Introduction: Research and Conduct of the Study
As a researcher, I am interested in exploring the information worlds of specialized populations, and people of lower socio-economic status in particular. My inquiries began in response to a belief that people who are marginally linked with formalized sources of information have something important to say about their need for timely and useful information.
Since my studies address information needs within the everyday reach of people, I decided that ethnography was the most appropriate method in which to investigate this phenomenon. Because little theoretical development exists in the field of library and information science addressing these concerns, I decided to explore how ordinary people acquire, share, and use information in response to everyday problems.
In 1987, I received a two-year National Science Foundation grant to study the information and social worlds of older women who live alone in a retirement community. Based on my research agenda, the study of retired women seemed appropriate, because it lent itself to further theoretical development regarding factors that influence information-gathering behaviors.
The decision to apply social network theory to coping information grew from my earlier studies. A serendipitous finding from these studies suggested that a social support system must exist before persons will engage in an interpersonal process of sharing information. Another reason stems from previous research reported in the social science literature; that is, as the literature review for this inquiry revealed, a growing body of social science data indicate that a person's social network is an important factor in mediating adjustment to stressful life events. The review also implied that a positive relationship exists between participation in a network and psychological well-being.
Based on these factors, it seemed reasonable to expect that older single women would benefit from participation in a social network. A retirement