vol. 17 no. 4, December, 2012

Information behaviour among young women in vulnerable contexts and social inclusion: the role of social mediators.

Martha Sabelli
Escuela Universitaria de Bibliotecología y Ciencias Afines, Universidad de la República, Emilio Frugoni 1427, 11.200 Montevideo, Uruguay

Introduction. The present paper concentrates on the study of institutional mediators (doctors, social workers, psychologists, professors, teachers, social educators) as information intermediaries.
Methods. Three methodological tools were applied: in-depth interviews with qualified informants who met the required profile of institutional mediators; in-depth interviews with mediators as information users and their relation to the sources and transfer of information in the working and professional context; and focus groups of mediators, and members of a social network.
Analysis. Qualitative methods were used (using Atlas/ti software) using Excel; supported by quantitative statistical analysis, triangulating information obtained by both methods. Qualitative analysis was conducted using systematic techniques of content analysis of speeches, involving observation, reading and interpretation of the contents (manifest and latent) present both in in-depth interviews and focus group dynamics.
Results. The significant role of social mediators in the transfer of information within the studied community was identified. The mediators as information users present both professionals and technicians as novice searchers closely exchanging points of view and ideas with colleagues or co-workers as a community of practice.
Conclusions. Institutional mediators are an essential bridge between young women and their appropriation of information and knowledge processes, both for their personal and collective development. Therefore, it becomes essential for information professionals to learn from social mediators, working close to them.


Information services to the community which are easily accessible and adequate to the needs of young people and adolescents in unfavourable contexts remain a historical debt regarding public information policies in several Latin American countries. Information is an essential component to achieve social rights in their many diverse manifestations; at the workplace, within the community and family, or at an individual level. The disinformation of adolescents and young people appears as an obstacle for their development and social integration. The meaningful use of information, i.e., the internalization of explicit knowledge which can be integrated to the experiential and implicit knowledge they already own. Consequently, it is essential to study their information behaviour, taking their concerns, expectations and problems into account, from a participatory and horizontal point of view, placing the emphasis on ​​local knowledge and facilitating the integration of qualified information.

The urban fabric is divided into micro-worlds, different places where communities live in social, economic and cultural contexts that compose both the everyday background and the way in which each region is inhabited. The concept, transfer, use and assimilation of information will present singular characteristics according to different urban communities

The most vulnerable sectors, where vulnerability is associated to poverty and lack of skills and abilities that facilitate the development of human and social capital, do not easily recognize the value of information beyond the most urgent needs of everyday life. Nevertheless, the fact that such sectors are not frequently in a position to appropriate of the contents by their own means is utterly disturbing. In addition to this, and paradoxically, in this over-communicated world, we were able to identify difficulty to access and use information from the immediate surroundings, from the city itself or even the neighbourhood, particularly the most necessary and relevant data to achieve social integration.

Taking into account this historical, social and cultural context, it has been developed a university research project (2008-2010) on young women living in vulnerable situations from the perspective of the Library and Information Science in an interdisciplinary way, in a small country in southern Latin America: Uruguay. This research, comprised within the framework of the socio-cognitive paradigm and qualitative methods, includes a study of institutional mediators from organizations and social services.

Our presentation centres on this part of the investigation, thus concentrating on social mediators while analysing their perception regarding the phenomenon of information and their mediation with the subject-object of research: adolescents and young women, as well as on their human information behaviour. Following, we will briefly expose some aspects of the overall project, in order to make the specific study of social mediators more comprehensible.

Overall presentation of the research project

This report study is a part of a larger project Towards building information services for the community: study of access and use of information by women from unfavourable contexts (Zone 9 of Montevideo), selected and supported by the University of the Republic's CSIC (Sector Commission for Scientific Research) in their official call aimed at Social Inclusion and the Metropolitan Integration programme (PIM). The research team is composed by library and information science teachers and researchers as well as sociologists.

From an interdisciplinary perspective, it focuses on the obstacles, barriers and facilitators to access, use and appropriation of information by citizens, especially young women in poor or destitute conditions; to sum up, on the informational and digital divide. Emphasis is placed on existing problems with reference to the information flow, and on accessing the most pertinent sources of information related to topics identified as relevant by the civil society: health, teenage pregnancy, training and incorporation to the labour force, local identity, and building of citizenship.

In the above-mentioned area, Zone 9 of Montevideo, a social network called Red Camino Nordeste operates, whose members (social workers, doctors, professors, teachers and social educators) helped to create the basis for this research, working with us to identify the problems to consider.

