Introduction: The concept of community information service has a long history, dating back to the late 19th century, but it gained significant importance during the Second World War when returning war veterans sought guidance for their rehabilitation in their communities. However, the real surge in community information services began in the late sixties. Over the last few decades, librarians have increasingly recognized their role in meeting the information needs of their communities. Despite this awareness, there remains a substantial percentage of non-users, potentially due to libraries’ failure to focus on what users truly need.
In a democratic society, public libraries and communities share a direct relationship, but due to a lack of awareness among librarians, they have not been actively involved in community development. The key to effective community service lies in understanding the cultural, geographical, political, social, and economic processes and problems within the community. Public libraries must recognize and address these issues while seeking support from the community for their sustainability.
The shift towards community information services has led to initiatives like the Community Information Project (CIP) in the UK and Public Information Centers (PICs) in the USA. These projects aim to identify and address community information needs, involving various organizations to disseminate relevant information effectively. Similarly, other countries, such as Australia and Canada, have also made progress in providing community information services.
Despite these developments on an international scale, India still lags in establishing comprehensive community information services, primarily due to low literacy rates and the prevalence of poverty among the population. In semi-urban communities of India, people often rely on interpersonal means rather than public library services to meet their information requirements.
In light of the growing interest and success of community information services worldwide, it is essential for public libraries to adapt their roles and actively participate in community development, serving as information consultants and advocates for learning and communication. By understanding and addressing the unique needs of their communities, public libraries can play a crucial role in improving decision-making processes and enhancing the overall well-being of their users.
What is Community Information Services?
Community Information Services are a vital aspect of providing localized and relevant information to individuals and organizations within a community. These services aim to bridge the information gap by offering access to a wide range of resources and data that are pertinent to the community’s needs and interests. The main goal of Community Information Services is to empower community members with knowledge and support, enabling them to make informed decisions and participate actively in local affairs.
Community Information Services encompass a broad spectrum of information dissemination channels and platforms. Public libraries, government agencies, community centers, and non-profit organizations often play a pivotal role in delivering these services. Through various mediums such as websites, helplines, public notice boards, and informational publications, these services provide details on essential community resources, social services, educational opportunities, healthcare facilities, local events, and much more.
One of the key characteristics of Community Information Services is their responsiveness to the ever-changing needs of the community. By staying up-to-date with the latest developments and actively seeking feedback from community members, these services ensure that the information provided remains accurate, relevant, and tailored to the community’s specific requirements.
Moreover, Community Information Services play a crucial role in promoting social inclusion and equality within the community. They strive to reach out to marginalized and underserved populations, offering assistance and support to those who may face barriers to accessing information through traditional means. By providing multilingual resources and catering to diverse cultural backgrounds, these services promote inclusivity and diversity within the community.
Benefits of Using a Community Information Services
Community Information Services (CIS) are invaluable resources that connect individuals, organizations, and communities to relevant and localized information. These services play a crucial role in empowering communities by providing easy access to a wide range of resources, services, and opportunities. Using Community Information Services offers numerous benefits to individuals, organizations, and the community as a whole. Some of the key advantages include
- Access to Relevant and Localized Information: One of the primary advantages of Community Information Services is their ability to deliver information that is tailored to the specific needs and interests of a community. By offering localized data, individuals can find resources and support that are directly relevant to their circumstances. Whether it’s finding local job openings, healthcare facilities, educational opportunities, or social services, CIS ensures that community members have access to the information they need to make informed decisions.
- Informed Decision-Making: Having access to accurate and up-to-date information empowers individuals to make informed decisions about various aspects of their lives. Community Information Services provide comprehensive data on educational institutions, vocational training programs, healthcare options, and other essential services. This empowers individuals to choose the best options for themselves and their families, ultimately leading to improved quality of life.
- Enhanced Community Engagement: Community Information Services foster active community engagement by disseminating information about local events, activities, and initiatives. By knowing what is happening in their community, individuals are more likely to get involved and contribute to the growth and development of the society they belong to. This increased engagement strengthens social bonds and promotes a sense of belonging within the community.
- Increased Social Inclusion: Community Information Services play a vital role in reaching out to marginalized and underserved populations. By offering information in multiple languages and accommodating diverse cultural backgrounds, CIS promotes social inclusion and equality. This ensures that every member of the community has access to essential resources and services, regardless of their background or circumstances.
- Efficient Resource Allocation: Local organizations and government agencies can use Community Information Services to allocate resources effectively. By identifying the most pressing needs of the community through data analytics, these entities can direct their resources to where they are most needed, ensuring maximum impact and benefit.
- Improved Access to Services: Community Information Services simplify the process of locating and accessing essential services. From finding nearby healthcare facilities to discovering social support programs, CIS connects individuals to the services they require promptly. This ease of access improves the efficiency of service delivery and ensures that people receive the support they need in a timely manner.
- Empowerment of Individuals: Empowerment is a significant outcome of utilizing Community Information Services. By providing information and resources, CIS empowers individuals to take control of their lives and seek out opportunities for personal and professional growth. This newfound agency fosters self-reliance and independence within the community.
Community Information Services have become essential pillars of community development in the modern world. Their ability to offer relevant information, foster community engagement, promote social inclusion, and empower individuals is unparalleled. By harnessing the power of information, CIS creates a more informed, connected, and empowered society, where every member can thrive and contribute to the betterment of their community. Governments, organizations, and individuals should continue to support and utilize Community Information Services as a means to build strong and resilient communities.
What are the challenges and opportunities of providing CIS through libraries?
