perspectives” (p. 2). Information poverty is defined as when groups and individuals have inadequate and unequal access to “quality and quantity information” (p. 2), be it technological information or physical information. For her paper, Shen focused on urban immigrant adults and “discussed the information needs with respect to literacy skills, technology support, cultural awareness, and information resources” (p. 2), while looking at the demands of the American immigrants for information service, and the supply of information services to the urban immigrant. This post will provide an overview of Shen’s article, specifically its methods, findings, unanswered questions, and our attempts to answer said questions.

Being a literature review, the methodology of this paper involves the selection and screening of other scholarly journals that coalesce writings and theories about a particular subject. In this paper, literature pertaining to analyzing information poverty and strategies to reduce information poverty amongst urban immigrants was chosen and analyzed into a comprehensive article that discusses four issues in scholarly research on the subject. The core of articles involves other peer-reviewed scholarly journals and federal reports to determine the status of immigrants in America. The article introduced the literature by generally defining information poverty and sampled many scholarly definitions about information poverty, comparing and contrasting the findings. This is a particularly important part of the literature review process because Shen addresses inconsistent research on information poverty. Shen then collected articles that illuminate which groups are most affected by information poverty. By collecting data on user groups affected and the causes that may be contributing to their information poverty, Shen analyzed the findings to establish a clearer understanding of the literature at hand.

The author concludes, based on the existing literature about information poverty, that it remains a serious issue in need of amelioration. Urban immigrants are highlighted as a predominating group affected by information poverty, although mention of other affected groups is made. Among the factors leading to information poverty, “Lack of English proficiency, education, technology skills, and equal access to information (p. 9)” are profound contributors. Given this, the author implores public libraries to enact policies and services to deal with these factors and reduce the disparities in information literacy. According to Shen, this will create more meaningful opportunities for those patrons. While correct in this assertion–increased information literacy and access will indeed provide greater opportunities for education, personal and professional growth, and a more robust exchange of ideas and intercultural dialogue–the practical hindrances to this are manifold and would probably need to be addressed. For instance, given the budget constraints facing many libraries (especially with the current push to defund IMLS), how do libraries prioritize collection development purchases, programming and classes, and information literacy instruction, etc., to best reach these groups? Although Shen mentions “urban immigrants” as an ambiguous catch-all, each library will need to determine the exact populace being served–are they Mexican immigrants, English-speaking, and in what proportion do they represent the overall community? Asking questions to determine exact demographics and the needs of those demographics, and weighing them against the needs of the community as a whole, are all factors that will need to be addressed in practical terms for each library, and are difficult to encapsulate in an article designed to address minority groups as a whole. Although the article does highlight a very real issue that has a profound impact on already disadvantaged groups, it is important to look at the practical realities that assert both hindrances and opportunities in addressing information poverty.

There are a few questions that the article didn’t answer. One: the article focuses on urban immigrant adults with little to no education and minimal English skills. Do immigrant children struggle with information poverty, or is the use of technology in American classrooms enough to bridge the information gap? And if these children are bridging the gap through the use of technologies in school, how helpful will they be in assisting their parents’ information shortcomings? Working in libraries, we often see children translating information for their parents, but how much learning goes on in these interactions?
In the literature review, there was some discussion of information poverty being a political issue, yet there was no elaboration on this. Information poverty, as explained in the article, seems to stem from economic and social problems, rather than political ones. So our question is: What about information poverty, especially in regards to immigrants, makes it a political issue? And how can the library work to minimize politics that negatively affect information poverty? We believe this may tie in with the social justice principles also mentioned in the article.

While children with information poverty do struggle, a majority of kids have the advantage of learning about information literacy in schools while adults use alternative methods to gain information literacy. Children bridging the information gap are assisting parents and other family members, and it can be a learning opportunity for everyone involved. However, having children translate or interpret for family members might not be as impactful as parents taking classes designed for teaching information literacy. While there is learning involved with children helping parents, it might be more effective for adults to attend educational classes.
Information poverty can be seen as a political issue because there are people and agencies that believe people in information poverty should not receive the same access to information as other citizens in different situations. Providing funding would take away from other groups and projects funded by the government. As the author mentions, Kagan (2000) says that one of the groups suffering from information poverty is … “minorities who are discriminated against by race, creed, and religion…” (Shen, 2013, p. 3). These discriminations come from both individuals and lawmakers. Libraries can work to minimize these politics by offering equal services to every patron regardless of gender, age, sexual preference, disability, religious affiliation, socioeconomic class, background, or views. Libraries can also work to offer programs, workshops, and seminars on topics that fill a community need.

