Transformative power of information: managing personal history and culture in migration
Hana Marčetić and Maja Krtalić.
Introduction. This study explores how personal information management practices could be used to help migrating individuals manage their cultural heritage legacies and to investigate how digital collections of libraries, archives, museums and other information institutions could be utilised by individuals to support further discovery of and learning about their cultural heritages.
Method. This paper presents the results of a qualitative research study conducted on a purposive sample of 10 Croatian expatriates living in Europe and on expatriates from various countries living in Croatia. Participants were interviewed about their personal information management practices with a focus on immigration experiences and cultural information needs. Participants used an information source relevant for their personal collections or needs and described their experiences in semi-structured diaries.
Results. Migration motivates people to assess the value of personal information and objects and to invest their effort in describing, safeguarding and sharing documents or items with significant value. A stronger motivation exists for using libraries, archives and museum collections when a need arises resulting from a knowledge gap about items in personal collections.
Conclusions. Personal information management practices can make a significant difference in managing personal cultural heritage legacy. Collections of information institutions can constitute a part of those practices.
The phenomena of immigration has been studied for decades in many scientific areas and continues to be topic of current interest today because of its increasing complexity resulting from many social and technical changes. World Migration Report (2018) estimates that there are 244 million international migrants world-wide—or 3.3% of the world’s population. The International Organisation for Migration de-fines migration as ‘the movement of persons away from their place of usual residence, either across an international border or within a state’ and the term migrant as an um-brella term, ‘reflecting the common lay understanding of a person who moves away from his or her place of usual residence, whether within a country or across an international border, temporarily or permanently, and for a variety of reasons’. The terms migrants and immigrants are often used interchangeably and it is difficult to identify a single and simple definition that takes into account all possible circumstances of the migration process. Ander-son and Blinder (2017) define migrants ‘by foreign birth, by foreign citizenship, or by their movement into a new country to stay temporarily (sometimes for as little as a year) or to settle for the long-term’ (p. 3). This definition is suitable for the purposes of this paper.
In the information science field, there are many angles from which this topic could be explored. In this paper, we look at the topic from the information behaviour perspective—specifically, we focus on personal information management in the cultural heritage information context.
The information environment of immigrants is complex. Going through the migration process requires not only access to information sources but also the competence to seek and make use of relevant, reliable and authentic information sources. Information priorities of immigrants revolve around everyday life issues, such as housing, work, education, health, language learning, etc. With the stresses of everyday life, strategic search for information that would help a person understand and develop one’s own sense of cultural identity is rarely an informational priority. However, the need to understand and preserve ones cultural identity becomes stronger during the settled stages of the migration process and in subsequent generations of immigrant descendants. Consequently, the main question behind this research study is: what value do personal information management practices have in managing and maintaining a cultural identity during migration?
We argue that immigrants’ personal information management practices could be relevant to immigrant individuals and communities for maintaining and forming their cultural identities. People organise, describe and preserve personal information that has a heritage value for themselves, their families and wider communities, including heritage sectors in host and home countries. One’s cultural identity is often fragmented during the migration process and results in losing familiar and cultural structures, affecting one’s overall well-being (Bhugra, 2005). Through the process of managing personal information, it is possible to (re)gain sense of control over one’s cultural identity. To understand this issue and offer recommendations to both individuals and information institutions, this paper explores how immigrants could use a) documents and artefacts from their personal collections and b) information sources coming from libraries, archives and museums, to manage their sense of cultural identity.
In this section, we look at previous work that is relevant for the aims of our study. In order to position previous research on personal information management in the context of migration, we intend to look at what the existing literature says about:
- What is happening in the information environment of immigrants?
- What role do libraries, archives and museums have in that information environment?
- What is the effect of personal information management practices in that information environment?
Each of these question warrants an extensive literature review on its own; however, this paper addresses only the main points that guide our study.