Without categorizing it as a project of action research, the project has aimed from its early stages to create a self-reflective and participatory spiral together with social actors on the reality addressed, the results and their interpretation

The approach to the project stemmed from a global question: Are there national, departmental and zone policies and strategies regarding information centred on the most disadvantaged sectors, specifically on women? To answer this, we concentrated on three essential aspects related to the unit of analysis women users and non-users of information. The first aspect was related to public information policies aimed at social inclusion; the second aspect, on women as users or non-users of information; and the third aspect to be studied referred to the subject-mediator.

To allow for a better understanding of this partial presentation of the project, we included in Appendix 1 those questions which served as a guide to our research. Through such questions we intended to identify policies and programme actions, as well as public and private services designed to promote and facilitate access, use and appropriation of information by citizens in unfavourable environments, while investigating their objectives and strategies of communication with real and potential users. Also, to analyse the obstacles and facilitators for the inclusion of women in the information flow and study their needs and seeking behaviours, access and use of information products registered in various media and channels. Apart from that, to meet and interpret the perception of the recipients and mediators of services. Finally, to collaborate from the results of our research to the policies, strategies and actions for building a system and information services at a local level, together with various organizations and civil society actors.

The research strategy is based on qualitative methods: observation, focus groups, workshops and in-depth interviews, with regards to modes and frequency of access and use of information resources by young women and adolescent girls living in poverty, who are users and non-users of the Red Camino Nordeste services and organizations.

To collect the necessary information, the research strategy was designed through the following sources of a qualitative nature:

  1. At the beginning of our research, twenty-two in depth interviews with qualified informants selected from among social mediators.
  2. One hundred and one in-depth interviews with young women and adolescents who were users of different organizations and services in the area.
  3. Analysis of 167 documents and data produced for the community by national and local organizations and services operating in the area. Documentation (billboards, posters, brochures, newsletters, etc.) was described and analysed in a database.
  4. Two focus groups, one aimed at young mothers in a CAIF centre (Child and Family Care centre) and the other working with teenagers in one aula comunitaria (Community Classroom).
  5. Six interviews with people in charge of libraries, cyber cafes and free telecentres in the area.
  6. Eight in-depth interviews with mediators as information users (user study).
  7. Focus group of mediators at the end of the research project.

It is worth mentioning that the methodological tools used fulfilled the dual objective of data collection and dissemination of research. Our presentation focuses on the results relating to social mediators (a, f and g in the above list).

Theoretical and referential framework.

The point of view with regards to the communities on which this research is based considers individuals as members of different groups (related to work, disciplines, thoughts or discourse). It is not the isolated, abstract individual, but the discourse of the community and its members that constitutes the object of the present research: research objectives shift from individuals or computers to the social, cultural and scientific environment. As a consequence, our investigation focuses on the target-user (real or potential) of information and the context in which the search for information is inscribed. The subject-object of research centres on how human beings build knowledge based on the needs and situations of use of information in everyday life, according to their experiences, beliefs, values, emotions, and in particular, their problems. In this regard, we take as a guide, in a first place, the socio-cognitive paradigms and theories of domain analysis, and secondly, our own experiences and the theoretical-methodological lines of research and teaching in user studies that have been carried out since 1992.

The study of social mediators in the phenomenon of community information behaviour led to the investigation of the theoretical contributions provided by different perspectives, among which is worth mentioning the concept of Allen's gatekeepers (Sturges 2001), the current role of peers and the insider-outsider factor in the search for information, the information poverty theory, as well as Chatman's conception of life in the round (Chatman 1996) , the everyday life information seeking model of Savolainen (1999, 2002, 2004, 2005 and 2008), Hersberger (2001, 2002, 2003, 2005) and Pettigrew's new methods of approaching social networks in research aimed at disadvantaged and/or marginalized people (1999) and the traditional principle of least effort reviewed by Case (2005).

Between gatekeepers or information intermediaries and the community: trust among peers and the others.

