Karen Fisher to research immigrant minority youth as info intermediaries

It is often youth who teach their parents about technology and provide everyday information. This is even more pronounced for immigrant communities where young people have a better grasp of English and often help their families navigate daily situations. In the United States, one in nine people are foreign born and most public libraries serve growing populations of non-English speaking immigrants.

The $460K research grant awarded to iSchool Professor Karen Fisher from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) will enable her to examine this phenomenon by conducting Teen Design Days and a large-scale survey with Seattle youth, as well as community workshops about how libraries can support immigrant minority youth by providing targeted information and digital literacy training. In addition to IMLS, funding for the project comes from the University of Washington Office of the Provost, Microsoft Global Community Affairs, Microsoft Research, and the University of Washington Information School.

According to Fisher, “This research is unique because we’re working with the youth in their own settings to understand how they engage with their family and friends around information and social media and how all of this can be better supported through design thinking and library services.”

Fisher’s past work, funded by the IMLS and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, shows two-thirds of people use library computers on behalf of someone else in the past twelve months. These info mediaries tend to be ethnic minority youth who may be the key to understanding the information needs of their respective populations and identifying ways that libraries can better serve their communities.

Fisher expects that knowledge gained from this study will help public libraries design better services for immigrant populations by focusing on what works best for their youth. Additionally, it will highlight ways of engaging youth in technology and design, and the essence of non-professional info mediaries

Phil Fawcett, iSchool Ph.D. student and principal program manager at Microsoft Research and Ann Bishop, associate professor at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are the co-principal investigators for the grant.

Partners involved with the project include the Seattle Public Library, King County Library System, the YMCA, and immigrant support groups such as the Horn of Africa Services and the Vietnamese Friendship Association. 

About Karen Fisher
Karen E. Fisher is a Professor at the University of Washington Information School. She teaches and conducts research on how people experience information as part of everyday life, with emphasis on the interpersonal aspects of information behavior, the role of informal social settings in information flow, as well as the broad impacts of information and communication technologies.

About the IMLS
The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s 123,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. Through grant making, policy development, and research, IMLS helps communities and individuals thrive through broad public access to knowledge, cultural heritage, and lifelong learning.

To find out more about the infome project, contact Karen Fisher at fisher@uw.edu.