Competency C

recognize the social, cultural and economic dimensions of information use;

The social, cultural and economic status of surrounding community directly relates to the usage of a library. Before delving too deeply into the problem of information and these particular barriers, I would like to add the idea of the people problem. In Peter Morville’s book, Ambient Findability, the author discusses the people problem in terms of the law formulated by Calvin Mooers’ law in 1959. The law states that the information system will not be used whenever it is more trouble for the user to have the information than not to have it. (Morville, 2005, p. 44) This people problem with information is enlightening as to why people will ignore information that is likely to make their lives more difficult in some fashion. Mooers was a computer pioneer and his statement is often misread as addressing the issue of usability. Later in the chapter, Morville quotes Mooers, explaining how he meant information can equal trouble for people. “We cannot assume people will want our information, even if we know they need our information.” (Morville, 2005, p. 44) Put Mooers’ law into the context of libraries and information use, and then the party can really start.

Libraries need to be able to disseminate the information they possess to their patrons and community. In order to share it, a library needs to be conscious of the social, cultural and economic dimensions of information use. In order to be conscious of these dimensions, a library needs to know who their patrons are. According to Joseph Janes’ book about digital reference, the library users can be defined as the individual users, the community to which they belong, the users’ locations, and their information needs. (Janes, 2003, p. 44) Some of the questions to ask would be, who are the patrons, are they virtual or local, and what do they need from the library? For example, if I worked at a university library then I would expect to have long distant students doing research at the library around the clock. In the case of a public library, I would expect less round the clock research, but if the library had a special collection then I would not be surprised to be contacted by someone outside the area. A good example posed by Janes is a public library in Oregon being questioned by someone from another country about the Oregon Trail. (Janes, 2003, p. 43)

These all bring up questions about who is the patron, how best to serve him or her and in what space will the information be served. It is a big concern of librarians and libraries to get information into the hands of those who are economically disadvantaged. In Northern Kenya, there are the camel mobile libraries and donkeys deliver books in Zimbabwe. (Ruheni, D. & Tate, T., 2004, p. 37) According to these authors, the key is to find a solution customized to the setting; camels work much better in Northern Kenya than trucks. The library has to resolve the patron’s identity, their location and information need, consider Mooer’s law then get the correct information to those who need it.

To show proficiency in this competency, I submit my article review on digital reference and access points. I think digital chat reference illustrates libraries meeting patrons where they are spending time, in this case, online. Historically, there has been reluctance to institute chat reference. However, libraries need to be sensitive to the ways information transfer is changing. This particular article is a review of the implementation of the chat reference and discussing the placement of the access points. In a second review I wrote on digital chat reference, I compared articles analyzing the success of their digital reference project. If a library tries a new service, it should take their social, cultural and economic standing into consideration, and then the whole project should be reviewed after implementation. It is possible the library made a mistake and the users are not interested in this particular solution to their information needs problem. What if no one at a public library has reference issues when the library is not open? Or, what if patrons prefer to come to the library instead of using an online solution? This was not the case in either of the articles I reviewed, but the project ended up having some refinements to make it better suit the patrons.

Recognizing the social, cultural and economic dimensions of information use is not the main problem for libraries. Librarians, based on my studies here, are very concerned with providing information fairly and without bias. The problem lies at the potential solution. Without having done thorough needs analyses, a library might try to solve a problem that does not exist, or make assumptions that ultimately will not work. I like the example of using camels and donkeys for book delivery in Northern Kenya and Zimbabwe because it looks at the problem and finds a simple solution.


Janes, J. (2003). Introduction to Reference Work in the Digital Age. New York, NY: Neal-Schuman Publishers.

Kesselman, M.A. & Weintraub, I. (Eds.). (2004). Global Librarianship. New York, NY: Marcel Dekker.

Morville, P. (2005). Ambient Findability. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media.


Article Review - Foundations of Reference Service

Article Review - Digital Reference Usage