The term gatekeepers or information gatekeepers, refers to a specific kind of intermediary between the information and the end-user. It was first coined as technological gatekeeper by Allen in the field of organizational communication in the context of research and development in the industrial area. The gatekeeper was considered a member of the organization who maintained his or her fellow researchers in contact with the wider world of research. Nonetheless, this phenomenon, as stated by Sturges in the early 2000, is not an isolated case, and it would be better to talk about intermediaries instead of about doorkeepers who open and close certain doors leading to information. The door that the keeper opens and closes could be used by the librarian to generate a deepest contact with the community (Sturges 2001: 65). To situate this figure and its role in the theoretical discussion of the processes studied implies looking into a reality that cannot be compartmentalized and reduced to library and information services being managed without the need for potential or real gatekeepers and/or intermediaries of information

Studies about the role of gatekeepers in disadvantaged communities in the U.S. carried out since the 1990's, revealed significant data about the importance of interpersonal information sources. Interpersonal sources are preferred to all others due to concerns regarding the integrity and credibility of information, as stated, for instance, by research on gatekeepers of information in African American communities in Harambee, a suburb of Milwaukee, Wisconsin (Agada 1999: 74). There is divergence between the information designed and provided by professional information services and the information preferences expressed by these communities within their own subculture.

Groups develop social norms related to tactics with which they make sense of their situations and, eventually meet their needs. Within poor contexts, such tactics manifest as risk prevention, secrecy and limited access to second-hand knowledge; i.e., knowledge from outside their life experiences. Poor people tend to distrust information coming from sources external to their value systems and social context. Poverty-striken communities generally rely on the interpretation of reliable gatekeepers about their second-hand knowledge. Chatman (1996) named this phenomenon the insider-outsider factor in the search for information.

Poor women in the context of information poverty, living in small worlds

Undoubtedly, the innovative research on women in poverty carried out by Elfreda A. Chatman in the 1980s and 1990s, constituted a new point of view to the already interdisciplinary approach to the disadvantaged, to which she devoted all her commitment and academic value. Several of the ideas on which Chatman (1988, 1996 and 1999) theorizes relate to the life in the round of poor women living in extreme situations, initiating the study of older women in nursing homes and later discovering the need for more critical contexts to move forwards in her hypothesis, women in high security prisons (Chatman 1999). Chatman points out that,

A life in the round requires a public form of life in which general knowledge aids in small learning. It is a life in which certain things are implicitly understood. Played out in a small world, it is composed of normal language, worldview, and codes. Life lived in the round is the process that permits social meaning to happen. It is the integration of a world in which most things are easy to understand, and in which news comes to a small stage (Chatman 1999: 212).

She analyses the flow of information between the so called insiders and outsiders within these small scenarios.

Her theory of information poverty lists different factors influencing the needs and access to information in these communities: secrecy, deception, risk taking and the relevance or usefulness of the situation (Chatman 1996: 195-197). A further study which continues this metaphor is reported by Williamson and Asla (2009) in their research on senior citizens.

The average citizen, information for daily life and social networks.

Everyday life cannot be isolated from the studies of communities. How do we learn about the information needs of ordinary citizens without addressing them in their daily life? In this regard, since the mid-1990s a line of research and major theoretical contributions to everyday life information is being developed. Savolainen, in his model of everyday life information seeking focuses on criteria according to which people prefer information sources when solving everyday problems. His socio-constructivist approach and the application of qualitative methods, including discourse analysis of people's perceptions about their competences as seekers and users of information, became an important contribution to our research (Savolainen 1999, 2002, 2004, 2005 and 2008). Following this line of investigation, while focusing on the model, it is also crucial the research of Agosto and Hughes-Hassell (2005) on young people aged 14 to 17 years, studied with qualitative methods: interviews, observations, daily reports and semi-structured group interviews.

Likewise, our research takes as primary references the studies carried out during the early and mid-2000s on the role played by contexts which are closer to the investigated communities, i.e.: friends, family, neighbours and others, regarding information relations (Hersberger 2001, 2002, 2003, 2005). A substantial contribution of the research is the assertion that 'information exists as an embedded resource in social support networks and, when accessed, could result in improved physical being, improved mental health or improved life satisfaction' (Hersberger 2003: 100). Finally, we specifically take into account the research of McKenzie (2002, 2004, 2010) and Pettigrew (1999) with regard to the inter-relationships of the actors in the health care field. In the analysis of the results of our research, we will revise some of the conclusions of these studies, especially those concerning the characteristics information should present, according to these citizens. It 'should be accurate, comprehensive, timely and likely to bring about fast results' (Hersberger 2003: 102). A special reference should be made about the relevant contributions of Fisher and her colleagues in the research project, Information Behavior in Everyday Context at the University of Washington's iSchool. The identification and study of 'lay information mediary behaviour' is a line of innovative research, closely related to the figure of social mediators on whom this presentation focuses. This concept has influenced the author's decision to deepen her studies in future research, as mentioned in the conclusions. Moreover, the theoretical contributions of Fisher's research on information grounds (Fisher et al. 2007, Fisher et al. 2005) become extremely valuable for the interpretation of the information behaviour within the studied community. Naumer and Fisher's chapter (2006) details the history of the information ground theory while discussing several related studies. It highlights the conceptualization and valuing of place in everyday life.