The information environment of immigrants
The information practices of immigrants have long been an object of scholarly attention. A comprehensive overview of this topic, by Caidi, Allard and Quirke (2010), confirms that a rich body of literature exists across a wide range of disciplines and highlights several research gaps that could inform future research agendas. The topic has grown in popularity since 2010 and a substantial number of works have explored the information behaviour of various ethnic groups, primarily in the context of everyday life. Their focus has usually been on identifying information needs during the migration process or within specific stages of the migration process. Some works have focused on a specific ethnic group in a specific geographical area (e.g. Boamah, 2018; Bronstein, 2017; Suh & Hsieh, 2019), on a specific context, such as work, study or health (Shankar et al., 2016; Sibal & Foo, 2016; Yoon & Chung, 2017; Ek, 2015; Goodall, Newman, & Ward, 2014), or on a specific age group (Du, Tan, & Xu, 2019). The findings of these studies are often similar and reveal that the immigrants’ main information needs revolve around employment, language learning, housing and health but also include making connections in their host societies and maintaining connections in their home countries. Two streams of information needs often coexist—one that is focused on the host country and the other on the home country. In the early phase of the migration process, the need for information about the host country is more important but, as immigrants move into the settled phase of this process, the need for information about their home country becomes increasingly relevant. To demonstrate that there is an order to the needs encountered during integration, Oduntan and Ruthven (2019) have developed an information needs matrix.
In addition to the information needs of immigrants, their uses of and preferences for information sources are well represented in the professional literature. Information and communication technology (ICT)-supported sources of information, as well as social media, have become increasingly important for immigrants (Dekker, Engbersen, & Klaver, 2018; Komito, 2011; Sharma & Govindan, 2016) and often shape new ways of behaviour—e.g. wandering as an information practice (Lingel, 2015). The questions of interest are not only how technology influences information seeking but also how it affects individual and collective memory. Several previous works confirm the importance of family and friends as information sources (Khoir, Du, & Koronios, 2015; Sirikul & Dorner, 2016), as well as the importance of ethnic media for accessing information of interest (Mao, 2015), whether in addressing the need to obtain specific information or to maintain a connection to the home country.
The role of libraries, archives and museums in the lives of immigrants
Two predominant approaches are used to explore memory institutions in the literature: the role they play in the lives of immigrants and the role they play in preserving and communicating their stories and heritages.
The role of libraries as information sources and acculturation sites has often been investigated in conjunction with information needs (Audunson, Essmat, & Aabø, 2011; Khoir, Du, & Koronios, 2015), including how immigrants perceive and use libraries (Branyon, 2017; Nekolová, Cernohlávková, Chrzová, Pachlová, & Váchová, 2016; Shepherd, 2018). The literature presents the practices of memory institutions and their role in providing information to and programs for immigrants (Hoyer, 2011; Khoir, Du, Davison, & Koronios, 2017). For example, one study has examined the potential of conversation-based programs in public libraries intended to support the political integration of immigrants (Johnston, 2016), while Dali (2013) has explored activities closely connected to libraries, such as leisure reading, and their role in the acculturation process.
The representation of cultural heritage in public spaces and its effect on memory and identity is another stream of research explored by, for example, Linhard and Parsons (2019), while Johansson and Bevelander (2017) and Semi, Miccoli and Parfitt (2013) have discussed ethnicity and issues of origin presented by museums. Levin (2017) has explained the relevance of these topics by arguing that ‘memory work has a strong impact on immigrant audiences as well as others, in part because it allows individuals to construct their own meanings related to heritage’ (p. 308).
Although archives and recordkeeping offices are not represented as museums, significant research has also focused on their role, especially in the lives of refugees and forcibly displaced people. Gilliland (2017) and Halilovich (2014) have explored the role of official records in reclaiming and validating identities as well as family relations, citizenship and property. In addition to records of significance to individuals, there is also a need to incorporate the records generated by community-based organisations into the archival heritage (Zavala, Migoni, Caswell, Geraci, & Cifor, 2017). Concepts from archival practice and records management can also be applied to the personal context, especially trust, authenticity, reliability and evidence in relation to memory (Huvila, Eriksen, Häusner, & Jansson, 2014).
