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Elfreda Annmary Chatman was one of the preeminent library and information science scholars during the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s. The influence of her research on the work of others and through her students continues. Focusing her research and theory development on the information behavior of the ordinary people around her, Chatman highlighted the importance of studying everyday life contexts and helped shape the direction of research for many scholars to examine information in everyday life circumstances. Her middle-range theories were intended to enable information researchers to understand the information behavior of individuals and groups and to facilitate the development of policies and practices to help people experiencing everyday information problems.

Elfreda Annmary Chatman (1942–2002) stands as a pioneering library and information science scholar. She believed that developing theory would help researchers understand the information behavior of a range of individuals and groups. Her exploration of everyday information worlds highlighted the importance of studying daily life contexts and helped shape the direction of research for many scholars to examine information in everyday life circumstances. Her middle-range theories were intended to facilitate understanding of the information behavior of a range of individuals and groups; her theories continue to support the development of policies and practices to help people experiencing information problems in day-to-day contexts.

Chatman's life and work exemplified the scholar in practice. While we may now take for granted the idea of theory building in library and information science (LIS), Chatman was a pioneer in LIS theory development. Particular concepts, such as "small worlds" and "normative behavior," are still strongly associated with Chatman. Many of her concepts remain to be fully tested; however, researchers continue to explore her ideas. The ongoing attention researchers pay to her theorizing and her interest in working with all people is a tribute to her impact on the field. [End Page 238]

This article examines Chatman's career, from her early research as a doctoral student to her growth into a dominant figure in LIS research. Her major achievements, including her championing of the study of socioeconomic groups and subsequent development of key concepts surrounding information behavior among members of marginalized populations, are explored.

A Life of Service and Scholarship

Chatman's research interests were deeply rooted in her own life experiences. From humble beginnings in Ohio Chatman overcame various socioeconomic challenges to pursue education at the doctoral level and a career of teaching and research. In 1971 she completed her bachelor of science degree in education at Youngstown State University. Embarking on her postgraduate education, she completed her master's degree in library science at Case Western Reserve University in 1976, concentrating on public library administration, followed by an advanced certificate in library and information studies in 1978, with a focus on library administration, at the University of California at Berkeley. Specializing in the subject areas of social studies of information and library organization and management, Chatman continued her studies at the School of Library and Information Studies, University of California at Berkeley, completing her doctorate in 1983. In 1984 the Association for Library and Information Science Education (ALISE) named her thesis, "The Diffusion of Information: A Study of the Working Poor," best dissertation of the year.

As director of the library extension program, Project Outreach, at the Reuben MacMillan Free Library in Youngstown, Ohio (1972–77), where she helped provide programming to serve the poor, Chatman found inspiration in her daily contact with people in everyday situations, in particular, marginalized groups. Chatman defined the marginalized individual as follows: "Briefly, a marginal person is someone that lives in two small worlds of culture, which are very different from each other. Problems can arise when marginalized populations seek a more central place in the dominant society. A critical limitation to their quest is a failure to understand the cultural, educational, and social norms that are fundamental to the greater social world."1 She focused her doctoral research on the socially and economically marginalized, believing that economically disadvantaged people have a unique contribution to make in helping us understand their information worlds. Her experience with Project Outreach influenced her choice of group and thesis topic. She [End Page 239] decided to explore whether opinion leaders existed in an impoverished environment and whether they bore similarities to opinion leaders found in other contexts. To explore diffusion of information among the working poor, Chatman interviewed fifty women in the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act program in Berkeley, California.2

Figure 1. Elfreda Chatman, a leader in information behavior research, is shown here when she was a professor at the School of Information Studies, Florida State University. Photo courtesy of Florida State University.
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Figure 1.

Elfreda Chatman, a leader in information behavior research, is shown here when she was a professor at the School of Information Studies, Florida State University. Photo courtesy of Florida State University.

As Chatman observed, little was known then about information and poverty.

When I began to review the literature which addresses this issue, I found that although a number of studies reported information needs and uses, only a small body of literature (mostly originating from communication research) addressed information and poverty. The primary focus of that literature centers around mass media use and the poor. Investigators studying this phenomenon have concluded that because poor people rarely use the print media and are high consumers of television, they can be characterized as living in an impoverished information world. But from my experiences I sensed that there is a great deal not known about information and poverty. For instance, it is not known what factors influence poor people's need for ordinary information, its use in [End Page 240] their everyday lives, and its diffusion in their social world. It is also not known what role, if any, opinion leaders play as disseminators of ordinary information in a poverty environment.3

This initial research marked the beginning of a prolific scholarly career devoted to understanding the information worlds of ordinary people. Chatman continued her teaching, research, and theory development as a member of the faculties at the School of Library and Information Science, Louisiana State University (1983–86); the School of Information and Library Science, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (1986–98); and, finally, the School of Information Studies, Florida State University (1998–2002).

Studying Life in the Social Margins

Chatman has been called one of the most prominent researchers in everyday life information-seeking studies from the 1980s forward.4 Exploring life in the margins of society was important to Chatman, and she extended this context to everyone, believing that we all participate in different and potentially fringe information worlds, in which ordinary people lead an everyday existence. "At some point all of us live in a small world. Small world lives are not insignificant. They can tell us a great deal about ways in which cultural and social spaces hold opportunities and challenges."5 In particular, she investigated the information worlds of women in various contexts, including her study of the daily lives of janitors and of older women living in a retirement complex. In addition to bringing the information worlds of these groups of women to the forefront, Chatman raised awareness of everyday information situations in research.

