Toward a new understanding of immigrant information behavior. A survey study on information access and information overload among US Black diasporic immigrants

Publication Date06 March 2020
AuthorAna Ndumu
SubjectLibrary & information science,Records management & preservation,Document management,Classification & cataloguing,Information behaviour & retrieval,Collection building & management,Scholarly communications/publishing,Information & knowledge management,Information management & governance,Information management,Information & communications technology,Internet
Toward a new understanding of
immigrant information behavior
A survey study on information access
and information overload among US Black
diasporic immigrants
Ana Ndumu
College of Information Studies, University of Maryland, College Park, College Park,
Maryland, USA
Purpose Immigration dominates much of the current US sociopolitical discourse. The research on US-based
immigrant information behavior, however, remains scant. To understand the role of information in
immigration, this study explores information overload among Black immigrants in the US.
Design/methodology/approach The researcher developed a literature-derived information overload
scale to investigate participantsinformation access along with experiences and response to information
Findings Results suggest that participants experience information overload due to behavioral (e.g. the
demands of needing, seeking, or using information), quantitative (i.e. volume or length), and qualitative (e.g.
authority, diversity, or urgency) indicators. Most participants mitigate information overload by turning to
intermediaries and filtering resources.
Research limitations/implications The information overload scale can advance knowledge of the role of
information in immigrant acculturative stress.
Social implications LIS researchers and practitioners can utilize findings to foster social inclusion and
well-being among immigrants.
Originality/valueScholarship on immigrant information behavior must reflect the centrality of information
in migration and how it shapes integration and acculturation.
Keywords Immigrants, Information behavior, Information overload, Acculturation, Social inclusion
Paper type Research paper
1. Introduction
According to the 2010 US Census, one in every seven people in the United States is an
immigrant. The lived experience of immigrants is one of the most controversial topics in
recent US history. As an area of library and information science (LIS) research, however, the
subject of immigrant information behavior in the US context remains underexplored.
Although information researchers and professionals recognize the urgency of information
resources in immigrant settlement and social inclusion, much of the literature is abstract,
localized, and descriptive. Some LIS researchers (Pyati et al., 2008;Srinivasan and Pyati, 2007)
have called for empirical knowledge of immigrants culturally situated and information
communication technology (ICT)-mediated diasporic environments. Fields such as
demography and population studies recognize migrantsinformation capacity, agency,
and dynamism (Dekker and Engbersen, 2014). However, LIS researchers have not thoroughly
examined this reality; the posture of immigrants as universally information impoverished or
digitally divided persists.
1.2 State of the problem
New understandings must reflect the centrality of ICT in migration in light of accelerated and
global information dissemination. Immigrants even those who are forcefully displaced are
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
Received 21 April 2019
Revised 13 January 2020
Accepted 18 January 2020
Journal of Documentation
Vol. 76 No. 4, 2020
pp. 869-891
© Emerald Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/JD-04-2019-0066
likely to be introduced to information technology before migration. Research substantiates
that those with greater ICT access are more likely to migrate (Forunati et al., 2013;Nedelcu,
2012). Upon relocation, however, they often encounter information landscapes that are huge,
overwhelming, and too much(Lloyd, 2015, p. 197) in comparison to those of their countries of
origin. Migrants might, therefore, become exacerbated by the multiple formats and channels
available(Bawden and Robinson, 2009, p. 3). This area of immigrant information behavior
warrants attention.
1.3 Purpose
By repositioning the discourse from the stance of deficiency, or information poverty, to the
dilemma of an abundance of choice (Bawden and Robinson, 2009), or information overload,
this study may bring to the forefront a taken-for-granted aspect of migration. Commonly
perceived as a by-product of mainstream society, researchers have not viewed information
overload from the perspective of immigrants. Classic information overload research involves
middle-class consumers, professionals, and technophiles within information-intense settings
such as workplaces, businesses, and the academy. Here, attention is granted to an
understudied population Black immigrants. To be sure, this is not to say that Black
immigrants are not middle-class, consumers, professionals, or technophiles. Plenty has been
established about mainstream society.
Borrowing from the US Census Bureau definition, a Black immigrant is operationalized
as any foreign-born Black (single or mixed race) adult (aged 18 or over) who permanently
resides in the United States, regardless of immigration status. The United States is home to
3.85.2 million Black immigrants primarily of African, Afro-Latinx, and Afro-Caribbean
descent. Though far from monolithic, Black immigrantsperspectives on information access
and overload might reveal important aspects of this communitys experiences with
acculturative stress. This study will investigate whether there is congruence between
immigrantsinformation access, information overload, and acculturation. This segment of the
population was selected because there is very little LIS research on immigrants from the Pan-
African diaspora; these groups are often homogenized within larger LIS discussions on Black
Americans or are subsumed with comprehensive scholarship on immigrants. This study is
part two of a three-study dissertation (Ndumu, 2019,2020) on the information behavior of
Black immigrants living in the United States.
1.4 Theoretical framework
The theory of information worlds provides a theoretical perspective from which to
understand information access and possibly information overload among immigrants.
Originated by Burnett and Jaeger (2008), it is a framework for conceptualizing information
behavior. Information worlds reflects the dual role of the individual in society (Burnett
et al., 2001;Burnett et al., 2008;Burnett and Jaeger, 2008;Jaeger and Burnett, 2010) and
offers a multifaceted argument involving the intersection of personal and public
information transfer. Information may exist in the mind of an individual, or community
exchanges, or even throughout abstract systems or processes resulting in social
significance (Worrall, 2014). An information world is comprised of (1) social norms, or
ethos as well as decorum dictated by the community; (2) social types, or the identities and
roles that members take on and/or are assigned; (3) information value, or the significance
placed on information; (4) information behavior, acceptable activities that impact the
membersinteractions with information; and (5) boundaries, the margins or perimeters that
influence the movement of information. The application of the theory of information
worlds suggests that Black immigrant groups approach information as a mechanism for
acculturating within US society yet as an extension of their cultural traditions. Although

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