The question of what role archives, libraries and museums may play as gatekeepers of societal cultural identities also induces questions in relation to the services and staff competencies required (Feng, 2016; Dancs, 2017; Marshall, 2018). Fourie (2011, 2012) has given pointers for librarians on how to develop successful personal information management practices that can help their patrons make maximum use of relevant information and develop innovative practices. Cushing (2010) has highlighted the archives and records management tradition in addressing the issues related to personal archives and has pointed out the need for continuous conversation between the archives and records field and personal digital archiving.
The role of personal information management practices in the lives of immigrants
The personal information landscape changes significantly in the process of migration. New information needs are created, different information practices developed and all this often happens under significant emotional and cognitive pressure. Expectations that arise as a result of previous experiences and cultural differences often cause various frustrations and might lead to discrepancies between individuals and their host cultures or societies. Therefore, the central question in this theoretical background overview is regarding the effect that personal information management has in the information environment of immigrants. Jones et al. (2017) define the term personal information management (PIM) as the
practice and the study of the activities a person performs in order to acquire or create, store, organise, maintain, retrieve, use, and distribute information in each of its many forms (paper and digital, in e-mails, files, web pages, text messages, tweets, posts, etc.) as needed to meet life’s many goals (everyday and long term, work related and not) and to fulfil life’s many roles and responsibilities (as parent, spouse, friend, employee, member of community, etc.). (p. 3584)
From this definition, we focus on PIM as a tool for meeting life’s goals and responsibilities. According to Jones et al., a PIM goal is ‘to always have the right information in the right place in the right form and of sufficient completeness and quality to meet the current need’ (Jones et al., 2017, p. 3584). In the context of changing environments that are encountered by a growing worldwide migrant community, this goal is increasingly gaining in value. Accessing the right information at the right time may play a crucial role in increasing one’s opportunities and bettering one’s overall circumstances as well as improving a sense of integration. With integration comes the responsibility to preserve both personal and family heritage as well as understanding of a culture.
Family and personal records are considered critically endangered due to poor storage, media obsolescence, single copies, encryption, lack of documentation, confusion over intellectual property, over-abundance, lack of awareness or planning (The Global List Of Digitally Endangered Species, 2018). An increasing amount of literature provides instructions on how to organise personal information and documents to gain control over the flood clogging our personal information spaces (Marshall, 2018; Montoya et al., 2018; Bruce et al., 2011). Montoya et al. developed a system that functions as a knowledge base for personal information management but does not act like a data trap, which is the case with most commercial and widespread alternatives. Building on the corpus of research on knowledge systems, such as the one developed by Montoya et al., a study by Hwan, Lin and Shin (2018) looked deeper into the motivation that drives personal information management and its perceived value. Other studies were conducted that looked into the interaction and management of information stored on particular devices or particular systems by, for example, comparing e-mail retrieval on smartphones and computers and by comparing personal information management practices on personal computers and tablets (Jensen et al., 2018). Looking at the direction that research on personal information management has taken, we can see that it is either user behaviour-centred—especially in terms of knowledge organisation—or technology centred. Sinn, Kim and Syn (2017) have explored factors that are assumed to affect personal digital archiving strategies, finding that general technology efficacy and awareness of the importance of personal records appear to influence personal archiving practices.
Although heritage institutions can offer solutions and guidance for some of these long-existing problems, individuals also have an important role in preserving and presenting their personal collections. However, even with many sources offering advice and making tools available for managing and archiving personal documents, each person has a single unique personal space of information (Jones et al., 2017) and, therefore, needs to match individual personal information management practices and find motivation in his/her own personal information landscape. This ‘unique personal space’ was of specific interest to us while formulating our research objectives and questions.