Her investigation of the information world of janitorial staff revealed that information is often not exchanged for a variety of reasons. For two years Chatman interviewed janitorial staff at an academic institution. As was characteristic of Chatman's ethnographic approach, "interviews were conducted wherever the janitors happened to be working, for example, in broom closets, bathrooms, stairways, and classrooms."6 Chatman discovered that less than one-third of the janitors interviewed reported using the library, a finding she noted as consistent with the findings in other studies. Further, their social and working environments presented barriers to janitors exchanging information. According to Chatman, "the reasons for non-use of libraries may lie outside the control of librarians."7 She noted further that libraries may be unable to meet certain needs, such as information based on experience. Her findings helped [End Page 241] refute the attitude that accessibility to information determines usage. Instead, Chatman called for librarians to learn more about the meaning of information in people's daily lives and to understand why people are unable or choose not to use information. Summing up the significance of understanding ordinary information worlds for public libraries, Chatman and her coauthor, Victoria Pendleton, commented:

If we are to remain the "common man's university," we need to look a little closer at where that common man resides in the information landscape called the Knowledge Society. In these authors' opinion, information must be understood as information in something. In the cultural sense, we mean that information is in the definition of how practical lives are played out. It is the act of forming a world view that determines what is important in a world and what is trivial. Information is what brings meaning, purpose, order, and predictability to a social world.8

The role of the library in the daily lives of ordinary people remained a recurring theme in Chatman's work. For instance, Chatman examined the role of mentorship in public library directors' careers. In addition, Chatman's research exploring information exchange among "opinion leaders" revealed an opportunistic side to information provision through these individuals. Chatman challenged libraries to develop information services to facilitate all groups inclusively. For her work on opinion leaders, Chatman won the 1988 Reference Service Press Award of the Reference and Adult Services Division of the American Library Association.9

Chatman continued her exploration of information exchange and diffusion in her examination of the everyday lives of older women living in the small world of a retirement complex, fictitiously referred to as "Garden Towers." This research was significant not only for exploring the information world of aging women but also for understanding secrecy in social relationships. In addition, while others are often recognized for pioneering LIS works on leisure, this study echoed her earlier work on leisure, income, and public library use in representing early explorations of leisure in our field. Chatman referred to her Garden Towers participants as "avid world watchers," that is, a group of women who were heavy media users, reaching to the outside world from their small world. Chatman further found that older age was not a factor in library usage; rather, participants used the public library through its outreach programs. She charged libraries with revisiting their assumed knowledge about the information world of older people.10 [End Page 242]

The Information World of Retired Women, the monograph that resulted from Chatman's study of Garden Towers, won the Association of College and Research Libraries' Best Book Award for 1995. Chatman's study emerged from her ongoing exploration of diffusion theory and marked her movement toward developing her own theories. She was interested in understanding the relationships among individuals in the retirement complex, including the sharing and spreading of information throughout the community. In later work, Chatman discussed her particular application of "social network theory" to studying older women, referring to social networks and relevant researchers.11 As Julia Hersberger has observed, researchers currently engaged in studying social networks maintain there are many social network theories as opposed to an overall theory.12 LIS scholars now use the research area of social network analysis to understand how people develop and maintain social relationships and community. Nevertheless, Chatman's work represents an early and innovative approach to exploring community in our field.

Applying Qualitative Field Approaches to Studying Everyday Information Worlds

Chatman is often recognized for her adoption and application of qualitative research approaches, which brought her in close contact with ordinary people. She regularly employed ethnography and field research data collection approaches, such as interviews and observation, to learn more about information worlds, which were often hidden when utilizing quantitative approaches. Because Chatman was exploring phenomena untouched by other LIS researchers, her research was a voyage of discovery. Exploring new ways of understanding information worlds, she drew upon theories and methodological approaches used in the social sciences. In defense of her ethnographic approach Chatman wrote:

Ethnography, with its deepest roots in anthropology, was chosen as the best method for my work, because data are collected in social settings that reveal reality as lived by members of those settings. As a result, ethnographic studies make known contextual meanings, cultural norms, and social interactions that are not possible with other methods. Because there is a paucity of knowledge pertaining to everyday perspectives and ordinary uses of information, there is a need for a method that permits the most comprehensive view of this process.13 [End Page 243]

Chatman wrote about her research experiences because she believed she was filling a gap that existed in the LIS literature. She noted that, although she could identify researchers' use of various field research approaches in their studies, there was little actual discussion of field research approaches in LIS research.14 In her dissertation she described how this situation affected her as a developing researcher: "Prior to beginning this investigation, I had only the vaguest notion about how to get started. To develop my knowledge of methodological approaches and issues, I read anthropological and sociological studies."15

Chatman consistently provided rich descriptions of her methodological approaches in her writing, taking care to explain how and why she adopted techniques to enhance the trustworthiness and applicability of findings. Her study of older women revealed a scholar much more at ease with research than the earlier doctoral student, as she noted, "As is my usual practice, I conducted interviews with 55 women, using primarily open-ended questions."16 In developing her own practice she wrestled with decisions researchers still consider carefully in planning their studies. For instance, in her discussion of "insiders" and "outsiders," a prelude to her theory of "life in the round," Chatman debated whether the researcher must be an insider to understand another person's life experience, concluding that the position of insider potentially explains the information barriers between worlds.17