Information gaps and community networks.

Other lines of theory and studies that highly influenced our approach and research are those developed from the late 1990s in the Fundación Acceso in Costa Rica, by Kemy Camacho Jimenez, Ricardo Gomez, Juliana Martinez and others (Camacho Jimenez 2001; Gomez and Martinez 2000, Gomez et al. Stoll 2002). These centre on the digital inclusion of women in unfavourable contexts and community telecentres to the most current studies of Camacho Jimenez (2008) in Sulá Batsú and their contributions to the knowledge management in context of social inclusion in cooperative apartments.

Information behaviour and the principle of least effort.

Among other theoretical views, we should also mention the principle of least effort based on Zipf's law, formulated at Harvard University in the first half of the twentieth century. As Case notes, (2005: 289), he entitled his book Human behaviour and the principle of least effort: an introduction to human ecology published in 1949, attempting to explain human activity from such perspective. However, it should not be confused with the cost-benefit paradigms which apply to conscious decisions taken to obtain specific purposes. The principle of least effort is formulated from a pragmatic point of view; it can be applied to the information search processes and establishes that the human being. In general, it seeks to minimize the effort required to obtain information, even if this means accepting lower quality data or a minimum amount of it. Nonetheless, as Case points out, we must not reduce the complexity of information behaviour to an explanation that ignores the context and the individual differences (Case 2005, p.291), this approach helps to understand the choices of young people and adolescents and their mediators, between potentially available human and documentary information sources.


In-depth interviews with qualified informants.

At the beginning of the project, who met the required profile of institutional mediators in the area, respondents as qualified informants were selected among technical and professional staff, community and volunteer workers, playing very active or leadership roles in various organizations and services within the area, who were more directly involved with adolescents and young people in vulnerable situations. Seventeen interviews were conducted (three of them, in groups) with twenty-two informants in the period May-July 2009 at their workplaces, seventeen of the twenty-two respondents were members of the Red Camino Nordeste. The institutions can be categorized according to their target audiences and objectives, into the following types:

Table 1: Informants by institutional type
Health centres and polyclinics
(Centro de Salud Jardines del Hipódromo, Policlínica COVIPRO, Policlínica Flor de Maroñas)
Educational establishments
(Escuela N°157 en Villa García, Escuela N°262 en Bella Italia, Liceo N°52 en Villa García)
Youth centres
(Casa Joven Rompecabezas; Espacio Adolescente de Centro Jardines)
Social work services
(CLAVES; Merendero Punta de Rieles, SOCAT Santa Gema, SOCAT Punta de Rieles)
Commissions of neighbours
(Policlínica Solidaridad de la Comisión de Fomento Flor de Maroñas y Merendero en Punta de Rieles).
Centres for women
(Casa Luna)
Services aimed at children
(Club de Niños CEPID)
Total no. of institutions22

As for the ages of those interviewed, nine were between 29 and 35 years old, nine between 36 and 45, and 4 were over 45 years old. Seniority in the services ranges from 2 to 15 years: ten between 2 and 4 years, nine between 6 and 10 years, and three between 10 and 15 years.

According to the roles played by the mediators in the institutions and centres, respondents are distributed as follows:

Table 2: Respondents according to institutional role
Respondents' rolesNo.
Psychologists 5
Social workers 5
Doctors in family practice and community clinics 2
Directorate of Schools and High Schools 4
Social educators 2
Pedagogic supervisor 1
Community agent 2
Volunteer neighbour 1
Total interviewees 22

Interviews were conducted by researchers of the team at the different workplaces of the interviewees and lasted about ninety minutes. They were all were recorded and later transcribed. The texts cited in the analysis have a code assigned to each respondent in order to preserve anonymity. Interviews were designed to analyse the perception of social mediators with reference to adolescent girls and young women, contextualized in the ways in which these are defined and in the different situations in which they are approached from diverse local or community resources. We enquired about their recognition of informational exclusion as a real problem, and on the implementation of strategies and actions specifically designed for women, aimed to counteract it. We addressed the issue on barriers and facilitators to access, use and appropriation of information, information needs and relevant topics to women, the identification of demands and actions as well as the strategies to satisfy them.