To conclude this overview of some key issues raised in previous works, we point out an existing gap that guides our research—PIM encompasses more than just organisation of personal information and documents so that they can be found and used when needed in the future. An important aspect of PIM is knowledge management in personal collections and using its potential to manage personal cultural heritage and identity. Colomer (2017) questions the traditional use of heritage and points out ‘others visions of heritage today, as people’s cultural identities turn to be now more characterised by mobility’. In this paper, we argue that well organised personal information management practices are a strong tool for managing the cultural identities of individuals (and families), which offers a space for individual visions of heritage today, and that libraries, archives and museums can be incorporated into this personal information management space. As Cox puts it, ‘There is some security in being surrounded by evidence of our lives and families. And there ought to be a feeling of insecurity when we lack such knowledge, equivalent to be illiterate’ (as cited in Cloonan, 2015).
Aims and research questions
The research objectives of this study were:
- To identify how personal information management practices could be used to help in-dividuals manage their cultural heritage legacies;
- To investigate how digital collections of libraries, archives, museums and other infor-mation institutions could be utilised by individuals to support discovery of and learn-ing about their personal cultural heritages; and
- To explore what value information can have in managing one’s sense of cultural iden-tity.
These research objectives were positioned in the context of migration. Hence, the research questions that guided this research were:
- What are the personal information management practices of immigrants?
- How do immigrants establish/maintain contact with and build knowledge about a) the cul-ture and customs of their origin and b) the culture and customs of their host countries?
- 3. How can people use personal documents and artefacts to manage their sense of cultural identity?
1.1. Has the migration process influenced those practices and, if so, in what way?
2.1 What is the role of libraries, archives, museums and other collections therein?
Sample, data collection and analysis
This paper presents the results of qualitative research conducted on a purposive sample of two immigrant groups connected to Croatia—one group consisted of Croatian expatriates living in Europe and the other group consisted of expatriates from other countries living in Croatia. From September 2018 to April 2019, 10 participants took part in the study. The reason we chose to have two participant groups was to explore research questions in the context of both host and home country and explore how that context affects the notion of cultural identity during migration.
Qualitative research design was chosen, keeping in mind emergent design of qualitative re-search, purposive sampling and individual data collection techniques. The data were collected by a human research instrument and tacit knowledge was applied to the interpretation of the observed evidence, as explained by Pickard (2013, p. 10–14).
There were three steps in the data collection process of this study. First, in-depth semi-structured interviews were used to collect data about the participants’ personal information management practices, focusing on immigration experiences and cultural information needs. Interviews lasted up to an hour.
Second, the participants were asked to use a digital information source that might be relevant to their cultural information need. They were asked to think about the items in their personal collections and to identify what further information/knowledge they would need or like to have. They were asked to describe their experience of using such a source in semi-structured diaries.
Third, a follow-up interview was conducted, where participants were asked two questions in relation to the first two steps. The aim was to gather opinions about the usefulness of looking for information about cultural heritage based on tangible and intangible items in the partici-pants’ personal collections.
The entire process lasted from two weeks to a month, depending on the scope of the partici-pants’ involvement. Interviews were transcribed and coded manually. Apart from a constant analysis as an ongoing element of the research process (Pickard, 2013, p. 202), coding was applied by examining the data line by line, identifying categories through coding and determining the links between the categories and subcategories (Pickard, 2013, p. 271).
Results and discussion
The 10 respondents that participated in this study were between the ages of 31 and 62. All participants were female, which was not our intention and is considered to be a limitation of this study. Four participants were expatriates from other countries who are now living in Croatia, while six had moved to other countries of the European Union from Croatia. Seven participants had previous migration experience(s), with two of them moving to their current place of residence from places other than their countries of origin. All participants spoke at least one foreign language in addition to their mother tongue and all of them spoke English. Most of the expatriates who were originally from Croatia had moved to their host countries with previous knowledge of the language spoken in the country to which they migrated. On the other hand, the four respondents who moved to Croatia communicated mainly in other languages and had limited knowledge of Croatian. None of them had any knowledge of Croatian prior to migration. All participants had at least a BA degree or equivalent, had migrated to their current place of residence during the last five years and all except one were currently employed.