By writing about what she found to be a deeply profound personal experience of entering the field and returning with data, Chatman drew the attention of other researchers to practical considerations of all aspects of their interactions in the field. In particular, the role of the researcher and his or her impact while in the field were of paramount importance to Chatman. She emphasized assuming a role "appropriate" to a given context to help the researcher gain entry to a group or situation; for example, in her work with low-skilled workers she identified herself as a student, which placed her in a nonthreatening position when meeting with workers and supervisors and gave her a vehicle for entry into this research context. Chatman believed the researcher should adopt a role that facilitates observation of the everyday life of the members of a particular small information world. She further emphasized the importance of reflecting on the impact of the researcher in the field; for example, she considered the affective issue of researcher anxiety, associated with such research tasks as gaining entry, the potential prospect for negative participant behavior, and conducting effective interviews, as playing a critical role in successful research outcomes. Her discussion acknowledged [End Page 244] the complexity of the researcher's role and the importance of recognizing one's own impact in fieldwork.18 Chatman's exploration of the researcher in the field continues to influence the conceptualization of qualitative methodological approaches in LIS, such as observation.19

Chatman's reflection on her research encouraged LIS scholars to experiment with alternative qualitative approaches to research. Through her teaching and collaborations she urged researchers to adopt field research approaches, particularly in their exploration of the information worlds of ordinary people. For her, entering the field and experiencing other people's information worlds firsthand were the only ways to understand people's everyday lives.

Nevertheless, Chatman's methodological approaches have met with criticism among some LIS researchers. Donald Case summarized one of the major criticisms of Chatman's work (e.g., her research surrounding janitors), her questionable generalization of qualitative research results, noting: "But most of Chatman's evidence is in the form of verbatim comments, recorded in her field notes, a type of data that are difficult to quantify." Case observed that "a number of individual comments and anecdotes support the theory that the janitors' world is one that lacks solidarity and trust, documenting the existence of one of the sources of alienation." Chatman was actually theorizing. In keeping with qualitative research tradition, Chatman used the comments of participants to ground her research, using evidence to enable readers to assess the applicability of the findings and make their own interpretations. Case does acknowledge that investigating Chatman's marginalized groups would have proven difficult by other means.20 Perhaps more appropriate for considering Chatman's work is the term "transferability" or "theoretical generalizability." Qualitative researchers currently prefer this terminology, which focuses on situational comparisons, as opposed to "statistical generalizability," which is not a goal of qualitative research.21

This challenge to Chatman's research approach was part of a wider controversy about the appropriateness of qualitative LIS research, which was often (and is sometimes still) treated as the weaker sibling of quantitative research. Even Chatman's early writing shows a transitional period, with her mixing quantitative and qualitative research terminology when describing her participant groups.22 Pendleton and Chatman criticized the attitude toward qualitative research approaches, noting, "Unfortunately, qualitative researchers have tended to be labeled as 'soft' researchers who employ a method that is sadly in need of scholarly rigor. In these authors' opinion, this is not necessarily the case."23 [End Page 245]

Chatman's Three Middle-Range Theories

Chatman's passion for research propelled her into a leadership position in theory development. She was a driving force in the movement toward much needed theory development in LIS. In Chatman's words, "We have no central theory or body of interrelated theories we can view as 'middle range.'"24 The idea of creating middle-range theory was to bring together theory and empirical research; in doing so she influenced a generation of LIS researchers to explore theory about the individual's information world, drawing upon concepts, such as small worlds, from other fields to extend those concepts to information behavior research in unique ways. Chatman drew widely from other theorists, such as Emile Durkheim, Max Weber, and Robert K. Merton on the concept of alienation.25 Everett Rogers's work Diffusion of Innovations played a central role in her explorations of small world information exchange, beginning with her doctoral dissertation and continuing throughout her research career; in one article she reviewed diffusion theory and its particular relevance to her research.26 Case has noted the breadth of sources that influenced Chatman, ranging from gratification theory, attributed to such researchers as Elihu Katz and David Foulkes, to mass media and communication theories as well as sociological theories from Erving Goffman, Alfred Schutz, and Harold Garfinkel.27 Chatman believed that theory development was critical for effective policy building and implementation. While others, such as Tom Wilson, Brenda Dervin, and Lois Forman-Wernet, are renowned for their more general models of information-seeking behavior,28 Chatman dubbed her efforts her "middle-range theories."29

A Theory of Information Poverty

Although in the 1970s and 1980s popular belief connected economic poverty to information poverty, Chatman was among those who explored alternative reasons for information poverty.30 Within her field she was influenced by the work of researchers into information and poverty, such as Thomas Childers's depiction of the information poor as receivers of information who have limited abilities to process that information, as well as Dervin and Bradley Greenberg's investigation of urban African American communities, which revealed a shift from the closely knit community to an information context of ghettos, crime, mistrust, and alienation.31 Chatman's Theory of Information Poverty is rooted in her desire to find a sociocultural explanation for information poverty. Chatman described her search as follows: [End Page 246]

Early in my research, I was influenced by scholars who made the argument that economic poverty was linked to information poverty. Over the course of my inquiries, however, I discovered that this linkage is not necessarily true. . . . Needing to find plausible answers, I used a number of conceptual frameworks, including gratification theory, alienation theory, and diffusion theory. I applied theory-driven research that yielded four essential concepts that, taken together, appear to act like a DNA factor for information poverty.32

