Community Information Needs

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What is Community?

Community is the local area in, which people function most completely and directly. Sociologists have defined the community as a local area over which people are using the same language, feelings more or less the same sentiments and acting upon the same attitudes. Most of them today, use the word ‘community’ to refer to such units of social and territorial organizations as villages, cities, towns and metropolitan areas. It refers to the places in *which people maintain their homes, earn their livings, rear their children and in general, carry on most of their life activities. Community is continuous geographic area in which mutually dependent groups act together to satisfy their needs through a common set of organizations and institutions.

Community Information:

The study of community life leads to the groups who are the inhabitants within the community and their daily living. The outstanding personalities, institutions and organizations often exercise their influence on the community life in meeting the informational needs to finding out solutions. These community informational needs include the problems related to the various kinds such as food: and nutrition, schooling of children and levels of education, health care and social welfare, law and order, political rights, housing, transport, sanitation, and cultural activities and so on. Every individual in the community needs information from whatever the source to fulfill his information requirements to solve the day-to-day problems in the community life. Community information ordinarily means the information in community for the community. It is the, information required by the members of the community or those acting on, their behalf to make an effective use of the resources available to them within the community. It is related to specific problems of private individuals or group of them, and, as often as not, is linked to advice in what is called an advisory service. It can even be linked to the function of ‘counseling’ in which practical help is given with personal problems such as marriage guidance or prevention of diseases etc. (Baker, 1996).

The distinct characteristics of community information according to Martin (1987) are

(i) form and content of information as well as its provider are directly related to local needs;

(ii) people are the important sources of information, that means the system_ is to be developed for linking people to people;

(iii) relationship between the enquirer and the provider is more specific and

(iv) this demands a substantial shift towards greater interaction between citizens, local networks, agencies, etc., which lead to sharing of accommodation, services, etc.

 

Community Information Needs:

The term ‘information’ in community information has a different connotation to the one existing in symbolic forms in books, data banks, files etc. It is an experience whereby people are linked with one another in mutually useful ways created, shared and used by two or more persons acting together in the community. Donohue (1976) recognized two types of information required by the community:

(1) Survival information, such as that related to health, housing, income, legal protection, economic opportunity, political rights,- etc., and

(2) Citizen action information, needed for effective participation as individual or as member of a group in the social, political, legal, economic process.

Durrance (1984) added a third component i.e. the local information, to this which he defined it as information appropriate and useful to the community including a calendar of local events, courses, and other educational opportunities and basic information concerning government agencies, local organizations, fraternal groups and clubs, etc.’ However, a clear definition of what is meant by ‘information needs’ is still open to speculations. Some workers have also distinguished information ‘needs’ from ‘requirements’ by saying that the information needs provide a broader or wider connotation in which specific requirements are satisfied. Therefore, the information needs of the individuals in the communities a’re their overall needs of information from whatever the source to fulfill their information requrements to solve the day-to-day problems in the community life, both domestic and professional.

Approaches for assessing the information needs:

Information need studies can be grouped into two categories.

  1. those which assess the information need or requirement of the general public consisting of either a ‘homogeneous group of people or a heterogenous group involving different types of communities, and
  2. those which assess the information need or requirements of a user community i.e. the users of one ,or more libraries, or information systems, centres and networks. These studies are often grouped as use studies and user studies.

In the former category the public in general form the study material whereas in the later category the study material is the users i.e. library users, students, research scholars, teachers, scientists, professionals and other users of particular information systems, centres and networks. Because of the various difficulties encountered with the general public while assessing the information needs, such studies are carried out much less in number in comparison to the other types of studies.

Assessing the users’ information needs:

Studies on the information requirements of users of specific. libraries, information systems, centres and networks (Barnes, 1965; Dervin & Nilan, 1986; Hewins, 1990) are available in literature compared to few works in assessing the (general) publics information needs (Beal, 1979; Bunch, .1982; Horne, 1988 and Kempson, 1990). Approaches for assessing the information needs of particular user group involve different types of requirements (Guha, 1983; Bhargava, 1986). Based on Malvin Voigt’s (1961) analysis, Guha (1983) and Bargava (1986) have identified four different types of information requirements : (I) current requirements, (ii) everyday requirements, (iii) exhaustive requirements and (iv) catching-up requirements. Based on a review of literature since 1978, Dervin and Nilan (1986) have identified six approaches to information assessment.

These six approaches which were used by research workers include (i) users’ demands on systems/resources, (ii) users’ awareness of current services, (iii) likes-dislikes of users, (iv) priorities of users, (v)community profiling, and (vi) the interests, activities of groups of users. All the above mentioned approaches are meant for assessing the information needs of users. or user groups with well defined requirements or at-least meant for such persons who can express or demand their needs from a system. In most cases the users as well as the sources of information are defined. The responsibility here is only to make contact between the users and the sources of information after assessing their needs as relevant as possible. Most of the research works on information needs are carried out in this direction.

 

Assessing the Public information needs:

Unlike the users’ information needs, it is very difficult to assess peoples’ or public’ information needs but an attempt to do so must be made if the community is to be provided with the relevant information. Kempson (1990) suggests mainly three ways for assessing the information needs of the public : (i) Perceived needs which can be assessed by simply asking people what information needs they. think that they have. The problem with perceived needs is that people are frequently unaware that they need any information. This may be’ due, to their ignorance that information can be used to solve a problem which they face or simply they may not appreciate that there are solutions to their problems; (iii)Actual needs which refers to the information which they actually needed or sought for over a period of time i.e. a week, month or even a year. This can be assessed by asking them to specify whether they needed to find an answer to a question, solve a problem or to make a difficult decision; and (iii) Hypothetical needs which are explored by asking people what they would do if they needed information about a particular problem or situation. The problem with asking people about hypothetical information needs is that it is necessary to select problems and situations with which people. Can identify*, Even then, many people find it difficult to respond to a hypothetical situation.

Two other studies can be cited as evidences, for possible approaches for assessing the information needs of the general public. One is the work of Dervin (1983) and her colleagues which consisted of a set of conceptual and theoretical premises and a set of related technologies for assessing how people make sense of their worlds and how they use information and other sources in the processes. The other is the work of Balkin (1984) and his colleagues which consisted of a starting point with a situation in which some one with a problem needs help from some kind of information system. Balkin emphasizes that the approach does not focus on information needs but on people in problematic situations with views of the situations that are incomplete or limited in some way.


Original Reference Article:

  • Padhee, B.K., 1999. Community information needs a study of Rourkela civil township of Orissa. University.

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