Youth information-seeking behavior and online government information. Tweens’ perceptions of US federal government websites

Publication Date14 May 2018
Date14 May 2018
AuthorNatalie Greene Taylor
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
Youth information-seeking
behavior and online government
Tweensperceptions of US federal
government websites
Natalie Greene Taylor
School of Information, University of South Florida, Tampa, Florida, USA
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to focus on middle-school-aged young peoples information-seeking
behavior and the knowledge and perceptions they have of and about federal government websites.
Design/methodology/approach The case study included 37 youth across four middle schools in the
mid-Atlantic USA who all participated in a research-focused after-school program. During these sessions,
they participated in several data collection activities, including an interview, a survey, a word association
activity, an evaluation of the homepage of a government website, and card-sorting. Using conventional,
directed, and summative content analysis techniques, the narratives from each data collection activity were
coded using in vivo and theory-based terms.
Findings The study finds that the majority of participants viewed government websites favorably,
but were frequently unsure of what government websites are or who is responsible for their creation. Perhaps
more significantly, participantsviews of information-related policies frequently were raised during
discussions about government websites. The perceptions reflected the youth information-seeking behaviors
and information literacy gaps.
Originality/value Overall, these findings shed light on the opinions of an understudied population in
e-government research and inform both policy makers and educators on how to best disseminate government
information to youth.
Keywords Information literacy, Adolescents, Children (age groups), Information-seeking behaviour,
Electronic government, Digital government
Paper type Research paper
1. Introduction
In the USA, the use of government websites is replacing in-person or analog applications for
a variety of government services, including school enrollment, social service applications,
and requirements for visas (Bertot et al., 2008; Gibson et al., 2009; Holt and Holt, 2010).
While many of these uses are primarily the focus of adults, youth increasingly act as
intermediaries for their parents (Becker et al., 2010). Youth are also expected to navigate
such college-related documents as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and other
US federal student loan applications, all online. Discovering what young people in the USA
perceive online government information to be may help us understand the education needed
to enable future use of these resources.
Additionally, studying younger adolescents is important because they are on the cusp of
Piaget and Inhelders (1969) concrete operational and formal operational stages. As they
cross-over these stages, they begin to think beyond specific concepts, experiences, or
Journal of Documentation
Vol. 74 No. 3, 2018
pp. 509-525
© Emerald PublishingLimited
DOI 10.1108/JD-06-2017-0093
Received 28 June 2017
Revised 6 December 2017
Accepted 17 December 2017
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
This study would not have been possible without the young people who participated. The author
would also like to thank Drs Mega Subramaniam and Beth St Jean at the University of Maryland, the
principle investigators of the HackHealth project from which this study came. This paper also uses
data and language from the authors 2015 dissertation, for which the author had an incredibly
supportive and knowledgeable committee.
artifacts and instead begin to process abstractly. By examining the ways in which this age
group perceive online government information, we gain insight into how these thoughts
may develop as they become older, more active members of civic life. Finally, many of
the themes that arise during discussions of online government information with youth are
directly relevant to social studies standards in their school curriculum, such as
examinations of the effect of media on political life and analyzing texts for biases and
point of view (Maryland State Department of Education, 2006).
The purpose of this paper is to understand the perceptions that a select group of
middle-school-aged youth in the mid-Atlantic USA have of government websites.
In addition, the study examines young peoples literacy skills surrounding online
government information. Finally, it explores the practical impact of these findings through
both the lenses of both policy and education.
2. Literature review
Although e-government and youth information-seeking behavior are both robust areas of
research,to date there have been few, if any, publishedstudies examining the perceptionsthat
young people have ofgovernment websites. Existing studies discuss the perspectives young
people in England have of different sources of political information (Smith and McMenemy,
2017), describe the educative value of American government websites for instruction
(Bisland, 2009), list existing US government websites for youth (Wilke and Keith, 2004),
or describe how youth can act as co-designers with US government agencies in designing
these sites (Harrison et al., 2005; NationalPark Service, n.d.). Even thoughsome youth seem to
connect dot gov websites with credible information (Subramaniam et al.,2015),itisunclear
whether this is the case for all, or even most youth, or the reasons young people have for
trusting these websites. There is almost no research available on youth preferences for these
sites. As such, this review of the literature will examine three aspects of youth and
e-government: the current landscape of youth-focused US government websites, youth
preferences for websites in general, and youth and search credibility.
2.1 Youth-focused US federal government websites
As mentioned, there is little scholarly information on youth and online government
information. Venturing into US federal agency memoranda and policy decisions about
e-government for youth yields slightly more information, though these data do not reveal
anything about youth opinions and interactions with government websites. Beginning with
US then-President Bill Clintons memorandum to agency officials in 1997, which called for
the development of resources for children, youth have been at least acknowledged on
government sites. Resources are most frequently directed either at teachers or developed for
use in education. A working group formed by over 30agencies soon after then-President
Clintons memo was sent began work on what would become the Federal Resources for
Educational Excellence website, which grants public access to federally supported
education resources (Department of Education, 2001). The US Department of Education also
formed Consortium for Education Teams,which brought together over 300 educators
between 1998 and 2000 to form ten teams representing five agencies intended to develop
learning activities, lessons, and units (Department of Education, 2001).
In the following years, the US federal government has unveiled,aportalfor
young people to discover various trustworthy websites on topics believed to be of interest to
them. Agencies have also continued to develop resources for youth, though the degree to
which they are successful in this depends largely on the budget and focus of the agency.
Perhaps the most salient point of interest for this study is the announcement by former-
President Obamas White House in its five-year STEM (science, technology, engineering, and
math) strategic plan of the consolidation of many agency STEM programs

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