To explain information poverty Chatman drew heavily upon sociological sources, in particular Merton, to differentiate between "insiders" and "outsiders," that is, those who belong to a particular lifeworld and those who exist outside the boundaries of that lifeworld. The notion of insiders and outsiders became a background for Chatman's work, around which emerged Chatman's four concepts defining an impoverished lifeworld: secrecy, deception, risk taking, and situational relevance.33

Secrecy involved concealment of information as a protective measure, which enables people to control aspects of their personal lives. Chatman noted, "The point is that, in secrecy, the objective is to guard against disclosure; consequently, we simply cease to be receptive to advice or information." Deception, related to secrecy, was for Chatman a process meant to hide a reality by providing misleading and false information. While secrecy and deception are both self-protective measures, risk taking, a concept adapted from diffusion theory, involved not only the weighing of acceptance of an innovation but also, in Chatman's work, the more basic decision of whether even to consider the possibility of innovation. Risk taking raised the question of trust and trustworthy sources in support of information sharing and adoption. Situational relevance for Chatman concerned utility, in which relevance addressed an individual's need and offered the potential for shaping "a collective perception about ways in which new knowledge is brought into a social system." Chatman likened situational relevance to Dervin's sense-making model.34

Based on these four concepts Chatman outlined the theoretical framework for her Theory of Information Poverty, noting that it reflected not an individualistic but a collective model of need.

  • Proposition 1: People who are defined as information poor perceive themselves to be devoid of any sources that might help them.

  • Proposition 2: Information poverty is partially associated with class distinction. That is, the condition of information poverty is influenced by outsiders who withhold privileged access to information. [End Page 247]

  • Proposition 3: Information poverty is determined by self-protective behaviors which are used in response to social norms.

  • Proposition 4: Both secrecy and self-deception are self-protecting mechanisms due to a sense of mistrust regarding the interest or ability of others to provide useful information.

  • Proposition 5: A decision to risk exposure about our true problems is often not taken due to a perception that negative consequences outweigh benefits.

  • Proposition 6: New knowledge will be selectively introduced into the information world of poor people. A condition that influences this process is the relevance of that information in response to everyday problems and concerns.35

Neil Pollock has questioned Chatman's Theory of Information Poverty, suggesting that information poverty is a more complex issue than explained by her six propositions. Specifically, Pollock criticized Chatman's work for "reducing social communications to issues of relevance and social networks within world-views, rather than the issue also being about power," noting further that Chatman's sociological stance placed material, linguistic, and economic factors as secondary in importance.36 Citing studies conducted in other countries, Pollock observed that some of Chatman's findings do not necessarily translate well to other cultural contexts, for example, contexts outside the particular social and economic circumstances of the United States.37 In addition, Pollock suggested that particular ideas about information poverty do not hold, such as the extension of the isolated information experiences of microgroups to the wider population of information poor worldwide, and factors associated with information poverty, such as secrecy and deception, may not be defining aspects of information poverty.38

It must be remembered, however, that Chatman's propositions were her attempt to bring together ideas; in this case she was challenging previous conceptions of information poverty. Importantly, Chatman's Theory of Information Poverty went beyond the information poverty and economic poverty debate to show how information needs are specific to particular populations. In addition, her work revealed that social norms determine accepted information as opposed to outside information sources. These findings prompted Chatman to recommend to information professionals that "the process of understanding begins with research that looks at their [special populations'] social environment and that defines information from their perspective."39 Part of the value of Chatman's exploration of information poverty rests with her [End Page 248] demonstration that information behavior must be understood through construction of meaning.40 As a result, Chatman's Theory of Information Poverty continues to hold value in LIS research for investigating information seeking in marginalized groups.41

A Theory of Life in the Round

Paul Solomon commends Chatman's Theory of Life in the Round for demonstrating the importance of context in shaping an individual's information seeking.42 Believing that a person's context determined his or her perspective on information, thereby shaping behavior toward use or nonuse of information, Chatman's concept of Life in the Round provided a way of understanding people's information behavior in that context or world. Chatman defined life lived in the round as a "public form of life in which things are implicitly understood." Members of this world are concerned with their own small world, the creation and support of roles in that world, and information that can be used there.43

Again influenced by other researchers, including Merton, Chatman's research into the social world of women prisoners led to her final development of a Theory of Life in the Round.44 Four concepts are central to the theory: small worlds, social norms, social types, and worldview. In a small world or society life is "played out on a small stage." Members of that world share a common worldview and determine what information is important and which sources can be trusted. Life in the round is routine, and information seeking beyond that world is neither needed nor wanted.45 Social norms refer to accepted behavior in a small world. Chatman's ideas are grounded in research by Ferdinand Tónnies, J. D. Douglas, W. F. Whyte, and J. De Angulo in her development of the concept of social norms and their role in maintaining order in a small world.46 In a small world insiders consider accepted behavioral patterns to be normative and part of shared social meaning. Information is sought because an individual shares a common need with his or her homogeneous social group.47

Drawing upon Weber's concept of ideal types, Chatman examined the ways in which social typing creates perceptions about public behavior. A social type is a label or classification determined by social norms created and supported in a small world, signifying an individual's ability to acquire and use information. For example, Chatman explored social types in her study of inmates of a women's prison. She found that prisoners assigned social labels to other inmates according to particular characteristics. Social typing, in turn, assigned a social role to an individual, providing expectations of public behavior. For example, [End Page 249] the "bitch guards," prison officers who watched prisoners and enforced prison rules, held additional power in their capacity to share or not share information with prisoners. Other social types included the "brides," new prisoners who often partnered themselves with the "studs," prisoners who provided protection and served as gatekeepers to information.48

Chatman's fourth concept—worldview—is a collective of shared beliefs, customs, and language used by members of a small world to evaluate behavior and interpret the world. In a small world worldview influences information behavior, motivating members of the small world to accept information from other small world members. However, worldview encourages insiders to suspect and reject information coming from outsiders and the outside.49

Using the key concepts noted above, Chatman offered six propositional statements that summarize her Theory of Life in the Round:

  • Proposition 1: A small world conceptualization is essential to a life in the round because it establishes legitimized others (primarily insiders) within that world who set boundaries on behavior.