In-depth interviews to mediators as information users (user study).

The study, which was realized through eight in-depth interviews with mediators as information users, applied a semi-structured form. Three social workers, a teacher, a sociologist, a psychologist, a bachelor and an adult woman with incomplete primary education were selected to be interviewed among those institutions which deal directly with young people and adolescents (Casa Lunas, Casa Joven Rompecabezas, Espacio Adolescente del Centro de Salud Jardines del Hipódromo), or women (Comuna Mujer), or indirectly, services to children from up to three years old and their mothers (CAIF) and health care services (Centro de Salud Jardines del Hipódromo y la Policlínica COVIPRO). Five were between 27 and 37 years old, and three were between 37 and 53. Seniority in the services ranges from 2 to 10 years: four from 2 to 4 years and four 6 to 10 years. Questions focused on the knowledge, access and use of channels and sources of information and communication by the mediators.

Focus group with the mediators.

The focus group took place in the last phase of the project, gathering twelve mediators, members of Red Camino Nordeste, during the monthly meeting of April (2010) held at the COVIPRO polyclinic waiting room. The coordinator and moderator of the group was responsible for the project and was assisted by two researchers of the team. The meeting was recorded with the consent of the participants and anonymity was respected using code names in the transcript of the interventions. It was our aim to probe into the perception, exchange of ideas and views on the subject of research, trying to reach consensus and agreement among the participants on the issues raised, from their position as mediators in Zone 9 as well as participants of the Red Camino Nordeste.

The focus group lasted two hours, being its members staff from healthcare services (Centro de Salud Jardínes y Policlínica COVIPRO), secondary schools (Liceos Nº39 y 45), primary schools (Escuela Nº181), support organizations for adolescent mothers (“Casa Lunas”) and social work services for citizens (SOCAT Santa Gema), working in different districts. It started with the members' introduction and the presentation of elements to trigger discussion. Such elements focused on results collected during interviews with young women and adolescents (Rodriguez Lopater 2012 in press) and on the interviews with them as informants and information users.

Analysis and discussion of results.

Analysis of the mediators as informants at the beginning of the investigation.

We analysed how mediators who were interviewed perceived women, based on three facts that determine different opportunities on the access and use of information:

  1. categories related to traditional sexual roles related to early parenthood, valuing and self-esteem, mother or father and children relationships, life projects as well as the distribution of time with regard to household chores and responsibilities;
  2. categories related to aspects which define the cognitive, and to frameworks and cultural belongings which hinder access, understanding and appropriation of information;
  3. personal interests and their connection to needs, expressed in the existence, or not, of demands.

Sexual roles.

The importance of securing a spot and the strong competition are frequently mentioned by those who interact with adolescents. Early parenthood is identified as the unique life project, desired and valued within the family context and the close cultural environment. The lack of other life projects and its incidence on the absence of preparation to enter the work market, the distribution of time in relation to household chores and responsibilities, and the subsequent reorganization of family roles through the displacement of parenting responsibilities among sisters, mothers and grandmothers, are the main reasons for the situation of vulnerability mentioned by most respondents.

Mediators perceive them as a specific community, which reinforces the concept of studying their information behaviour as a community of practice, sharing innovative notions in information science.

Barriers that prevent women from accessing and using information.

When asked: What difficulties are encountered in the process of dissemination of information? How is it received by users? three main aspects that contribute to this exclusion were identified: socio-cultural barriers, lack of institutional linkages and of economic resources. Socio-cultural barriers referred to the difficulties when internalizing the content into clear messages, as a result of their presentation and the language used in them (use of different codes), difficulties to ask questions and different timing. Respondents also agreed when perceiving the confinement of young women to home, their little interest and ignorance about the existence of local resources and public services, associating these factors to the isolation and absence of institutional linkages. Therefore, to reach the target audience with general information becomes extremely difficult. Attention is also drawn to the need for discussion spaces allowing for understanding and reflection on the information, and to geographic isolation as a factor.

Overcoming these barriers associated with socialization patterns, limited access to education, and a general context of vulnerability involves designing and implementing strategies that facilitate access to information. Undoubtedly, the recovery of references, Chatman's insiders, to mediate with the others as well as to revitalize the role of information professionals in the area and of social mediators as effective and permanent bridges to the sources of information, should be part of those policies and strategies to be developed.