The respondents’ motives for moving varied from a desire to make a change in their lives (R2, R4, R5, R10) to pursuing career opportunities (R3, R4, R5, R6, R7, R9)—be it their partners’ or their own. These motives, together with their language skills and employment statuses, helped shape their experiences. They influenced the sources the respondents interacted with, created needs for information and dictated the value ascribed to certain items, such as formal documents and objects of sentimental value.
Further results are presented and discussed in accordance with the three steps of data collec-tion described in the Methodology section.
Step 1. Interviews
The following themes were identified during the analysis of the interview data:
- Organising personal information during migration,
- The emotional and informational value of objects,
- Tangibles, intangibles and their intertwining values,
- Perception of the role played by libraries, archives and museums in building communities by addressing the information needs of immigrants,
- Culture, identity and the notion of self,
- Importance of personal stories and physical connection.
Personal information management practices during migration
A prerequisite for organising personal documents and objects is assessing their value. During the process of migration, the respondents had to evaluate all their possessions in order to decide whether or not they would bring them along on their journey. This process included discarding many items that had a place in the old setting but would not find a place in the new one. The way this process took place depended, in part, on what practices individuals had before they decide to migrate. Respondents R1, R5 and R7 reported continuous practice of meticulous organisation and preservation. Regular backup, organisation of both physical and digital objects into folders, to which metadata was assigned, were all activities that facilitated the management of these personal collections. Participants mentioned tagging photos with dates, names of the people in them and places in which they were taken (R5 and R7), along with organising items into folders both on bookshelves and on computers or laptops (R1, R3, R4, R7). While some of the respondents had already developed certain systems that helped them mitigate the activities in their information spaces, others managed their collection as a single large source of items from which they would then attempt to discern the ones that held a certain level of importance in order to be included in the moving process. For example, R2 reports:
[There were just a] few things that was systematic when I was packing my house up in [country]. I had one pile for ‘give to charity’, one for ‘in the bin’, one pile for ‘in storage’, another pile to ‘come with me’. And as I picked up each object I sort of had to think about it and… where it needed to go.
Getting rid of a large amount of clutter is not unusual for the process of migration. While R1 and R4 reported sending large amounts of their physical possessions to ‘the bin’, R4 and R7 went through the same process with their digital objects. These documents were deemed as ‘important [then] but are irrelevant now’ (R4). This change in the perception of value was reflected on the remaining objects in personal collections both offline and online. R2, R3, R4 and R6 came to the conclusion that the migration experience convinced them that they could now face losing almost anything in their collection without remorse. R1, R3 and R7 reported having gone through experiences of losing devices or having them malfunction. Such experiences also invoked the use of social media as an alternative backup solution. R3 experienced data loss when her hard disk, where she kept all her important files, malfunctioned. This led to a realisation that she can access only those photos that were published on her Facebook profile and reconstruct only the work that she had shared with her friends. Thus, her social media account took on a backup role, for which it was not initially intended, and may also have created a sense of giving up on the effort to systematically approach data preservation because the data would be preserved there.
R6 mentioned using the cloud but, along with R7, expressed doubts and reservations about its trustworthiness and safety, unlike R10. In addition to cloud and external hard drive storage (R1, R3, R5, R7), the other storing possibilities that were mentioned were flash drives (R6) and folders and files (R1, R7) for preserving both digital and physical objects.
This introduced the problem of password storage, i.e. management and usability of the information. Even if all participants believed that they could make sense of those items that hold value for them and recreate their stories, their reconstructability by others was more problematic. The historical and heritage value contained in their photos, documents and other objects was communicated, to a very limited extent, to other interested parties. R1 and R5 had shared access to password-protected information with their partners, while others relied on sharing important objects and information from their digital collections with people they think might also find them important in order to preserve these objects and information. Of course, sharing passwords is ‘personal’, as noted by R4; however, to many, their interest in reconstructing their own stories did not extend to thinking about the potential interest others might have in interpreting these documents as well.