  • Proposition 2: Social norms force private behavior to undergo public scrutiny. It is this public arena that deems behavior—including information-seeking behavior—appropriate or not.

  • Proposition 3: The result of establishing appropriate behavior is the creation of a worldview. This worldview includes language, values, meaning, symbols, and a context that holds the worldview within temporal boundaries.

  • Proposition 4: For most of us, a worldview is played out as life in the round. Fundamentally, this is a life taken for granted. It works most of the time with enough predictability that, unless a critical problem arises, there is no point in seeking information.

  • Proposition 5: Members who live in the round will not cross the boundaries of their world to seek information.

  • Proposition 6: Individuals will cross information boundaries only to the extent that the following conditions are met: (1) the information is perceived as critical, (2) there is a collective expectation that the information is relevant, and (3) a perception exists that the life lived in the round is no longer functioning.50

Chatman believed that observing life as lived in the round was essential to understanding information behavior in a small world context. For Chatman, recognizing the meaning of information for individuals within a small world and appreciating the collective view of what is or [End Page 250] is not relevant were both critical to understanding the workings of a small world. Chatman's Theory of Life in the Round underscored her belief that information behavior is about constructing meaning and that construction of meaning is facilitated by context. While information behavior in a small world context is particular to that world, the Theory of Life in the Round may offer a useful framework for studying and working with various groups; for example, by identifying the reasons for seeking information from outside sources as opposed to sources within a small world, information providers may gain insights into that particular world that will support development of effective information services. By shifting the emphasis in exploring information behavior from information needs to social context, the Theory of Life in the Round facilitates understanding of information behavior.51

Figure 2. Elfreda Chatman with colleagues at the School of Information Studies, Florida State University. Photo courtesy of Florida State University.
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Figure 2.

Elfreda Chatman with colleagues at the School of Information Studies, Florida State University. Photo courtesy of Florida State University.

A Theory of Normative Behavior

Chatman's exploration of small world behavior led her to investigate normative behavior. "Normal" behavior is expected, routine behavior in [End Page 251] a given context; normative pertains to adherence to socially accepted behavior. A Theory of Normative Behavior offers a theoretical framework for understanding information seeking and information avoidance in a particular small world. Concepts of social norms, worldview, social types, and information behavior again provided the foundation for this theory. As Gary Burnett and Paul Jaeger note, Chatman's Theory of Normative Behavior attempted to widen the applicability of her small world concepts by testing her ideas in the information-rich worlds of virtual communities and feminist booksellers.52 In their article on the subject Burnett, Michele Besant, and Chatman outlined five propositional statements underpinning a Theory of Normative Behavior:

  • Proposition 1: Social norms are standards to which members of a social world comply to exhibit desirable expressions of public behavior.

  • Proposition 2: Members choose compliance because it allows for ways in which to affirm what is normative for a specific context at a specific time.

  • Proposition 3: Worldview is shaped by the normative values that influence how members think about the ways of the world. It is a collective, taken-for-granted attitude that sensitizes members to be responsive to certain events and to ignore others.

  • Proposition 4: Everyday reality contains a belief that members of a social world do retain attention or interest sufficient enough to influence behavior. The process of placing persons in ideal categories of lesser or greater quality can be thought of as social typification.

  • Proposition 5: Information behavior is a construct through which to approach everyday reality and its effect on actions to gain or avoid the possession of information. The choice of an appropriate course of action is driven by members' beliefs concerning what is necessary to support a normative way of life.53

Applying this theoretical framework to feminist booksellers and virtual communities, Burnett, Besant, and Chatman identified various means by which normative behavior is constructed and enforced in these small worlds. For instance, social norms were found in the frequently asked questions (FAQs) posted in virtual communities, providing information about "netiquette" or acceptable behavior in that community. In addition, a subtext of norms was also evident in virtual communities, varying in nature from community to community and expressed in [End Page 252] online communication among group members. Social types were also noted, including long-term members versus "newbies" or new members in virtual communities, as well as women bookstore owners and staff and identities created by women, such as activists, separatists, witches, working-class dykes, academics, sex radicals, and women in recovery, among feminist booksellers. Worldview among feminist booksellers, for instance, was manifested as oppression of women by patriarchy. These factors shaped information behavior in each community. For example, the values, adopted social roles, and accepted behaviors among feminist booksellers determined their approach to sharing information by visible means, such as pamphlets and events, to achieve social change. The information behaviors particular to each small world revealed social functioning contributing to community building and support. Burnett, Besant, and Chatman concluded that the Theory of Normative Behavior holds significance in understanding community development and meaning.54

Pollock has criticized Burnett, Besant, and Chatman's application of Chatman's small world concepts to the information worlds of virtual communities and feminist booksellers, stating that people in such information-rich environments have the power and option to choose to move beyond the boundaries of their small world.55 Burnett and Jaeger have explained that Chatman's work frequently evolved from contexts of extreme information poverty to less constrained environments such as those in Burnett, Besant, and Chatman's article. These information-rich worlds still represent small worlds because "their day-to-day activities and interests are constrained by their own small world context and their own norms." Critically, Chatman's particular focus was not the interactions between small worlds or the social worlds that surrounded small worlds; instead, the outside world was viewed through the filter of a given small world.56