In consequence, we perceived mediators as fully aware of the need of developing such policies and strategies. They will facilitate the creation of a more user-friendly and reliable environment.

Actions: facilitating access.

After analysing responses to questions such as: What actions are being taken by centres /services to facilitate access? a number of "facilitators" are mentioned. These combine the use of certain channels with personal contact. Simple and fast is the motto agreed upon by almost all mediators to be able to reach women and the population in general with information.

Information presented must help to fix contents, it must be striking, colourful and should avoid including difficult texts. In consequence, we perceived mediators as fully aware of the need to capture attention and interest immediately. Effort should be minimal, as we referred when mentioning Case (2005), for adolescent girls and young women to access and use registered information in different forms and channels. Mediators confirm such assertion and guide us in this respect: creativity must be presented as simple, fast and attractive.

Identified problems.

Through the analysis of the answers to: What action areas are identified as vital for women in this zone?, we mapped a number of problems grouped as follows: in the personal field: low self-esteem and deficiency of life projects, difficulties associated to relationships, at home and within the family: domestic violence, need of references and family support, conflictive couple relationships regarding responsibilities and gender-related experiences: early parenthood, single mothers, responsibility concerning household care and its impact on a number of interrelated aspects: little training, difficult work insertion, little or inexistent access to cultural resources.

Unquestionably, the nonexistence of institutions to transform these young heads of households living in poverty and isolation into agents of change, implies that they depend on local services and resources to help them spread the limits of their lives “in the round", to paraphrase Chatman. Hence, social mediators will play an essential role.

Offer characterization.

When asked about programmes and activities: Are programmes or activities being developed, aimed at groups with specific characteristics within the area? We had access to a number of activities and programmes presented by mediators as specific to each centre. Based on the descriptions provided, we verified the absence of training in using computers and the Internet already expressed and analysed in the interviews to young women (Rodriguez Lopater 2012 in press).Hence, the design of information policies has to do with actions featuring a number of remarkable models in Latin America since the late 1990s and early 2000; for instance the experiences with women in poverty as members of social networks (Camacho Jiménez 2001; Gómez and Martínez 2000; Gómez et al. 2000) in Costa Rica.

Channels to disseminate information and promote activities.

Written communication is a commonly used method, with billboards, posters and brochures being the most common means. It is followed by personal contact where home visits and contact with local references prevail. Information and communication technologies appear in a third place mainly due to the extensive use of cell phones and text messages (because of their speed and low costs). Internet usage is nonexistent. Face-to-face oral communication comes fourth, specifically as a result of the importance given to word of mouth transmission. Finally, regarding the different channels' perceived effectiveness; billboards are the most frequently mentioned, followed by word of mouth..

Thus we observe a close relation between those channels selected in the first and second place. Mediators transmit information resources to young women who obtain information quickly and directly, and also in a more reliable way within the narrow scope of their everyday lives. Information strategies applied by mediators adapt to the tactics used by their recipients to be informed.

As stated by Paulette Rothbauer (2005: 284) through the conceptualization of Michel de Certeau on the role of strategies and tactics in everyday life, 'strategies are created and controlled where and when everyday life takes place; therefore information behaviour can occur'. Mediators adapt to the here and now, with its limitations and possibilities, taking advantage of the niches that are visible to them and to their target audience, but identifying the deficiencies and barriers to overcome.

Assessing information.

In response to questions concerning the assessment and type of information considered necessary, all respondents weighed information as a resource and considered different types of needs as fundamental. The health area concentrates most of the answers, with references to sexual education, responsible measures on abortion, family planning, the overall health of women, and children's health and parenting. Sexual equality, domestic violence and knowledge of women's rights are strongly associated. Access to public services and their operation follows in frequency.

Situations of demand.

When inquiring about information demand by young women, we did not identify an authentic claim or demand for it. From the analysis, the correlation between the "urgency" in addressing a critical situation and the demand for information or attendance to a school or institution becomes obvious.

In the present case as in other sectors of society, demand should not only be addressed, but generated. Luís Milanesi, a relevant theoretician in information science in Brazil, has supported this idea in the various editions of his works A casa da Invenção (Milanesi 2003 : 227-229) and Biblioteca (Milanesi 2002: 86-93).His perspective on the quality of public information is related to "develop work to create demand instead of simply meeting this demand, ensuring that the user wants to know more." (Milanesi 2003: 229)

Mediators as information users: their relation with the sources and the transfer of information within the work context and professional environment.

