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Title:The community informatics of an aging society: a comparative case study of senior centers and public libraries
Author(s):Lenstra, Noah J
Director of Research:Williams, Kate
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Williams, Kate
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Twidale, Michael; Smith, Linda C.; Xie, Bo
Department / Program:Library & Information Science
Discipline:Library & Information Science
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Community informatics
Older adults
Public libraries
Library & information science
Information infrastructure
Digital literacy
Abstract:The information society is also an aging society. This means that as information technology becomes woven into the fabric of daily life, the median age of humanity continues to rise. The participation of this growing population of older adults in the information society is often seen in the popular press and even in scholarship as dependent on their ability to cope with their supposedly declining minds and declining bodies. This study reframes this phenomenon by studying older adults in the communities where they live. This dissertation asks to what extent and how does community-based information infrastructure support older adult digital literacy. Three theories shape this analysis: 1) information infrastructure as the co-creation of information systems and information users (Star & Ruhleder, 1996), 2) digital literacy as the integration of technology into our lives (Prior & Shipka, 2003), and 3) older adulthood as a socially shaped stage in the human lifecourse (Hutchison, 2014). Using the extended case method approach (Burawoy, 1998), these three theories are scrutinized in relation to the empirical reality I studied. Through this situated understanding (Suchman, 1987), this dissertation contributes to the development of these theories, which are used in multiple academic disciplines. This dissertation further contributes to the fields of community informatics and library & information science, both of which are only beginning to study aging in the information society. I study senior centers and public libraries, institutions that are ubiquitous in the United States of America, as community-based information infrastructure. This dissertation consists of a comparative case study of three public libraries and three senior centers in a particular Midwestern metropolitan area. I direct particular attention to 209 of the older adults who participate in technology support services at these six institutions. During a one-year period involving 267 field sessions I conducted participant observation with these older adults, as well as with staff. I also interviewed 54 of these older adults, and seven staff members. I finally reviewed documents produced in the past and in the present by and about the institutions. The overall finding from this investigation is that community-based information infrastructure is indeed supportive of older adult digital literacy. However, this support is not as robust as it could be. Particular findings include: 1) community-based information infrastructure emerges out of and evolves through individual and social struggle; 2) community-based information infrastructure is rooted in the lives of older adults; 3) ageism conditions both community-based information infrastructure and older adult digital literacy; and 4) older adults are determined and creative learners who with support integrate technology into the diverse rhythms of their lives. These lives can be best understood through a new concept articulated in this dissertation, the informatics lifecourse. This concept refers to how a person learns technology through the stages of his or her life. The informatics lifecourse is populated by countless informatics moments (Williams, 2012), instances of giving and receiving technology support. Breakdowns in the informatics lifecourse of the individual relate to breakdowns at the level of the community. This finding illustrates how individuals and communities are interdependent. By foregrounding the agency of older adults in the information infrastructure they and others rely on to learn technology across time, this dissertation challenges deficit models of aging premised on decline and disengagement. Public libraries and senior centers are overpressured, publicly funded institutions. By embracing the agency of older adults, these institutions could reconfigure themselves for an information society that is aging.
Issue Date:2016-06-23
Rights Information:Copyright 2016 Noah Lenstra
Date Available in IDEALS:2016-11-10
Date Deposited:2016-08

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