Burnett, Jaeger, and Kim M. Thompson extended Chatman's Theory of Normative Behavior, asserting that normative behavior and small worlds provide a useful framework for understanding how the social attitudes particular to specific communities shape information access for members of those communities as well as create an accepted understanding of the social place of information within those communities. Taking cases of clashing groups and opinions of different small worlds, the authors applied Chatman's theories to social access to information, through which LIS professionals can use the concepts of normative behavior to understand differing values and norms and mediate between diverging social interests.57 [End Page 253]

A Lasting Legacy and Inspiration

Chatman died before she could fully test and explore her theory building. Her final research study continued her work on understanding information behavior in small worlds; she left unfinished an exploration of geophagia (the practice of eating soil, usually clay or chalk) among women. Her theories continue to influence the ongoing research efforts of LIS researchers. However, as Burnett and Jaeger have noted, Chatman's work overall remains underused within LIS research. Her concepts frequently are acknowledged only through citations rather than the authors discussing, considering, and building upon her theoretical concepts.58

Chatman worked closely with colleagues to explore further her theories. For example, Chatman and Pendleton considered knowledge gap theory and the problems with mass media in providing information to the information poor. Dawson and Chatman examined normative behavior in terms of reference group theory. Huotari and Chatman applied Chatman's small world theories to information behavior in the workplace context.59 Chatman's research also provided a starting point for a generation of other researchers, taking inspiration from her theoretical concepts and/or methodological approaches. For example, Chatman's Theory of Life in the Round has been influential in such research projects as Hersberger's exploration of the information needs of the homeless and the IBEC (Information Behavior in Everyday Contexts) Life in the Round Project at the School of Information, University of Washington.60 Chatman's framing of social life in theory and research also underlies Karen E. Fisher's development of her concept of Information Grounds.61 In 2006 a panel at the American Society for Information Science and Technology (ASIS&T) conference entitled "Channelling Chatman: Questioning the Applicability of a Research Legacy to Today's Small World Realities" explored the usefulness and future potential of Chatman's theoretical constructs.62 More recently, Burnett and Jaeger have compared Jürgen Habermas's macrolevel concepts of lifeworlds with Chatman's microlevel concepts of small worlds and their noted combined potential for understanding information behavior in our "technology-advanced and interconnected information society."63

In LIS education Chatman's works are commonly found on reading lists for studying information behavior, information poverty, and special populations. Awards that have been established in recognition of Chatman's contributions to information behavior research include the Elfreda A. Chatman Research Proposal Award, established by the ASIS&T's Special Interest Group on Information Needs, Seeking and [End Page 254] Use (SIG USE) in 2005. The School of Library Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill also offers students research awards in Chatman's memory.

Elfreda A. Chatman died on January 15, 2002, at age fifty-nine, having lost her battle with cancer. She is remembered internationally as a distinguished researcher in her field as well as for her professional leadership, teaching abilities, and "unforgettable, powerful, and warm personality."64 In addition to her "love of scholarly thinking" she was dedicated to the next generation of information behavior researchers. Her passion for both people and research challenged and inspired students to think creatively about their individual potential as researchers and LIS professionals. Her colleagues remember her for her time spent "to serve as mentor to junior faculty members."65 Ever down-to-earth in her approach to others, she remembered the people she met in the course of her scholarly, professional, and everyday activities throughout the world and easily became fast friends with people from all walks of life. As appropriately observed by colleague Michele Besant, "Although she lectured in high academic circles, she was just 'plain folk,' like many of those she researched."66

Crystal Fulton

Crystal Fulton is a faculty member of the School of Information and Library Studies at University College Dublin, where she is coordinator of the school's Information Behaviour Research Group and director of the Networking for Leisure and Life & Information Behaviour Research in Everyday Experience (LIBREE) research initiatives. Fulton holds a master of arts as well as a master's degree and doctorate in library and information science from the University of Western Ontario. Her current research examines the information worlds of individuals and groups engaged in leisure activities and the connections among a chosen hobby, community development, information literacy, and social inclusion.


. The author is very grateful to Gary Burnett and the reviewers for their helpful suggestions in the preparation of this manuscript as well as the staff of Florida State University who facilitated the location of photographs in this piece. Also, thanks go to research assistants Heather Tennant and Amy Kennelly for their help with literature searching and document retrieval for this piece.

1. Elfreda A. Chatman, "An Insider/Outsider Approach to Libraries, Change, and Marginalized Populations," keynote address presented at the national conference Alteration of Generations, Borås, Sweden, April 23–25, 2001.

2. Also reported in Elfreda A. Chatman, "Information, Mass Media Use and the Working Poor," Library & Information Science Research 7, no. 2 (1985): 97–113.

3. Elfreda A. Chatman, "The Diffusion of Information among the Working Poor" (Ph.D. diss., University of California at Berkeley, 1983), 2–3.

4. Reijo Savolainen, "Everyday Life Information Seeking," in Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science, 1st Update Supplement, ed. M. A. Drake (Boca Raton, Fla.: CRC Press, 2005), 158.

5. Chatman, "An Insider/Outsider Approach," 3.

6. Elfreda A. Chatman, "The Information World of Low-Skilled Workers," Library & Information Science Research 9, no. 4 (1987): 268.

