Academic journal article Journal of Education for Library and Information Science

Remembering Elfreda Chatman: A Champion of Theory Development in Library and Information Science Education

Academic journal article Journal of Education for Library and Information Science

Remembering Elfreda Chatman: A Champion of Theory Development in Library and Information Science Education

Article excerpt

This article tracks the process of constructing theory within the field of Library and Information Science (LIS) through an examination of Elfreda A. Chatman's research. Chatman notes in her early publications that she did not enter the field with the intent to create theory, but as she applied established theories, she noted that there were certain aspects of the behavior she observed that were not accounted for in the theories she was analyzing. She turned her focus to the social barriers to information access and began to frame her work with concepts and propositions that explained what she observed. By examining Chatman's use of key theories from the social sciences, this article demonstrates the viability of the application and creation of social theory within the LIS discipline.

Keywords: Information poverty, normative behavior, social theory, information access, literature review


A primary aim of research is to find patterns of regularity whereby we can better understand the world and universe through organized, methodical logic and observation (Babbie, 2001). This methodical process of observation is organized by means of shared lenses through which phenomena are examined. Thomas Kuhn ( 1 962), in his classic work exploring the nature of scientific revolutions, describes scientific research as being guided by theories and paradigms, paradigms being the larger frameworks used to guide examination of various phenomena, and theories being more specific explanations of particular phenomena within the scope of the paradigm.

As students learn and understand the use of theory related to leadership, information access, information behavior, and other core topics germane to information studies, they are better prepared to advocate policy, and help design LIS curricula and other measures aimed as improving information access and understanding in the academic and practical environments in which they will practice. The need for more theory in the study of LIS has been recognized in recent writings (e.g., Pettigrew & McKechnie, 2001; Hall, 2003); however, there has been little to encourage theory building by offering guidance on how theory is created in LIS. The social study of information is one area that has received some attention in the research thus far, but is ripe for still more development of theories and models (Case, 2007; Fisher, Erdelez, & McKechnie, 2005). This article provides one example of how to teach practical use of theory and theory building through a review of Elfreda A. Chatman's information poverty research.

Chatman's Early Work as Exemplar

By looking at Chatman's publications from 1983 to 1996, one can see the process of LIS theory construction as she used extant theory to examine social information behaviors, paying special attention to the customs and trends that create information barriers. Chatman frequently ended her articles with exhortations to libraries to be more aware of the social barriers that impede the access to information underserved patrons might be facing (e.g., Chatman, 1985a, 1987a, 1987b, 1991a, 1991b, 1992; Chatman & Pendleton, 1995; Pendleton & Chatman, 1998), thus drawing a connection between theory and practice.

Chatman writes in her early publications that she began with the common assumption that information poverty is linked with economic poverty. She notes that her definition of information poverty for her early work stemmed from Childers and Post's (1975) The Information Poor in America, which defines information poverty as an "information void" (p. 33), and Duran's (1977) dissertation, Latino Communication Patterns, which states that "a pattern of information poverty . . . restricts access to information for solving problems in many critical areas" (p. 5, as cited in Chatman, 1985b, p. 99). Both of these works focus primarily on economic factors (poverty) that resulted in lack of access to information (information poverty). …

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