Chatman`s Small Worlds

Elfreda Chatman
Chatman earned her Ph.D. from Berkeley and
ttaught at Florida State before her death in
Her book The Information World of Retired Women (1992) won
the 1995 ACRL Best Book Award.
Chatman’s researched the information behaviors of various
minority or understudied groups including single mothers, the
elderly, female inmates, and janitors.
This research lead to the development of several theories
including Information Poverty, Life in the Round, and
Normative Behaviors as well as the main method and
concept of her approach to the studies- Small Worlds.
Chatman’s Theories
• Chatman was concerned with social barriers to information
that underserved patrons might be facing.
• She utilized outsider/insider theories and membership within
social groups to explain these often self imposed barriers.
• Later, other researchers applied her theories to study
information behavior of social groups such as gay males,
virtual communities, and even library workers.
• Also used to study explains lack of interaction and utilization
of some library and government resources by library patrons
because of social aspects.
• Information behavior is based on the Small World in which
one lives.
• Members practice Normative Behavior to manage everyday
life and to check information against social norms of the
Small World.
• Information Poverty occurs when one relies only on the small
world for information.
Chatman’s Small Worlds:
Specialized populations that are seen and see themselves as
outsiders and share co-ownership of a social reality.
Studying 80 women in a maximum security prison, Chatman
defined “Life in the round” or information behaviors within
this small world:
Social norms within small worlds deem information seeking
behavior as appropriate or not. Information received is
filtered through these norms.
2. For everyday information seeking, members will not cross
the boundaries of their world to seek information.
3. Individuals will cross the information boundaries when: (1)
the information is critical, (2) there is a collective
expectation that the information is relevant, and (3) a
perception that the small world is no longer functioning
without information.
Chatman’s Normative Behaviors:
Information behavior is socially embedded, and the values of
information are socially determined.
Four aspects constitute the theory of normative behavior within
Small Worlds:
• Social Norms refer to codes of behavior within the small
world to give it balance.
• Worldview is a set of beliefs held by members of a small
world setting.
• Social Types are members of a small world who are assigned
a specific social role.
• Information Behavior is members choosing not to search for
needed information or rejecting useful information when it is
presented to them.
Normative Behavior Today
User behaviors- Explains what social
barriers exist to access and how to
overcome them.
For Example:
• Study conducted with gay males and their
coming out experience. Fear of exposure
with negative social consequences
outweighed benefits of information.
• Another study explained the lack of
utilization of government resources online
as user’s worldview (lack of trust) and
privacy issues.
Chatman’s Information Poverty:
Barriers between small worlds and the practice of normative
behaviors cause information poverty.
Chatman studied information behaviors of janitors, single mothers, and
a retire community and found a impoverished information world:
Think they have no resources available to them.
2. Influenced by outsiders who withhold privileged access to
3. Information poverty is determined by self-protective mechanisms
which are used in response to social norms.
4. Negative consequences outweigh benefits.
5. New knowledge is selectively introduced into information world.
Economic poverty is not the same as information poverty.
Information Poverty Today
Users Rights: Information era has
created the information rich and the
information poor. Studies concentrate
on this divide.
For Example:
• One researcher states that the
elimination of information poverty is a
matter of human rights, moral concern,
and the world’s social responsibility.
• Other researchers warn against the
generalization of information poverty as
only effecting those citizens of economic
poor countries. Also, they stress
sensitivity to other cultures and social
Britz, J. (2004). To know or not to know: A moral reflection on information
poverty. Journal of Information Science, 30(3), 192-204.
Burnett, G., Jaeger, P. T., & Thompson, K. M. (2008). Normative behavior
and information: The social aspects of information access. Library &
Information Science Research, 30, 56-66.
Chatman, E.A. (1996). The impoverished life-world of outsiders. Journal of
the American Society for Information Science 47(3), 193-206.
Chatman, E.A. (1999). A theory of life in the round. Journal of the American
Society for Information Science, 50(3), 207-217.
Haider, J. & Bawden, D. (2006). Pairing information with poverty: Traces of
development discourse in LIS. New Library World, 107(1228/1229), 371385.
Hamer, J. (2003). Coming-Out: Gay males’ information seeking. School
Libraries Worldwide, 9(2), 73-89.
Jaeger, P.T. & Thompson, K.M. (2004). Social information behavior and the
democratic process: Information poverty, normative behavior, and
electronic government in the United States. Library & Information
Science Research, 26, 94-107. doi:10.1016/j.lisr.2003.11.006
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