ASIS&T 2006 START Conference Manager    

The Missing Piece: Affect and the Information Behavior of Stay-at-home Mothers

Carol F. Landry, MLIS Dr. Karen E. Fisher

ASIS&T Annual Meeting - 2006 (ASIS&T 2006)
Austin, Texas, November 3-9, 2006


According to the U.S. Census Bureau, an estimated 5.4 million women were stay-at-mothers (SAHMs) in 2003. With such a large number of women assuming full-time care for their children, it is remarkable that we know so little about the role information plays in their everyday lives and, specifically, how affect influences their information seeking and giving. Aside from Tardy and Hale’s(1998) health information seeking among stay-at-home mothers, little research has examined their needs for everyday information and how they go about seeking and using it.

The current study, which is part of a larger investigation funded by the National Science Foundation on the nature of interpersonal information seeking, focuses on information worlds of stay-at-home mothers. Healthcare, education, social activities, world events or other aspects of daily living represent the range of issues that SAHMs encounter on any given day. We hypothesized that this population represents a group that is information poor due to isolation engendered by deep involvement in childrearing along with ties severed from such mainstream contacts as co-workers. Guiding this study were Chatman’s (2000) normative behavior theory, Fisher’s information grounds (Fisher and Naumer, 2005,) along with Harris and Dewdney’s (1994) principles of everyday information behavior.

Data were collected in two phases. Phase one involved unobtrusive and participant observation of mother-baby classes and a neighborhood parenting group. Mothers were monitored for incidents of everyday information seeking and sharing. In phase two, twenty women from Iowa, New Jersey and Washington State, who qualified as stay-at-home mothers, participated in three interviews that were scheduled 1-2 weeks apart. During the first interview, SAHMs were asked to identify the types of roles or the different hats they wear daily, for example nurse, disciplinarian or educator. Of these, one or two roles were selected as the focus for a series of questions regarding the types of everyday information participants would need. Additionally, moms were asked about their information grounds (IG) or places that they go where people are present and information is shared. During the second and third interviews, participants were asked to continue discussing their everyday information behavior for their un-discussed roles and further elaborate on their information grounds. Finally, SAHMs were provided with a diary in which to record incidents of everyday information seeking or sharing, what prompted the information event, what did they do about it and how did they feel.

Our findings indicate that affect is an integral part of stay-at-home mothers’ information behavior, for it can

- motivate information seeking and sharing

- be a product of the information process

- encompass a range of emotion throughout the information process

Additionally, we found that stay-at-home mothers of very young children tended to be more isolated than mothers of older children. The all-consuming nature of early child rearing appears to contribute to this phenomenon, whereas, mothers of older children typically had more IGs and social networks as a result of their children’s activities.

Affect is an important but often missing component in information behavior theory. By excluding the affective dimension, an incomplete picture of information behavior is presented. We suggest these findings may have implication for information systems and services design.

START Conference Manager (V2.52.6)