Because of migration, I made an effort to scan all important documents that my family members could need if something happens to me: passport, birth and marriage certificates, health insurance, bank accounts. I put them in a cloud and shared with family at home. I also made physical copies for them. At first they did not want to talk about these things but it is important. (R10)
As the migration process unravels, the perception of value decreases for some items while it establishes or increases for other items. All respondents in this study cited the importance of formal documents as a central issue that arises during the migration experience. Namely, the documents that arose most prominently included passports, birth certificates, health insurance, personal identification numbers and living permits. When she talked about the important documents she possessed R2 said: ‘I don’t see it as a right, I see it as a privilege. And it offers me a lot of safety and a lot of freedom’.
The emotional and information value of objects
The objects that created the personal information spaces of the participants were varied. They held both emotional and informational value for their owners. When asked about what parts of their collections hold emotional value, a wide variety of answers were offered:
I brought much with me. I have albums with photos from my childhood and young days and some photos of my larger family. These albums have value of connecting me to my personal past. To my family, past and present. Eh, yes. As a point of connection…As a meeting point. [And] books as connection to my larger community. (R4)
Photos of their loved ones and objects that represented certain memories were mentioned most frequently, as well as books on their own culture and history or the culture and history of the countries they migrated to. The interviewees also talked about the importance of food and shared meals for their cultural adjustment; thus, it was no surprise when R3 explicitly mentioned a cookbook. Another way of conveying personal stories through objects and hobbies was represented by a collection of paintings and works of art with which R6 decorated her new home and through which a meeting point for guests was constructed. These paintings act as both souvenirs from travels as well witnesses of a personal past and culture of the place of origin. Their importance is highlighted when visitors come to the home, which they decorate, and through them they introduce their hosts, their heritage and background to others.
The increase in the value of some items was perceived by some respondents only after they had already left them behind. Some took only the most necessary things along with them (R2, R3, R5), leaving the rest behind in storage or to be safeguarded by friends and family members. The value of these items was not crucial enough to their lives to be taken along for the move. Nevertheless, some of these physical objects, such as old sewing machines, musical instruments, book collections and other items—which made these individuals happy or helped them connect to a sense of self they previously nurtured—were reminisced about with a sense of loss: ‘'Cause all of the things that you need, you can go buy them, they are all here. But they have no sense of… they have no memory, you know?’ (R2).
All respondents agree that the migration experience is precious in more than one sense. They also agree that having been through it once would facilitate a similar experience in the future, however reluctant they may be towards going through it again.
Tangibles, intangibles and their intertwining value
Beside the information that immigrants need to sustain their professional lives and assure their integration into society, they encounter new information needs related to the narratives left behind and those that are constructed in their new places of residence. Sources for supporting these information needs are found in the aforementioned objects with emotional value and documentation features of the photos brought along. Some information can be retrieved from the media, through oral transmission and communication channels. Often, the social media plays a large role in this context as well. Facilitating communication with friends that live far away was mentioned and R1 and R2 were particularly active in exchanging information in thematic Facebook groups designed for expats moving to particular cities or areas. R9 explains another use for social media:
Our traditions and customs have changed in the new environment. I follow what my friends back home are doing for holidays and in that way, I remember a Croatian way of celebrating. Keeps me connected to who I was and how we did things before moving. (R9)
Connections were sustained via long phone calls by R7, whereas R1 denoted phone calls and letters as abandoned practices. R1 placed the value of an intangible object on memories, saying: ‘Since I’m not, like, physically there anymore then all I have left is something intangible. So that would be memories. And I guess that’s really one of the things that connects me most to my host country’. Furthermore, R5 found oral heritage to be a source of information about personal family history and she explained how perspective on the importance of one’s cultural heritage changes with years. She explains that in her youth she ‘didn´t think that the landscape or the traditions or the stories of the country would be so important’. Over the years, her family started to collect literature, ascribe more value to their own heritage, learn more about the traditions—especially oral heritage and family history passed on to them by an ancestor who conducted and collected research on these topics.
