ICT and Information

Community Information Services

Deepa, R. (2017)

Community Information Service.

Though the origin of community information service can be traced back to the end of the 19th century, it became more significant during the crisis of second world war, when men returning from the war to their communities needed advice on their rehabilitation. However, the present phenomenal growth in community information services stems only from the late sixties (Bunch, 1982). Since librarians in the last few decades have increasingly felt that they too have a part to play in meeting the information needs, it is high time to look at the means by which public library involvement in the field of community information can be achieved.

The community is a multifaceted unit involved with .a number of organizations working in it or on it. Though a direct relationship exists between the community and the library in a democratic society, owing to lack of awareness among the librarians, for the most part, they have not been actively involved in community development. lnspite of the common belief that everyone has needs which a library can meet, the percentage of non-users is still substantial. A major problem may be the failure of libraries to focus on what the users want, not what they think the user should have (Ellis, 1986).

The study of community involves an understanding of its cultural, geographical, political, social and economic processes and problems operating there in. The public library should appreciate the problems of the community and suggest possible solutions. In the process of service to the community, the library needs some support. It depends on the community for the economic as well as moral support. When it depends on the community it is accountable to the community. A public library can not survive without the. involvement and support of the community where it functions (Chandrasekhar Rao, 1996). The libraries can be used as the best media centres in communicating the information to the communities, thereby increasing the effectiveness of the libraries as providers of information to the public. Martin (1976) suggests that if a library is to develop goals according to the main characteristics and peculiarities of its own community, then it must critically attempt an analysis of the community. Thus public libraries must come out of their traditional roles and provide commercial and technical information and they can not do this as individual institutions but with the help of library associations and government support (Oguara, 1969). This demands an emerging role of the librarian as the information consultant, learning advocate and communication mediator (Penland, 1981), They should not make the libraries only the gossip and information centers giving them the look of anything more than the middle-class clubs. The librarians must be social workers as much as anything else. Healy (1984) considers the attitude of the public to the idea of the librarians as the successful information providers of community information.

Due to the growing interest in community information services, the Library Association in UK set up a Community Information Project (CIP) in 1977 with the financial assistance from the British Library to collect, analyses, process and disseminate information on the area of concern solely to community information in libraries, particularly in public libraries. Besides, a large number of non-public library information giving organizations in the field of community information such as, the Citizens Advice Bureaux (CABx), the Consumers Advice Centres (CACs), the Housing Advice Centers (HACs), the Neighborhood Advice Centers (NACs), the Legal. Advice Centers and the Local Authority Information Centers have developed in Britain. Further description of these centres is not done here since extensive descriptions about these centres are available in the literature. In the opinion of Jackman (1978) the public libraries have failed to grasp the opportunity to participate effectively in providing information to the community as this role has been usurped by the non-public library organizations. However, the development of community information provision in public libraries in the UK could assist improved decision making both by the general public by certain groups of people and by library staff (Coleman, 1986).

In the USA, like the CIP in Britain, Public Information Centers (PICs) are set up to identify community information needs and to list the sources and agencies which could meet these needs (Donohue, 1972). The branch libraries as neighborhood information centres are also set up with the objective to demonstrate to neighborhood residents and the community at large that the urban public library can be a vital force in daily living, can provide free information, can refer residents to additional sources of information and assistance, and that the library can adopt itself in non-traditional ways to meet the needs of those who have not previously used public library services and neither have experiences nor knowledge of the role of a public library in the daily lives of the residents of the community (Childers, 1976). By identifying and describing three basic forms of community information i.e. direct service, back-up and self help, Bunch (1987) draws a distinction between the predominant US model of information and referral and the more varied UK responses. He describes two recent trends in UK : the extension of community information to meet more specialized needs and the increasing use being made of new technology.

In Australia, the community information service is provided by the. Citizen Advice Bureaux since 1958,- which is modeled on the British pattern. The public libraries plays an important role in the creation of community resource centres to provide information on such community topics as housing, food. and clothing, and -social services. (Trask, 1973; Bunch, 1982; Williamson, 1986). In Canad.a,..the Information Barrie, set up by the public library Board at Barrie, Ontario provides community information service, as a part of the library activities (Smith, 1978; Saltys, 1985).

Although there are no such services on the scale of UK and USA, few other countries have made some progress towards community information services to the general public. The literature provides few instances on such services in the countries like Scandinavia, Sweden, Denmark, Brazil, South Africa, Uganda, Burma, Malaysia, Nigeria (Eisenberg, 1974; Bunch, 1982; Owino, 1984; Suiden, 1987; Garish, 1987).

