Who are the information poor? Neil Pollock provides a useful summary of Chatman's work on the information poor. A key factor for these folks is that the information must be directly relevant and useful to their immediate reality. Witness the American Diaspora map (thanks to Carol Minton Morris for bringing it to my attention) based on the use of the Internet for "safe lists" by Katrina survivors. Economic poverty and financial hardship is something the information poor are struggling with on a daily basis. Therefore, they have no surplus resources to apply to the world of ideas and this appears to include long range or even mid-term planning. I am trying to understand what exactly this means in terms of one of the statistics that shocked me about the Hurricane Katrina news: the number of poor people in America. The reporter said there are 37 million poor people in the US and I checked it at the US Census Bureau's web pages on Poverty. It's true. The official poverty rate in 2004 was 12.7 % (37 million).
Findings from library use studies allow us to make certain assumptions. Such as, the 12.7% who are poor in our population will tend to be non-users. Who is likely to be using the 16,220 public libraries (ALA quotable facts brochure) and for what? From other studies (notably Dervin & Zweizig) we can surmise that this is probably the educated middle class. Well, according to recent news (March 2005) from the Census Bureau, 85% have completed high school although only 28% have a bachelor's degree. Can we assume that 85% use libraries? Or is it more likely to be 28%? It probably is some other figure in between but I continue to reflect on what all this really means about library users and non-users. Should I compare these statistics with numbers of online gamers or sales of gaming (Nintendo, etc.) systems? Movie theaters? I can cross McDonalds off my list as ALA has already established we have more libraries than McDs. :).
Anyway, non users continue to intrigue me. Epodunk's Underfunded Libraries report is worth browsing. For example they show libraries that were able to spend only $15 per person (because of budget cuts) and point out that the average monthly household expenditure for cable is $ 52. BTW, some public library statistics are available from NCES.