Providing Community Information Services (CIS) through libraries presents both challenges and opportunities. While this collaboration can enhance the services offered to the community, it also requires careful consideration and adaptation to address the following challenges:
- Resource Constraints: Libraries may face limitations in funding, staff, and technological resources. Integrating CIS into library services may require additional investment and capacity building to meet the information needs of the community adequately.
- Digital Divide: Not all library users may have easy access to digital resources or the internet, hindering their ability to benefit from online CIS platforms. Ensuring equitable access to CIS for all community members is crucial, particularly for those with limited digital literacy.
- Keeping Information Up-to-Date: CIS relies on timely and accurate information. Libraries need to ensure that the information they provide through CIS platforms is regularly updated and reflects current resources and services available in the community.
- Privacy and Data Security: CIS often involves collecting and managing sensitive personal data. Libraries must prioritize privacy and data security measures to protect users’ information and comply with relevant regulations.
- Coordination with CIS Providers: Collaborating with external CIS providers, such as government agencies or non-profit organizations, may require effective coordination to ensure a seamless flow of information between the library and the CIS provider.
- Diverse Community Needs: Different communities have varying information needs. Libraries must be responsive to the unique requirements of their community, providing relevant and localized information through CIS platforms.
- Leveraging Library Infrastructure: Libraries already serve as trusted community hubs with established physical and digital infrastructure. Integrating CIS into libraries leverages this existing infrastructure to reach a broader audience and increase the accessibility of CIS resources.
- Expert Librarian Support: Libraries employ skilled librarians who can act as community information specialists, guiding users through CIS resources and providing personalized assistance to meet their information needs.
- Local Relevance: Libraries are well-positioned to understand the local context and tailor CIS resources accordingly, ensuring that community members receive information that directly pertains to their specific needs and interests.
- Outreach and Engagement: CIS can increase library outreach and engagement with the community. By offering relevant and localized information, libraries can attract new users and retain existing patrons, fostering a sense of community involvement.
- Enhancing Community Empowerment: CIS supports the library’s mission of empowering individuals with knowledge. By offering comprehensive information through CIS platforms, libraries contribute to informed decision-making and lifelong learning.
- Collaborative Partnerships: Collaborating with CIS providers fosters stronger partnerships between libraries, government agencies, non-profit organizations, and other stakeholders. Such partnerships can lead to resource-sharing, program coordination, and improved community support.
Providing Community Information Services through libraries presents a promising opportunity to enhance community engagement, information accessibility, and empowerment. While challenges like resource constraints and data privacy need to be addressed, the collaboration offers numerous benefits, including leveraging library infrastructure, local relevance, and expert librarian support. By adapting to the changing needs of their communities and fostering collaborative partnerships, libraries can effectively deliver CIS, enriching the services they provide and making a positive impact on the community.
Community Information Sources
Community Information Sources encompass various channels and platforms that deliver valuable information to individuals within a community. These sources play a pivotal role in the growth of a country, and it is the responsibility of a welfare government to ensure effective communication channels for information distribution and knowledge diffusion (Vishwamohan, 1988). In modern, complex societies, a diverse range of organizations supply information to local communities:
- Local Authorities: Through public library systems, archives, tourist bureaux, operational departments, and ad hoc information services for industries and commerce.
- Voluntary Organizations: Usually supported by local authorities, providing community-focused information and resources.
- Specialist Organizations: Related to specific subjects (e.g., housing, law, welfare rights) or client groups (e.g., the disabled, youth, ethnic groups) (Gray, 1982).
Studies on information needs surveys in India identified numerous community information sources:
- Personal Experience and Knowledge
- Family Members, Friends, Neighbors, and Relatives
- Professionals such as Doctors, Teachers, etc.
- Local Marketplaces and Gossip Hubs
- Block/Panchayat Offices
- Service Providers like Public Libraries, Religious Figures, Television, Radio, and Newspapers
Another study in a semi-urban community in Orissa found neighbors and local elders to be the primary indirect providers of information, followed by the Councillor, self-knowledge, the Pujari (the Priest of a nearby temple), and other local figures (Baliarsingh & Mahapatra, 1985).
Libraries play a significant role in community information provision, acting as important sources of information (Coleman, 1986). In rural areas, people often fulfill their information needs through informal channels like conversations with friends, neighbors, and relatives (Kempson, 1989).
Surveys investigating citizens’ information needs reveal a preference for informal sources, with limited reliance on public libraries for everyday problem-solving (Chen & Hernon, 1982; Dervin et al., 1976; Warner, Murray & Palmour, 1973). Research indicates that citizens are often uninformed about available sources, facilities, rights, and programs, leading to frustration in obtaining necessary information for problem-solving (Kahn et al., 1966; Rieger & Anderson, 1968; Mendelshon, 1968; Dervin, 1976).
Television is the most widely used and believed mass medium, but it lacks the information necessary for solving everyday problems (Dervin et al., 1976). Peer-kin relationships, such as friends, family, and relatives, serve as the primary information sources for most people on various topics (Dervin et al., 1976). Awareness of potential information sources remains low, and people tend to utilize resources that are close to home rather than comparison shop (Block, 1970; Alexander et al., 1968; Zweizig, 1973).
Overall, community information sources offer an essential network of channels that influence how individuals access, trust, and utilize information within their communities. Understanding the patterns of information-seeking behavior can help optimize information provision and better meet the diverse needs of the community.
- Deepa, R. (2017). Information technology Library collection development University libraries of Kerala. Retrieved from: http://hdl.handle.net/10603/202505