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Everyday Life Information Practices: Robbin and Buente Presentation 1/27/06

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In a January 27 SLIS Brown Bag Talk Series, SLIS faculty member Alice Robbin and SLIS Ph.D. student Wayne Buente presented "Everyday Life Information Practices: Internet Use Acts, 2000-20004." Recently Alice responded to an email interview about the research.

Robbin teaches courses in L509 Introduction to Research and Statistics, L563 Information Policies, Economics and the Law, L547 Organizational Informatics, and L709 Introduction to Research and Statistics.

ELIS Research Project

What is everyday life information practices (ELIS)?

"ELIS" is the label given by the Finnish scholar Rijo Savolainen in his Library & Information Science Research journal article published in 1995, to the study of information seeking behavior outside formal or institutional contexts. Most of LIS research on information seeking has focused its attention on school, work, or organizational life and the professional or student, and the research has privileged the cognitive over the social. His "manifesto" for a change in the direction of research in this domain recognizes that people engage in concrete information behavior outside formal or institutional contexts and that ordinary people routinely engage in concrete information activities. His argument is deeper than just a change in the social context of information use or who is being studied, however. He, along with his colleagues Kari, Talja, and Hektor, among others, urge LIS scholars to shift from a highly positivist/objectivist to a more subjectivist and phenomenological stance that emphasizes the situated and interactional nature of information practices. They have also called for improvements in theory building and for enriching the methodologies that have been employed to collect data on information behavior.

Briefly summarize the origins of your project.

I am a political scientist by training, so I have a keen interest in creating bridges between LIS and political science. I am also interested in the theoretical frameworks and methodologies that scholars use in their work. It's really clear that the Internet has become an integral part of every day life, especially mine, and I think we should understand in what ways and how we use the Internet. I'm also curious about whether ICTs have altered the ways that people participate in political life. All these interests led me to poking around in the LIS literature on information seeking. I was quite surprised to find that scholars have not included political information use in their research projects, and with few exceptions most of them did not, understandably, employ potentially fruitful theoretical frameworks of mass political behavior and communication and new media use to study information behavior. I noticed that they usually focused on one type of information, like health information. And even when they studied this information behavior on the Internet or focused explicitly on the Internet as a communication/information channel, I found theoretical and methodological "holes." Researchers seemed to ignore the Internet as the context for information practices: how it was related to other sources of information and part of a larger framework of daily life. I found that LIS research on information practices relied heavily on small samples, qualitative methods, and one time data collection. Fortunately, the Pew Internet & American Life Project publicly available national surveys have been going on for quite some years now and contain lots of data on how people use information on the Internet. While there are problems with relying on data that you yourself didn't collect, the Pew data sets are a rich resource for answering some of the questions that have been raised about information practices on the Internet.

What are some of the trends in Internet information activities and political information seeking behavior, as analyzed in your project? What conclusions does your research present?

We find that far and away the primary use of the Internet is for communication with family and friends. There is virtually no change over time, from 2000 through 2004, in the number (always over 90%) of respondents who communicate through email. With the exception of one of the eight surveys we are examining, we can't say much about the content of the communications, unfortunately. Getting information on politics and the news, jobs, housing, what's playing at the movies, products and services; doing your banking; playing games and watching movies; buying and selling products. You name it, and people are doing it online! How interested people are in politics says a lot about whether they use the Internet for their news. We find that if people use traditional media like newspapers and television to get information about politics and news events, then they carry over their interest in politics to the Internet. We do see, however, a big drop over time in use of the traditional newspaper, which is consistent with the data on newspaper circulation and a source of worry by the newspaper industry. We have much more work to do in our analysis on this topic, however. We also see differences in information behavior depending on the length of time people have had a computer and had access to the Internet; demographic characteristics make a difference, too.
Thus far, at this preliminary stage, we are trying to manage and synthesize a very large amount of data. What we have found thus far is consistent with other research that has reported on use of the Internet, especially about demographic characteristics, which makes us more confident about what we are doing. I think our major contributions will be to demonstrate the utility of embracing theoretical frameworks, methodologies, and data that could be useful in improving our knowledge base in information practices.

Are you planning on using this research in one of your classes or present it at a conference? What are your future research plans on ELIS?

When it is appropriate I talk about our experiences with secondary data in my L509/L709 research methods class. We are planning two articles for journal submission. Both Wayne and I "fell into" this project; the topic is not central to our personal research agendas. Sometimes, research projects just happen: You get curious and start poking around. One thing leads to another, and then you find yourself having made an unexpected investment. This is the nature of research. Nothing is ever wasted, however. We learn from everything we do, and it serves as fodder for future research and the way to expand your knowledge of the field. Wayne plans to spend his time on community informatics. And I plan to leave ELIS to Christina Courtright who is writing her dissertation on the subject and return to studying the political controversy over the reclassification of racial and ethnic data.

Posted February 09, 2006