List of all possible barriers to a citizen’s obtaining access to information:
Level/lack of computer skill
Fear of Privacy Loss
Availability of Digital Equipment
Helpfulness of library staff
Availability of library staff
Lack of affective support
Means of Transportation
Eliminating barriers to information access using Michael Gorman’s Five Steps to Equity
In the scenario of an academic librarian at a university, the librarian could work towards eliminating barriers to information access by following Gorman’s Five Steps to Equity (2000). Gorman (2000) suggests first identifying barriers in information access by no longer expecting inequalities, allowing the librarian to identify a prominent barrier to information access such as the level of computer skills in users (p. 37). To then further understand this obstacle, the technology should be examined to determine contributing and detracting features (Gorman, 2000, p. 137).
Evaluating the technical equipment should include tangible and intangible components. The operating system of the computers located in the library might be different than what is typically available for home use, but it might allow greater flexibility and compatibility. Alternately, users might have little experience with computers altogether, and do not know how to use the equipment. Software used for cataloging could be new to the university, but offers increased usability features over the previous cataloging system. Databases could be complicated to use, but offer greater search results compared to other databases.
This examination of technological contributors should then be followed by a process of authority evaluation. In this evaluation, the librarian should identify key authority figures controlling the obstacles to user information access (Gorman, 2000, p. 137). In the case of increasing user level of computer skills, an academic librarian can “play a role in remedying” (Gorman, 2000, p.37) barriers to information access. They can increase personal interaction time and resources with users to improve these skills on an individual basis. Beyond offering an open willingness to help, the librarian is constrained in directly eliminating this barrier to information access. Within the library organization, the librarian could discuss this barrier with administrators and other librarians to raise awareness of the issue and seek solutions. This would involve higher authority than the librarian might hold, including those who would have power over barriers outside the librarian’s control. Convincing administrators to offer their support might require “providing background necessary to make rational decisions” (Pawley, 1998, p. 131) to statistically substantiate the severity of the issue. Research would be used to prove the disparity between “perception and practice” (Meyers, Nathan, Saxton, 2007) of collegiate user computer skill. Through the administration, actions could be initiated such as the development of instructional signs to display throughout the library and informational programs being made available to students and faculty.
Ultimately, only the user can determine if they will participate and be receptive to eliminating the barrier to their information access. Making these users receptive could require overcoming the fear of a loss of privacy, where people shun technology to prevent “unwanted intrusion” (Chatman, 1996, p. 195). It could also require respecting the value of different types of information users need, and broadening the medium through which information is provided (Wiegand, 1998, p. 58). Libraries frequently offer DVD’s, CD’s and software to address the different information needs of different people, requiring even an academic library to evaluate the types of media being offered (Wiegand, 1998, p. 58). Borgman (2003) suggested technology is developed in response to social demand, making it only logical that a library’s resources reflect this technology (p. 2).
Executing these actions allow for the methodical lessening of inequities. As the inequality is eliminated or reduced, the librarian should then again identify another barrier in information access, repeating the steps until “equity of access is a cardinal principle of all innovations and programs” (Gorman, 2000, p. 137). This process provides parameters for the methodical examination of barriers to information access, and resulting in an action plan on eliminating them all.
Borgman, C. (2003) From Gutenberg to the global information infrastructure: Access to information in the networked world. The MIT Press.
Chatman, E. (1996). Impoverished life-world of outsiders. Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 47(3), 193-206.
Gorman, M. (2000). Our enduring values: Librarianship in the 21st century. Chicago: American Library Association.
Meyers, E., Nathan, L., & Saxton, M. (2007) Barriers to information seeking in school libraries: Conflicts in perceptions and practice. Information Research, 11(2) 8.
Pawley, C. (1998). Hegemony’s handmaiden: The library and information studies curriculum from a class perspective. The Library Quarterly, 68(2), 123-144.
Wiegand, W. (1998). Mom and me: A difference in information values. American Libraries, 29(7), 56-58.