Purls of wisdom: A collectivist study of human information behavior in a public library knitting group

Prigoda, E. & McKenzie, P. (2007). Purls of wisdom: A collectivist study of human information behavior in a public library knitting group. Journal of Documentation, 63(1), 90 – 114.

Abstract:

The researchers applied a collectivist theoretical framework to analyze human information behavior (HIB)* and the nontraditional role public libraries play in HIB through a knitting group held in an Ontario Public Library. This was achieved through naturalistic observation of five group sessions and semi-structured interviews with group members. Researchers found that both formal and informal information sharing occurred in the knitting group, and that through the activity of knitting, participants formed an environment of support and sense of community.

*Though the paper does not define human information behavior (HIB), T.D. Wilson defines HIB as “the totality of human behavior in relation to sources and channels of information, including both active and passive information seeking, and information use. Thus, it includes face to-face communication with others, as well as the passive reception of information” (Wilson, T.D. (2000). Human information behavior. Informing Science, 3(2): 49-55).

Key Findings:

  • The human information behavior taking place within the knitting circle became information practice, meaning that participants were able to learn and apply their information behavior in their every day lives.
  • The context in which the knitting circles took place (e.g., public library, in a group) and group composition (i.e., gender) impacted social cohesion.
  • Producing textile handwork in a group setting fostered shared social meaning.
  • The production of hand-made goods provided participants with a sense of success at producing something of value.
  • Collective crafting created a sense of connection with other crafters that fostered learning and mentoring.

The researchers concluded that the friendships made through membership in the group might be as important as the activity itself. Researchers also found that the library as an institution is what initially brought the participants together, though its role in the knitting groups was only to provide a space for group members to engage in their activities.

Significance of the Findings:

These findings reinforce the importance of cultural and arts events like crafting groups at public libraries for human information behavior and the development of communities. Libraries play an important role by providing the space for artistic events to occur, and also to serve as a means through which to identify, meet, and resolve challenges in obtaining information from others or through technology.

Methodology:

The research design was naturalistic. The researchers observed five knitting group sessions as participant observers and took field notes documenting the sessions. They also conducted semi-structure interviews with twelve group members following the observations. Both observations and interviews were audio taped and transcribed. The researchers employed inductive data analysis techniques, and evolved the interview questions as the analysis progressed. Interpretation of results relied on idiographic techniques that sought patters rather than causal relationships.

Limitations of the Research:

The research is extremely specific to one public library within a particular community and one type of activity (knitting) that has a specialized appeal, and includes only a small number of participants, all of which limits the generalizability of the findings.

Questions to Guide New Research:

Are the findings transferable to other social settings or arts programs? Are there more generalizable methodologies that could be employed? Are there similar crafting groups for men at public libraries that take place, and do they play a similar role in human information behavior?