The relation of the mediators with those services and resources aimed at women appears as very weak; few respondents knew more than a source of information. They declared that they used the received information resources (leaflets) in workshops held in centres aimed at women and in waiting rooms of healthcare services.They neither know nor use Internet sites designed for women. This situation alerts us on the need to promote information behaviour among mediators as intermediaries of electronic information, also collaborating on the development of available contents on the Internet, distributing these amid the recipients of their services. According to recent theories and research, communities of practice (Davies 2005: 104-105) play a substantial role in the transfer of information as a way to negotiate and include meanings in everyday life and at the workplace.

Answers to questions regarding the use of e-mails, access to and use of social networks, as well as information search on the Internet confirm the existence of frequent use of e-mail, as well as a hindered information-seeking behaviour. The access and use of university Web sites, university library catalogues and online magazines databases is limited. They also share the tendency to want access and information quickly and easily. We could typify them as novice searchers, described by Erdelez (2005: 179), as occasional encounterers. There are good prospects to turn mediators into assiduous encounterers and skilful hunters, as they have experience in searching and are also aware of the current problems and their possible solutions.

With reference to interpersonal communication in the context of work, different options are presented: face-to-face personal contact and use of telephones, being personal contact of significant importance, especially with colleagues and co-workers. The information behaviour of the mediators is embedded in a community of practice among their peers, presenting similar trends and a specific domain where they share knowledge, languages and meanings. The reference group is the most immediate and reliable source, as families are for adolescent girls. Like them, mediators prefer face-to-face contact, or the cell phone, the fastest means, which allows them to communicate directly or by text messages with their colleagues from the area. The feeling of belonging and trust in those considered inside their community of practice, facilitates the creation of this information behaviour.

Additionally, the role of social networks is confirmed. These have traditionally been, together with the emerging virtual ones, human networks marked by the relationships among people who influence both the intellectual phenomena and social relations. As Regina Marìa Marteleto states,

within different historical and political conceptions of social networks and their practical applications, it stands out as a general principle, its comprehension as collective interchange groups, and therefore, information and experiences qualifiers (Marteleto 2010: 33).

The space for interchange in the mediators' social networks is essential as they are producers, users and mediators of information. By promoting their ways of relating to others and transferring information, their roles as mediators and multipliers of sense within the information environments are enhanced too. Thus, they become active agents in the processes of reception and internalization of information by the recipients of their services.

Mediators exchanging views in a focus group in the last stage of the investigation.

The analysis is based on the categorization of the main themes presented during the debate: life projects of young women and adolescent girls; their attitude regarding study and sexuality; the years of childhood and adolescence; domestic violence; home confinement and dependence on man; difficulties and barriers of mediators when working with adolescents; women and mothers' options versus the labour market; proposals and suggestions on women information and social inclusion.

From the beginning, participants were perceived as deeply concerned about the adolescent girls and young women life projects, with whom they have a relationship in the services where they work. In general, the speech was homogeneous, reinforcing the results collected during the project. The woman-mother binomial is regarded as central to the life project of the adolescents. The prevailing model is: to look after siblings first, and to have children afterwards. Mediators considered a major challenge to help them break such perverse and naturalized logic.

Closely linked to the life project, appears the serious problem of school dropouts during the first year of high school, a phenomenon confirmed by national and international statistics as well as by the girls interviewed. There is clear consensus as to identify the problem and its impact on the construction of a model based on the young women, already mothers, encapsulation at home and isolated from other ways of life and opportunities for personal growth.

Finally, economic dependence on men remains decisive as a cause for home confinement. Dependence is associated with maternity and to abuse from men who,

in most cases abuse of that power. I am the head of household; I bring the money, bring food, bring everything (P6).

Home confinement emphasises situations of violence and makes it difficult to approach services to find protection. The notion of home is based on confinement and short term solutions are not presented with the immediacy of results prevailing in today's society. It is clearly stated that:

trying to project, in the medium to long term is becoming culturally difficult because we live in the immediacy, because everything has to be now... it is a major challenge (P2).

Changes in behaviour are not immediate, on the contrary

making the decision to change the behaviour takes years and in many cases it never happens... there is a repetitive situation of generational patterns that weigh (P12).

With regard to the impact of information society, this is perceived as extraneous, although the importance of computers at home is pointed out as well as the need to provide Internet home access.

Mediators centred the subject of the discussion (information aimed at the social inclusion of young women and adolescents) as subordinated to the basic issues concerning them. Different points of view regarding information resources and channels, and enriching experiences on the exchange and dissemination of information in some organizations of the Red Camino Nordeste also appeared.

