Making Public Information Meaningful: libraries and democratic engagement in the digital age Lauren Smith PhD Research Student University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, Scotland [email_address] twitter: @walkyouhome BOBCATSSS Conference, Amsterdam 23 rd - 25 th January 2012
Citizenship and Democratic Engagement
Impacts and Barriers
Solutions / Interventions
Citizen “one who has a share in both the ruling and being ruled” (Aristotle)
Status + Rights + Duties
“ Citizenship describes the relationship between the citizen and the state and the need for citizens to understand the political and economic processes, institutions, laws, rights and responsibilities of our democratic system.” (Institute for Citizenship, 2012)
“ A good democratic system attempts to ensure informed and reflective decisions.” (Sunstein, 2001)
“ individual and collective actions designed to identify and address issues of public concern” (Tapia & Ortiz, 2010)
“ individual and collection involvement in public affairs” (Norris, 2001 in Tapia & Ortiz, 2010)
Indicators of Democratic Engagement (Canadian Index of Wellbeing, 2010)
Democratic / Political / Civic Engagement
Voting in elections
Donating money to campaigning organisations
Taking part in a protest or demonstration
Joining a campaigning organisation
Joining a political party
Donating money to a political party
Democratic deficit in UK (Demos, 2008) and worldwide (Hill, 2009; Print, 2007)
Democratic engagement low and in decline (Hansard Society, 2009; Demos, 2008; Coleman, 2005)
2010 general election turnout: 65.1% of the eligible voter population
Importance of Engagement
Address 'democratic deficit'
Democratic engagement and participation fundamental to successful democratic societies (Uitermark & Duyvendak, 2008)
People more likely to discuss with peer groups and others
Increased understanding of others' points of view
More realistic view of politics – disenchantment less likely (Hay, 2003)
Digital By Default
“ Simplifying the user experience of digital public services by making all of government’s transactional services available through Directgov” (Cabinet Office)
Citizens' Advice Bureau warns against “premature withdrawal of non-digital channels” (Citizens Advice Bureau, 2011)
Risk of “dissuading those who are not computer literate from being tax compliant”. House of Commons’ Treasury Sub-Committee, 2011, in Citizens' Advice Bureau, 2011)
Type A (First-Principle Justiciable) 1. Electoral information 2. Legal (statutory) information 3. Etc. (essential health information?)
Type B (Second-Principle Justiciable) 1. Domestic political news 2. Foreign political news 3. STM information (scientific, technical, medical) 4. Etc .
Type C (Nonjusticiable) 1. Soft news 2. Entertainment 3. Etc.
(Steele, 1998 in Duff, 2011)
40% of Internet users have looked for political news and information on the Web (Cornfield & Rainie, 2003)
Using internet because newspapers and television not sufficient
Finding out where and when to vote Contributing money to a candidate Taking part in political conversations Finding out about a candidate's voting history
70% of respondents agree that the internet makes it easier for them to participate in civic and political activities
49% agree that they would generally prefer to use the internet to participate in civic and political activities
Hansard Society (2010)
Benefits of Online Engagement
Increased access to information and discussion fora
Exposure to political difference:
People better able to explain reasons for political opinions
People have increased tolerance / understanding of others’ views
People have better idea of distribution of public opinion – sense of legitimacy for democratic outcomes
Benefits of Online Discussion
Anonymity, testing out new identities (Borgida & Stark, 2004)
Discussion aids construction of self / community / culture (Turkle, 1997)
Greater willingness to express less socially desirable opinions (Evans et al., 2003)
Political discussion results in better informed decisions, changed positions (Price & Cappella, 2001)
Increased social trust and community participation (Price & Cappella, 2001)
Problems With Online Engagement
Risk of selective exposure : “True democracy thrives when people seek out new information and ideas rather than information that only bolsters their current beliefs and attitudes”. (Sunstein, 2001, in Borgida & Stark, 2004)
However, little evidence that people are using the Internet to actively seek or avoid political difference. (Brundidge, 2010)
People with high levels of knowledge/engagement more likely to participate (Price & Cappella, 2001)
Online vs. Offline
Just a “new way of doing old things” (Tyler, 2002)
Does the internet defy what we know about 'real life' psychological & social structures? (Brundige, 2010)
Political psychology doesn't alter between online/offline
“ An inclusive information society essentially is a society where everyone has the information that they need, digital or otherwise” (Duff, 2011)
Political Discussion Network Heterogeneity Geographical Space Communicative Space “ Political” Space Private / Public Space Brundidge (2010)
Information-seeking competence as a sociopolitical skill
Critically scrutinizing questions:
Who produces what print and electronic publications, and for whom?
Which institutions, corporations, and individuals are supporting publishing in terms of financial and political support?
Who takes part in the process of information decontextualization, relocation, and recontextualization?
How do people look for information about political issues?
What forms does the information take?
