Information Practices of Ethno-Cultural Communities (IPEC)

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Link: http://ceris.metropolis.net/Virtual%20Library/RFPReports/CaidiAllard2005.pdf
By: Nadia Caidi
Org: Faculty of Information Studies, University of Toronto
Date: 2008

The purpose of this study was to examine the information needs, uses and seeking behaviour of people who have newly immigrated to Canada (five years or less). "Information practices" is a well known concept within Information Studies that suggests that individuals locate and use information in complex ways to address a variety of "information needs". The authos conducted an extensive literature review to identify issues around information production, organization, dissemination, access and use by new immigrants.

Background

What's New or Significant in this Report?

This is a useful overview of a topic that is familiar to anyone working with newcomers - access to good, authoritative, useful information for our clients.

The findings are important to read as a reminder about why we do the work we do, the importance of ensuring that our own information collection and dissemination practices focus on providing excellent information, and reminding ourselves that information retrieval, analysis, overload and comprehension are ongoing issues that cross newcomer groups, whether they have recently arrived or have been in Canada for some time.

Government agencies as well as various immigrant serving agencies, local community and ethno-cultural organizations, and information and cultural institutions all provide settlement-related information to immigrants throughout the immigration process (i.e. before, during, and after arrival to Canada) through a number of channels, including: print, in-person and online. Despite the vast array of resources and services available to them, there is little research that examines the extent to which newcomers are able to adequately access and make use of government, settlement, and ethno-cultural information and services available to them. Relatively little research exists about the ways in which newcomers and longer established immigrants locate and access content in forms that are understandable and usable to them. Understanding immigrants’ information practices –their needs, the barriers they face, and the ways in which they access and absorb information- is crucial to our capacity to successfully provide settlement-related information to immigrants.

Findings

Information Needs

The top settlement information needs of new immigrants are language information (including information about training, translation, and interpretation services); pre-migration information; employment information (including job searching skills and special services to foreign trained professionals); housing information; information about making connections in the community (including connections to professional associations, volunteer opportunities, mentoring, and community organizations); and, information about the new culture and orientation to "Canadian life". The top information needs for longer established immigrants include health information; employment information; educational information; political information and current events (especially news about the country of origin); language learning information (including information about ESL programs and materials); information about transportation; information about identity construction (including how to position themselves vis-à-vis Canadian society); and, information about cultural or religious events.

Information Sources Used by Immigrants

Information sources identified in the literature include government, other individuals, ISAs and other ethno-cultural associations, "ethnic" media, and the Internet. Technology is one of the main impetuses enabling transnational practices, but in more general terms, technology does not benefit all immigrants; online interfaces and services are found to be difficult for new users to navigate. But more research on cross-cultural usability is needed.

In almost every case, family and friends were identified as the number one information source consulted by all immigrants. Media sources, such as the newspaper and the Internet were identified as the second most popular information source. Organizations such as community centres, settlement agencies, and government were also identified as significant information sources for immigrants.

The authors found evidence of the importance of social networks (both local and transnational) as a means to facilitate the settlement and inclusion process, potentially leading to more employment opportunities and opportunities in other aspects of the immigrant’s life.

Barriers to Finding Information

Barriers to accessing information for both newcomers and longer established immigrants include language (including fear of speaking in English); suspicion or mistrust of authority (including government and other institutions); isolation and the sense of being an outsider; using children to find information (who may have poor information finding skills); lack of familiarity with many Canadian information sources; cultural differences; and, not knowing how to ask for services.

Among policy recommendations that stem from this study are the fact that social exclusion ought to be treated also as an information problem, and that in order to understand information practices of immigrants and cater to their needs, a holistic approach is advocated that encompasses a closer examination of theories and principles of social inclusion and social capital in addition to information seeking behaviour.

Some Next Steps

While the intended objectives of collecting data for the study were not fully met, the authors were able to make significant progress in understanding of the complex issues around immigrants' information practices.

Based on issues arising from the literature review, the authors have focused on two sub-projects, which resulted in two full-length articles (both forthcoming):

  1. The first one revolved around the issue of spatial mismatch in information provision, with a focus on one particular information institution, the public library. The aim was to understand how public libraries fit within the lived experience of two immigrant communities in Toronto: Chinese and Indians. The purpose was to assess the ways in which libraries have accounted (or not) for changing patterns of migration and settlement over time, and how poverty and access to information resources relate to one another and to the integration of new immigrants into Canadian society.
  2. The other study explores the relationship between one’s information practices and the sense of belonging into a society, especially in times of crisis. They examined one particular community, individuals of Arab origins and/or of Muslim faith, in a post 9/11 world, examining how the post 9/11 climate has impacted their use of various information sources, and how their information practices mediate their experience and sense of belonging in Canadian society.

Download Information Practices of Ethno-Cultural Communities (IPEC) in PDF format.