To sum up, mediators gave us the opportunity to learn about young women and adolescents' small worlds where the identical opinions and concerns are reflected. Where fear, distrust and a high degree of uncertainty overcomes those challenges that would imply leaving the life in the round characterized by Chatman (1999). Our mediators hesitate, between paternalism and empowerment. Nevertheless, despite being aware of the difficulties to successfully address these worlds, and without knowing the recent theories on models of everyday life information seeking built by Savolainen and others, they are certainly capable of leading us on the path to facilitate information sources and resources to the recipients of their services.


Institutional mediators from Zone 9 are an essential bridge between the adolescents and young women in vulnerable contexts and the process of appropriation of information and knowledge both for personal and collective development. The bridge is a metaphor to describe the subject-object of research in problematic situations, facing information needs of which they are not completely aware of.

According to the results of the research we can conclude:

To conclude, research into the role of mediators and their relationship to young women in vulnerable contexts is an essential contribution, not only to better understand the information behaviour of these women and adolescent girls, but to advise social mediators on information literacy, as well as to develop proposals aimed at improving our information services. Only through understanding on how these recipients construct their experiences, motivations and meanings, we will be prepared to design systems and information services which are not strangers to them. Information professionals must learn from social mediators, by closely working with them.

Towards a new research project.

The investigation presented is the first held in our country on the information needs of disadvantaged sectors, and specifically on young women and adolescents. In recent years new social policies aimed at these sectors have appeared, among which we would like to highlight the promotion of access to information and communication technologies by children and young people in public education. Nevertheless, this is not accompanied by policies and actions aimed at library and information services for citizens.

We believe that this line of research can help promote the integration of information in the agendas of national governments and local governments as one more of the social public policies. In this sense we have designed a new research project (in development: 2010-2012), more interdisciplinarity (library and information science, communication science, computer engineering, sociology, social anthropology) and insert in the recent major programme public policies at national level: the National Integrated Health System.

The results of the previously presented research show the possibility and opportunity to design and develop local information resources in the most disadvantaged areas, taking as a starting point the knowledge expansion of the information behaviour of young residents, with a significant participation of institutional mediators (in this case the staff from health care centres). We would also like to draw attention to the essential participation of the target users: young adolescents in the field of health care (health care centres and polyclinics in the area) in evaluating the design and content of electronic information resources.

Staff at health care centres constitutes a community of practice to observe regarding its communication and information flows among themselves and with the vulnerable young people in the area already mentioned in this presentation. The waiting rooms are privileged places for the investigation of the information ground that circulates among users and among health care personnel. The research team will have the opportunity to present and discuss the results in the second half of 2012.

Finally, we believe essential to quote Chatman when she asks her audience during a conference (Chatman 2001: 6): 'What about the cultural and information world of the poor that keeps them from feasting at the table laden with information abundance?'

About the author

Martha Sabelli is Doctor in Documentation of Alcalá University, Spain. She is professor, senior researcher as well as coordinator at the Information and Society Department, School of Library Science and Related Areas, University of Republic, Uruguay. She can be contacted at: marthasabelli@gmail.com

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How to cite this paper

Sabelli, M.(2012) "Information behaviour among young women in vulnerable contexts and social inclusion: the role of social mediators." Information Research, 17(4) paper 545. [Available at http://InformationR.net/ir/17-4/paper545.html]

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Appendx 1 – Research questions.

The first aspect was related to public information policies aimed at social inclusion: Are there public information policies focused on citizens in unfavourable contexts? Or services that develop policies, strategies and actions directed to this type of real and potential users?

The second aspect centred on young women as users or non-users of information: Do women in unfavourable contexts need information?, Are they aware of this need and hence demand for such information ? What is the kind of information needed or desired, and/or requested? Are these needs and demands satisfied? What is the situation regarding the use of information and communication technologies, especially the Internet? What are the attitudes and aptitudes towards ICTs?, What are the obstacles, barriers and "bridges" in the process of creating habits regarding the access, use and appropriation of traditional and electronic information?

The third aspect to be studied referred to the subject-mediator: What is the perception of the institutional mediator (public organizations and non-governmental organizations that aid women)? How do mediators address policies, strategies and actions? How do they evaluate their results and impacts? What is the perception of mediators with reference to library information services (librarians, volunteers at popular libraries)? In case of problematic issues, what is their approach to policies, strategies and actions?