7. Ibid., 279.

8. Victoria E. M. Pendleton and Elfreda A. Chatman, "Small World Lives: Implications for the Public Library," Library Trends 46, no. 4 (1998): 732–51, 749. [End Page 255]

9. Elfreda A. Chatman, "The Role of Mentorship in Shaping Public Library Leaders," Library Trends 40, no. 3 (1992): 492–512; Elfreda A. Chatman, "Opinion Leadership, Poverty, and Information Sharing," Reference Quarterly 26, no. 3 (1987): 341–53.

10. Elfreda A. Chatman, "Low Income and Leisure: Implications for Public Library Use," Public Libraries 24, no. 1 (1985): 34–36; Elfreda A. Chatman, "Channels to a Larger Social World: Older Women Staying in Contact with the Great Society," Library & Information Science Research 13, no. 3 (1991): 295.

11. Elfreda A. Chatman, The Information World of Retired Women (New York: Greenwood Press, 1992); Elfreda A. Chatman, "The Impoverished Life-World of Outsiders," Journal of the American Society for Information Science 47, no. 3 (1996): 193–206; Caroline Haythornthwaite and Barry Wellman, "Work, Friendship, and Media Use for Information Exchange in a Networked Organization," Journal of the American Society for Information Science 49 (1998): 1101–14; for example, Gary Burnett, Michele Besant, and Elfreda A. Chatman's article was cited in "Small Worlds: Normative Behavior in Virtual Communities and Feminist Bookselling," Journal of the American Society for Information Science & Technology 52, no. 7 (2001): 536–47.

12. Julia Hersberger, "Chatman's Information Poverty," in Theories of Information Behavior, ed. Karen E. Fisher, Sanda Erdelez, and E. F. (Lynne) McKechnie (Medford, N. J.: Information Today, 2005), 79–82; see for an example John Scott, Social Network Analysis (London: Sage, 2000).

13. Chatman, Information World of Retired Women, 3.

14. Elfreda A. Chatman, "Field Research: Methodological Themes," Library & Information Science Research 6, no. 4 (1984): 425–38.

15. Chatman, "Diffusion of Information," 2–3.

16. Chatman, Information World of Retired Women, 3–20, 2.

17. Chatman, "Impoverished Life-World," 194.

18. Chatman, "Field Research: Methodological Themes," 425–38.

19. For example, Lynda M. Baker, "Observation: A Complex Research Method," Library Trends 55, no. 1 (2006): 171–89.

20. Donald O. Case, Looking for Information: A Survey of Research on Information Seeking, Needs, and Behavior (London: Academic Press, 2007), 215.

21. See, for example, Rosaline Barbour, Introducing Qualitative Research (London: Sage, 2008).

22. See, for example, Elfreda A. Chatman, "The Information World of Low Skilled Workers," Library & Information Science Research 9, no. 4 (1987): 265–83; Chatman, Information World of Retired Women.

23. Pendleton and Chatman, "Small World Lives," 743.

24. Chatman, "Impoverished Life-World," 193.

25. Case, Looking for Information, 149; Elfreda A. Chatman, "Alienation Theory: Application of a Conceptual Framework to a Study of Information among Janitors," Reference Quarterly 29, no. 2 (1987): 355–68.

26. Everett M. Rogers, Diffusion of Innovations (New York: Free Press, 1983); Elfreda A. Chatman, "Diffusion Theory: A Review and Test of a Conceptual Model in Information Diffusion," Journal of the American Society for Information Science 37, no. 6 (1986): 377–86.

27. Case, Looking for Information, 149; see, for example, Elfreda A. Chatman, "Life in a Small World: Application of Gratification Theory to Information-Seeking [End Page 256] Behavior," Journal of the American Society for Information Science 42, no. 6 (1991): 438–49; Elihu Katz and David Foulkes, "On the Use of the Mass Media as 'Escape': Clarification of a Concept," Public Opinion Quarterly 26 (1962): 377–88.

28. Tom D. Wilson, "Models in Information Behavior Research," Journal of Documentation 55, no. 3 (1999): 249–70,; Brenda Dervin, "An Overview of Sense-Making Research: Concepts, Methods and Results to Date," paper presented at the annual meeting for the International Communications Association, Dallas, Texas, 1983; Brenda Dervin, "From the Mind's Eye of the User: The Sense-Making Qualitative Quantitative Methodology," in Qualitative Research in Information Management, ed. J. D. Glazier and R. R. Powell (Westport, Conn.: Libraries Unlimited, 1992), 61–84; Brenda Dervin and Lois Foreman-Wernet with Eric Lauterbach, eds., Sense-Making Methodology Reader: Selected Writings of Brenda Dervin (Cresskill: Hampton Press, 2003).

29. See, for example, Chatman, "Impoverished Life-World," 193–206.

30. Kim M. Thompson, "Multidisciplinary Approaches to Information Poverty and Their Implications for Information Access" (Ph.D. diss., Florida State University, 2006), 11; Chatman, "Impoverished Life-World," 193–206.

31. Thomas Childers, The Information Poor in America (Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1975); Brenda Dervin and Bradley S. Greenberg, "The Communication Environment of the Urban Poor," in Current Perspectives in Mass Communication Research I (Beverly Hills, Calif.: Sage, 1972), 95–233; Neil Pollock, "Conceptualising the Information Poor: An Assessment of the Contribution of Elfreda Chatman towards an Understanding of Behaviour within the Context of Information Poverty," Neil Pollock Web site,

32. Chatman, "Impoverished Life-World," 194.

33. Ibid., 193–206; Robert K. Merton, "Insiders and Outsiders: A Chapter in the Sociology of Knowledge," American Journal of Sociology 78 (1972): 9–47.

