Information Marginalization, Information Inequity, and Information Poverty

Amelia N. Gibson and John D. Martin III, Re-Situating Information Poverty: Information Marginalization and Parents of Individuals With Disabilities, JOURNAL OF THE ASSOCIATION FOR INFORMATION SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY, 70(5):476–487, 2019, DOI: 10.1002/asi.24128

I didn’t realize how strong my own biases were in thinking about this topic. Perhaps some of this comes from, as the authors point out, the fact that, in the past, studies like this sought to explore “information poor” people. These types of studies focus on the behavior of marginalized people rather than the institutional standards and practices that not only cause information poverty among certain demographics, but also seem to accept and encourage it.

Reader, my eyes have been opened…

According to the authors, the preferred focus on these types of studies should be “information marginalization,” which they define as “systematic, interactive socio-technical processes that can push and hold certain groups of people at social ‘margins,’ where their needs are persistently ignored or overlooked.” People who are information marginalized suffer from systemic causes of information poverty, which primarily result from a lack of resources, both technical and educational, that many people take for granted.

I guess I have always known deep down that the system, rather than the people, is broken. But this article really drove that point home for me. The subject matter of the study is not something that I know very much about, nor is it particularly relevant to my life. The authors describe the focus of the study as “everyday life and parent information needs and practices” among people who have children with “neuro-atypicalities and developmental differences,” such as Autism and Down Syndrome. As I am not a parent, I do not have these information needs. However, as a librarian who cares about information behavior, the findings of this study are highly relevant.

The authors’ findings indicate that these parents often trust neither the information itself nor many of the “experts” who provide it. They don’t believe that they are being honestly informed of their rights or the rights of their children. The study’s participants also report that their access to information is negatively affected by certain class distinctions, including ableism, education level, income inequalities that impact both time and financial resources, and racial inequality. As a means of combating these problems, many of them indicate that they enjoy strong community support networks, especially those that have been created through social media. However, these parents find that they must always be on their guard against indications of abuse and neglect by doctors and others in the professional support community.

As with all of the articles that I have read so far, I could go on. But I think it’s more powerful to simply say that, as librarians, this is a problem that should be in the forefront of our minds all the time. When someone is sitting in front of you with an information need, there are many personal and social factors that brought them to that chair. They are putting a tremendous amount of trust and faith in us to guide them. It is our job to understand that these factors exist, and work with the patron to overcome them so that the patron’s information needs are met. This takes time, patience, and compassion.

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