But in India, where the people are generally illiterate and majority are under poverty line representing the lower socio-economic groups of the community, the situation is different. The concept of community information is yet to occur in an Indian context so far the information needs of general public are concerned. Baliarsingh & Mahapatra (1985, 1987) provide the results of a project carried out in a semi-urban community of Orissa in which they found that people in the community are yet to realize the benefits of public library service to solve their everyday needs. They mostly depend on interpersonal means to meet their information requirements.


Community Information Sources

Information, plays a crucial role in the development of a country. It is the basic responsibility of a welfare government to ensure that proper communication channels are built-up for effective distribution of information and diffusion of knowledge (Vishwamohan, 1988). In any, modern, complex society a wide variety of organizations supply information to the local community.

They are :

  • (i) Local authority through its public library system; its archives, its tourist bureaux, its operational departments and its ad hoc information services, e.g. for industry and commerce.
  • (ii) Voluntary organizations, usually having financial support from the local authority.
  • (iii) Specialist organizations, related either to subject matter (e.g. housing, law, welfare rights) or to client groups (e.g. the disabled, youth, ethnic groups) (Gray, 1982).

While, making an information needs survey in India, Musib (1991) identified the following sources which are useful to the public as . information sources :

(i) Self/personal experience

(ii) friends, neighbours, relatives

(iii) family members

(iv) fellow professionals

(v) market/shop keeper, local place where people generally gossip

(vi) Block/Panchayat office

(vii) Service holders and professionals such as doctors, teachers, etc

(viii)Others which include public libraries, religious persons, T.V., Radio, newspapers, etc.

In another study on current information needs in a semi-urban community in Orissa, Baliarsingh & Mahapatra (1985) found that neighbours topped the list of indirect providers of information to the public followed by’ old persons of the locality. Others in the list included the Councillor, self knowledge, the Pujari (i.e. the Priest of the nearby temple), the Notified Area Council, the educated people and the local MLA (i.e. Member of the Legislative Assembly).

Coleman (1986) suggests that the people are an important source of community information. The librarians may no longer necessarily look the answer up but may refer an enquirer to another individual. The idea of linking people to other people is a new concept for most public libraries. The nature of information needed in rural areas
varies from community to community and that in most cases people meet their information needs by talking to friends, neighbors and relatives (Kernpson, 1989). This does not provide sufficient detail to enable the services to be planned and it needs to be supplemented by the collection of detailed local information. To collect detailed local information, Kempson (1989) suggests to build a picture of (I) the community profile, (ii) the primary information providers in the community i.e. the information providers’ profile and OW the information needs of people in the community and the extent to which they are being met i.e. the information need profile. Although people in some occupations serve purely informational roles, much of the information necessary for survival has
always been provided as a secondary function by agents whose primary roles are other than that of information provision. In a tightly knit community, for instance, casual conversation and gossip provide a great deal of the information needed for survival (Donohue & Kochen, 1976).

Extensive surveys are made to investigate the citizens information needs and seeking (Chen & Hernon, 1982; Dervin et. al., 1976; Warner, Murray & Palmour, 1973) which revealed that people tend to prefer informal sources and that they rarely seek assistance from public libraries to solve their everyday problems. However, some surveys, in particular Dervin et. al. (1976) included. a number of fresh ideas to approach practices of information seeking from the viewpoint of an individual in the context of everyday life (Savolainen, 1995). The clearest picture that emerges from research studies on information needs is that, inspite of the abundance of information available, citizens are uninformed about public and private sources, facilities, rights and programs (Kahn et. al., 1966). They are frustrated in their attempts to get information required for everyday problem solving (Rieger & Anderson, 1968; Mendelshon, 1968) and are unable to cope with information needs (Dervin, 1976). Information does not seem to percolate down to the level of common man due to a variety of factors. As for example, the WHO sponsored broadcasting programmes regarding child welfare, health care, malnutrition, vaccination etc., though well conceived and valuable, do not get beamed to the proper audience. Millions of people are groping in darkness of ignorance due to reasons such as lack of access to mass media, obscurantism, illiteracy, superstition and indifference to community awareness to better living conditions (Vishwamohan, 1988)..

By examining the extensive literature dealing with information sources, Dervin et. al. (1976) noted that much of the evidence, although’ indirect, indicates:

(i) Television is the most used (and believed) mass medium for the average adult, but it lacks the kind of information needed to solve everyday problems;

(ii) Peer-kin relationships (friends, family, relatives) are the most used sources on most topics for most people;

(iii) awareness of potential information sources is low (Block, 1970);

(iv) use of professionals and non-profit agencies is limited to the highly educated elite (Levine & Preston, 1970); and

(v) a law of least effort is a strong factor in source use. Most people tend to use resources and services that are close to home rather than comparision shop (Alexander, et al., 1968; Udellet 1966; Zweizig, 1973).

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