Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Adoption Seachers' Use of Libraries

Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Adoption Seachers' Use of Libraries

Article excerpt

A Pilot Descriptive Study

A small pilot study of the use of libraries by twelve adoption searchers who were participants in Kansas adoption support groups reveals that all types of libraries were used in the search process. Searchers' preconceptions about libraries and library services included a lack of distinction among types or levels of libraries, a preconceived need to disguise what they were looking for (fearing lack of service otherwise), and the attribution of negative intent to staff who were perceived as unhelpful. Resources and services used varied, but primarily included directories, old newspapers, and interlibrary loan services. A discussion of findings is followed by suggestions for services improvement to this clientele.

Because of social, political, and legal changes in the United States, it has become common for members of the Adoption Triad--adoptees, birth parents, and adoptive parents--and for birth siblings, to search for each other, with the reunion process getting much media reinforcement. Gaining access to original birth records is just the start of a process that almost inevitably leads searchers to libraries for directory and vital record information. While the search process is well-documented in a growing self-help and personal account literature--which originates in and is facilitated by a national network of support groups, organizations, and the Internet--it is rarely mentioned in library and information science literature.

Until recently, adoption records were closed by law in most states. Even adult adoptees could not get access to their original birth records. As social and political barriers concerning adoption have fallen, more adult adoptees and birth parents from the era of closed records are searching for each other within a well-established face-to-face as well as Internet-based advocacy and support group network. Some of them search by themselves or with the help of support group members or lawyers; others with the help of hired searchers. Some also seek redress in the courts to force the legal opening of closed records. Many searchers disguise their queries because they feel or are told that adoption searching is still considered taboo. Regardless of which avenues are pursued, adoption reunion searchers sooner or later find their way to libraries. What specifically happens to them in their library encounters has not been documented, except as anecdotal footnotes to the larger emotional, political, and identity concerns of adoption reunions.

How adoption searchers use libraries was the focus of a small pilot study in Kansas where the principal researcher for this project not only participated in and observed three adoption support groups, but also interviewed twelve support group participants about the library aspects of their searches. This article describes some of the attitudes and experiences of adoption searchers as related to the researcher and suggests some implications for libraries in terms of the resources and services used, as well as for collection development and promotion. The article also includes notes on the sources used by the searchers. Lastly, the article speculates on the possibilities for collaboration between librarians and adoption support groups.

Literature Review

The process of searching for birth family members lost to each other through adoption has been documented in roughly three categories--research studies, advice and self-help materials, and personal accounts of the adoption search and reunion experience. While not true of every individual report, especially in research studies, all three information categories include information or accounts about using libraries to some extent.

Adoption Searching: Research Studies

Research studies are overwhelmingly concerned with psychological adjustment to adoption, relinquishment and reunion, or social policy covering adoption and closed or open records, viewing the search process almost exclusively from those perspectives. …

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