34. Chatman, "Impoverished Life-World," 195, 196, 202; Brenda Dervin, "Useful Theory for Librarianship: Communication, Not Information," Drexel Library Quarterly 13 (1977): 16–32.

35. Chatman, "Impoverished Life-World," 197–98.

36. Pollock, "Conceptualising the Information Poor."

37. For example, F. X. Sligo and A. M. Jameson, "The Knowledge-Behavior Gap in Use of Health Information," Journal of the American Society for Information Science 51, no. 9 (2000): 858–69.

38. Pollock, "Conceptualising the Information Poor"; see, for example, Elfreda Chatman, "A Theory of Life in the Round: A Study of Information Poverty in a Women's Maximum-Security Prison," Journal of the American Society for Information Science 50, no. 3 (1999): 207–17.

39. Chatman, "Impoverished Life-World," 197–98, 205.

40. See, for example, Pollock, "Conceptualising the Information Poor."

41. See, for example, Hersberger, "Chatman's Information Poverty," 78.

42. Paul Solomon, "Information Mosaics: Patterns of Action That Structure," in Exploring the Contexts of Information Behavior, ed. Tom D. Wilson and David K. Allen (London: Taylor Graham Publishing, 1999), 150–75.

43. Chatman, "Theory of Life in the Round," 212.

44. Merton, "Insiders and Outsiders," 9–47. [End Page 257]

45. Chatman, "Theory of Life in the Round"; see Pendleton and Chatman, "Small World Lives."

46. Ferdinand Tónnies, Community and Society (Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft), trans. and ed. C. P. Loomis (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1957); J. D. Douglas, Understanding Everyday Life: Toward the Reconstruction of Sociological Knowledge (Chicago: Aldine Publishing Company, 1970); W. F. Whyte, Street Corner Society (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981); J. De Angulo, Indians in Overalls (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1990).

47. Pendleton and Chatman, "Small World Lives."

48. W. S. Mommsen, Political and Social Theory of Max Weber: Collected Essays (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986); Pendleton and Chatman, "Small World Lives."

49. Pendleton and Chatman, "Small World Lives"; Chatman, "Theory of Life in the Round."

50. Chatman, "Theory of Life in the Round"; Chatman, "Framing Social Life in Theory and Research," New Review of Information Behavior Research 1 (2000): 3–17.

51. Chatman, "Theory of Life in the Round"; Crystal Fulton, "Chatman's Life in the Round," in Fisher, Erdelez, and McKechnie, Theories of Information Behavior, 79–82.

52. Gary Burnett and Paul T. Jaeger, "Small Worlds, Lifeworlds, and Information: The Ramifications of the Information Behaviour of Social Groups in Public Policy and the Public Sphere," Information Research 13, no. 2 (2008): 346,

53. Gary Burnett, Michelle Besant, and Elfreda A. Chatman, "Small Worlds: Normative Behavior in Virtual Communities and Feminist Bookselling," Journal of the American Society for Information Science & Technology 52, no. 7 (2001): 538.

54. Ibid., 542, 544, 545.

55. Pollock, "Conceptualising the Information Poor."

56. Burnett and Jaeger, "Small Worlds."

57. Gary Burnett, Paul T. Jaeger, and Kim M. Thompson, "Normative Behavior and Information: The Social Aspects of Information Access," Library & Information Science Research 30, no. 1 (2008): 56.

58. Burnett and Jaeger, "Small Worlds."

59. Elfreda A. Chatman and Victoria E. M. Pendleton, "Knowledge Gap, Information-Seeking and the Poor," Reference Librarian 40–50 (1995): 135–45; E. M. Dawson and Elfreda A. Chatman, "Reference Group Theory with Implications for Information Studies: A Theoretical Essay," Information Research 6, no. 3 (2001),; M. Huotari and Elfreda A. Chatman, "Using Everyday Life Information Seeking to Explain Organizational Behavior," Library & Information Science Research 23, no. 4 (2001): 351–66.

60. Information Behavior in Everyday Contexts, "'Life in the Round' and the Homeless: Information Flow, Human Service Needs, and Pivotal Interventions (2003–2004),"

61. Karen E. Fisher, Joan C. Durrance, and M. B. Hinton, "Information Grounds and the Use of Need-Based Services by Immigrants in Queens, New York: A Context-Based, Outcome Evaluation Approach," Journal of the American [End Page 258] Society for Information Science 55, no. 8 (2004): 754–66; Karen E. Fisher, Carol F. Landry, and Charles Naumer, "Social Spaces, Casual Interactions, Meaningful Exchanges: 'Information Ground' Characteristics Based on the College Student Experience," Information Research 12, no. 2 (2006): 291,

62. "Channelling Chatman: Questioning the Applicability of a Research Legacy to Today's Small World Realities," panel presented at the annual meeting of ASIS&T, Information Realities: Shaping the Digital Future for All, Austin, Texas, November 6, 2006.

63. Burnett and Jaeger, "Small Worlds."

64. Library Research Round Table (LRRT), "Tribute to Dr. Elfreda A. Chatman," 2002,

65. Michele Besant, quoted in "Obituary: Elfreda A. Chatman," Florida State Times Online 17 (March–April 2002),

66. Ibid. [End Page 259]

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