Blog posts / forums
Discussion with peers
Formal education (citizenship)
Barriers to Access
Digital divide(s) (Barzilai-Nahon, 2006 in Duff, 2011; Sunstein, 2001)
Library closures and funding cuts
Library policy – unwillingness to get involved in 'political' issues
Age, disability, health, medical conditions, lack of skills, or not being able to afford access (Citizens' Advice Bureau, 2011)
Social inequalities may be magnified (Jensen et al., 2007)
Reinforcement of public library systems
Reversal of attrition in the status and conditions of reference librarians
More generously funded information and media literacy programs in schools at all levels
New models of news-information institutions?
“ Purveyors of fact” (Museums, Libraries & Archives Council, 2010). Physical and electronic information resources
Providing access to the internet
Providing a neutral space for online and offline political discussion with diverse groups
Encouraging serendipitous discovery
Encouraging tolerance of different views
“ Library as democratic hothouse” (Madsen, 2009)
'Community democracy hubs' (Power Inquiry, 2010)
Public library as 'community commons'
Citizens learn how to “find, evaluate and use the information essential for making decisions that affect the way we live, learn, work, and govern ourselves” (Kranich, 2001)
“ I helped a person who can barely read register to vote. Without me, they couldn't have participated in our democracy. I hold sessions for people to give their views on local & national government consultations because libraries are one of the few places that hold copies of physical documents and also have computers to submit an online response. The library is a meeting space for the local walking group and Neighbourhood Forum meetings as well as out of hours computer training. It's also the venue for our local councillor drop in service as well as our PCSOs and MP.” (Librarian commenting on Guardian website, 2010)
Andersen, J. (2006). “The public sphere and discursive activities: information literacy as sociopolitical skills”. Journal of Documentation, 62(2), 213-228.
Borgida, E. & Stark, E. (2004). “New media and politics: some insights from social and political psychology”. American Behavioral Scientist , 48 (4), 467-478. http://proxy.lib.strath.ac.uk/login??url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/57120252?accountid=14116
Brundidge, J. (2010). “Encountering “Difference” in the Contemporary Public Sphere: The Contribution of the Internet to the Heterogeneity of Political Discussion Networks”. Journal of Communication , 60 (4), 680-700.
Cabinet Office (2010). The Coalition: our programme for government . London: Crown Copyright. http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/media/409088/pfg_coalition.pdf
Canadian Index of Wellbeing (2010). Indicators of Democratic Engagement . Toronto: Canadian Index of Wellbeing. http://www.ciw.ca/en/TheCanadianIndexOfWellbeing/DomainsOfWellbeing/DemocraticEngagement.aspx
Coleman, S. (2005). “e-Democracy: what's the big idea?”. Manchester: British Council. http://www.britishcouncil.org/bc-edemocracy-2.doc
Duff, A. (2011). “The Rawls-Tawney Theorem and the Digital Divide in Postindustrial Society.” Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology . 62 (3), 604-612.
Hansard Society (2009). Audit of Political Engagement 6: Political Engagement Indicators . London: Hansard Society. http://www.hansardsociety.org.uk/files/folders/1755/download.aspx
Hill, C. (2009). “Inside, outside & online”. American Libraries , 40 (3), 38-42.
Institute for Citizenship (2012) “What is Citizenship?” http://citizen.org.uk/What_is_Citizenship.htm
Jensen, M. Danziger, J.N. & Venkatesh, A. (2007). “Civil society and cyber society: the role of the internet in community associations and democratic politics”. The Information Society , 23 , 39-50.
Madsen, M.C. (2009). "The library as democratic hothouse". Scandinavian Public Library Quarterly, 42 (1), 10-11.
Moy, P. & Gastil, J. (2006). “Predicting deliberative conversation: the impact of discussion networks, media use, and political cognition”. Political Communication , 23 , 443-460.
Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (2008). Generic Social Outcomes . http://inspiringlearningforall.gov.uk/toolstemplates/genericsocial/
Print, M. (2007). Citizenship education and youth participation in democracy". British Journal of Educational Studies , 55 (3), 325-345. http://www3.interscience.wiley.com.eresources.shef.ac.uk/cgi-bin/fulltext/118492668/PDFSTART
Sunstein, C. (2001). republic.com. Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press.
Tapia, A. H. & Ortiz, J. A. (2010). "Network Hopes: Municipalities Deploying Wireless internet to Increase Civic Engagement". Social Science Computer Review , 28 (1), 93-117. http://ssc.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/28/1/93
Uitermark, J. & Duyvendak, J. W. (2008). "Citizen participation in a mediated age: neighbourhood governance in The Netherlands". International Journal of Urban and Regional Research , 32 (1), 114-134. http://www3.interscience.wiley.com.eresources.shef.ac.uk/cgi-bin/fulltext/119403656/PDFSTART
Library polling station by makelessnoise on Flickr
Public library computer by sillygwailo on Flickr
Global village communications by Combined Media on Flickr