Shen, L. (2013). Out of information poverty: Library services for urban marginalized immigrants.Urban Library Journal, 19 (1). Retrieved from http://academicworks.cuny.edu/ulj/vol19/iss1/4

3 thoughts on “Out of Information Poverty: Library Services for Urban Marginalized Immigrants”

  1. I think the unanswered questions you have brought up are interesting, especially in relation to the information gaps. Do you believe that adult education classes would be effective in bridging these gaps, especially for immigrants who do not speak English and/or if there is no one on staff who may speak the language? What other initiatives can libraries take in order to solve these potential problems?

  2. Group 6 – Lara Briscoe, Dina Doyon, Lydia McClanahan, Nicholas Perelli, Jacqueline Small
    One of the findings that your group discussed was budget constraints and prioritizing expenditures and the effects they have on information literacy. Even with these limitations on libraries, as you said, the library needs to determine what the needs of the community are and build a collection that prioritizes patron needs and wants. A community analysis would be beneficial to any library looking to re-prioritize their spending and suffering from a limited budget. Even if this community analysis was performed on an elementary level by staff and community members using surveys, interviews, and area tours rather than a trained corporation.

    The library must know who the community is before making decisions about where to spend money. What good is a collection in a library if the people in the community can not use it? We agree with you that this is a realistic approach to beginning to address information literacy amongst urban immigrants. It seems that the libraries in question should take a look at the needs of the community this might answer the question of; should they spend their finances on books or programming? You stated that one of the findings was “lack of english proficiency, education, technology skills, and equal access to information” (p.9). Perhaps some libraries are not user friendly for non-english speakers. They could be hard to navigate without assistance of another native language speaker, technology and signs are not multi-lingual etc. Information literacy could be impacted by the ability of patrons to navigate the system in place. Libraries could consider updating signs and switching software companies to better accommodate their patrons needs. Additionally, they could take a look at their programming and determine if ESL courses, adult education courses, and elementary technology skill drills are worth the money spent. It would be interesting to see a future study done on information literacy where libraries have taken these steps, what the difference in information literacy would be amongst patrons there and elsewhere that has a similar demographic.

    To further expand the topic of budget constraints and re-prioritizing spending one must explore the political environment. Politics in any area influence support or lack of support to it’s surrounding community. The political environment could be strained or merely not have the funding to provide further support. Maybe determining if the lack of funding is due to the political climate would aid in solving the monetary issues. This could be done with a public survey either door to door or even just through library patrons. In addition, exploring additional ways to involve immigrant community members would be beneficial to the library itself.

    As for some of the unanswered questions you put forth, we have some thoughts. Access to technology in classrooms is not sufficient in bridging the information gaps for immigrant children. There are too many variables, in particular the enormous disparities in schools.  Most immigrant children do not have access to the best schools with the most qualified teachers and/or best resources. This is evidence that social, economic and political problems are all connected especially for the marginalized, underserved and poorest people, now more than ever.
    Public libraries should do outreach in all communities which have not been serviced in the past, in their service areas. They [the public libraries]  should use the census to determine who their constituents are,  then contact organizations who service or represent these group’s communities and ask what their needs, wants and goals are and design programs and services with their input. Perhaps these communities should contact the public libraries themselves and discuss their needs, wants and goals. Information poverty affects everyone in every community; it is not a unique situation, it happens because these communities get overwhelmed with the energy it takes to assimilate in society.

  3. Here is Group 1’s overall comment:
    Your conclusions started a dialogue in our group about the difference between an equal services framework, in which everyone should be treated equally regardless of difference, and equitable services framework, which tries to account for systematic disadvantages and seeks to uplift marginalized populations. We have concluded that the equitable services framework may be more effective, because an equal services framework risks neglecting and even perpetuating existing inequalities because it can’t “see” them—it is essentially blind to politics, and thus inadvertently supports them. Do you believe that adult education classes would be effective in bridging these gaps, especially for immigrants who do not speak English and/or if there is no one on staff who may speak the language? What other initiatives can libraries take in order to solve these potential problems?

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