Academic journal article Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services

Information Networks Building Social Networks

Academic journal article Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services

Information Networks Building Social Networks

Article excerpt

A review of the literature relating to community information suggested that community service organisations (CSOs) could play a significant role in facilitating the flow of community information (CI) within a community as they have frequent contact with the individuals and families who form their clientele as well as with each other. A study showed that CSOs make limited use of formal community information to support their information and referral for clients, and that public libraries could extend their role and identify as the information centre for their community by building stronger links with CSOs and by embracing CI as a core library service. Public libraries and CI services, whether integrated or not, need to connect more with their communities, and be more responsive to them.

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The study described below was undertaken in 2006. It aimed to investigate a small sample of people working in community service organisations (CSOs) in a regional centre to find out about their awareness, and use, of CI resources in their daily work, particularly in the process of providing information and referral (I&R) to clients.

A qualitative interpretive approach was considered appropriate because of the cultural and social understandings that were sought regarding the research questions and the hope of gaining insight into the practices of participants in this area.

A review of the literature relating to community information suggested that CSOs could play a significant role in facilitating the flow of CI within a community as they have frequent contact with the individuals and families who form their clientele as well as with each other. In their helping role it seemed likely that they would speak and interact with clients in informal settings. In so doing, they would become aware of their clients' needs for various community services and resources and then provide them with relevant referrals to link them with these services. It appeared that they could be well placed to enrich the information environment of people in need in a beneficial way through the provision of good quality and well targeted CI gained from both formal and informal sources. They could provide what might be seen as a translation of formal into informal CI, which might overcome some of the issues of accessibility for community members who may be unaware of formal CI and disinclined or unable to use it.

It was therefore necessary to find out about the practices of CSO staff in relation to CI and how they used it to link clients to services. A grounded theory approach was adopted in which the data gathered during the study was analysed to discover themes that could be linked to theoretical ideas identified from the literature. Structured indepth interviews of 40 to 50 minutes duration were chosen as the main data collection method.

Data collection

This research undertook to gain understanding of the significance of CI in the I&R role of community service professionals--I&R being the process of linking community members presenting as clients to a range of other community services, organisations and groups in order to meet perceived or stated needs that might enhance their ability to manage daily life challenges and to live an independent and satisfying life in their community.

The study was conducted in a regional centre in which community services are provided by a number of government, nongovernment and community based organisations. Community services, sometimes also referred to as human services, include health care, counselling, personal and family support, income support, assistance with gaining employment, assistance with securing accommodation, counselling for drug and alcohol problems, home support services to enable continued independent living for older people or people with disabilities, recreation programs and other similar services.

Those that participated in the study were employees in CSOs that provide help in a variety of areas of need ranging from family support, to home care for aged people, counselling, support for people with disabilities, support for victims of crime and offenders, and accommodation support for families and individuals at risk of homelessness. …

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