Most problems related to time, organisation and preservation referred to the possessions being in digital form. Everyone who took part in this study concluded that the majority of the items they hold dear are in physical form and, even though formal documents are increasingly being transferred into the digital realm, it is observable that the objects that hold emotional value are still predominantly physical—photos, family albums, books, trinkets, valuable jewellery and so on.
When you are creating a new life you are in a sort of a vortex. And you just do thousands of things, you know. And these photos in a way…It is important to have roots, it is important to remember. They make you remember some things, make you think of some people, get in touch with them. It is just really, really hard not to forget your old life as you´re making a new one. You can´t lead them parallel, that´s for certain. That´s absolutely certain. So you lose many contacts but it´s very, just very important to still have it in you in a way. Because it´s a part of you. (R3)
The intangible value of items was mentioned as being more important than their actual monetary value. Memories and oral heritage take precedence in this context. On one hand, the interrelation of memories with physical objects that represent them and bring them to mind visibly increases the value of an object. They represent not only a reminiscence of the cultures and customs left behind but also provide historical context, connect to previous generations and increase awareness of the importance of one’s heritage. On the other hand, the importance of formal documents lies in providing the individuals their ‘proof of identity’ in the eyes of the society that they are trying to integrate into. In the words of R6: ‘I am, de facto, a stranger here. I do not have citizenship. [These documents] are now a proof of identity’. Or, as R5 put it:
[H]aving lived such a long time now away from the home country, we see that it’s still very important for us, for our identity. At the same time I would say that I realise more and more that my identity is formed by older generations who, in my case now, came from other countries to [country].
Perception of the role played by libraries, archives and museums in building communities by addressing the information needs of expats
Opportunities for support in the migration process remain unexploited, possibly because of the nature of these collections, a lack of awareness or skills of staff at the libraries, archives and museums or simply because they go unnoticed and unrecognised by the individuals who could benefit from them. However, museums and, sometimes, libraries are recognised as places in which expats can establish initial contact with the community, understand their historical and cultural contexts and stay in touch with the ones they have left behind. Still, there are barriers to them actually making use of these facilities, such as a lack of time in combination with the difficulties that present themselves in actually putting the information found in their collections to use. A major issue of a language barrier remains as well, as R5 noticed when she visited her local library:
I wanted to read for example Krleža or Ivo Andrić or names that I didn’t know before, important poets [for Croatia] in the German language. I didn’t look at English, I wanted to read them in German and they didn’t have them.
Engaging newcomers in the local culture and heritage is often left up to the gatekeepers, in many cases librarians (and other staff at libraries, archives and museums). It is left upon them to make time in their schedules to interpret the information, introduce social norms and explain cultural differences to curious new members of their communities. After facing the problem of finding literature in German language, R5 went on to form relationships of a different nature with culture workers, visited exhibitions and events organised by museums and libraries, proceeded to sing in a choir and also mentioned receiving information from a librarian working at the library in her workplace as well as from a public librarian. Another participant mentioned the way in which personal engagement and individual skills of said institutional staff influenced her integration:
I met the lady at the local library in this village. She’s Italian Istrian again but she speaks beautiful English. I went to ask if she had any English language books and she said no but come and talk to me whenever you want. And so, once or twice a week, I’ll just drop in and have a chat with her. (R2)
However, some individuals manage to organise their lives through their work and related networks or simply gradually lose interest in the collections that do not offer easily accessible and interpretable information. As R1 said, she uses libraries ‘less and less [because] everything's online these days’ and goes on to conclude that it ‘is a shame, because I like libraries.’ Similar sentiments were expressed by R3, R4, R6 and R7. Interestingly, the one participant (R4) that attended a local university for language lessons organised by the state had the opportunity to meet the culture through organised visits to museums. Once asked about the exhibitions she visited, she proceeded to give detailed musings about her impressions of the culture and history experienced through these collections. Similar stories were communicated by R2 and R5 who were in the habit of visiting information institutions themselves, which might point to a conclusion that these collections hold information of transformative value—even if they are not perceived as such by every visitor. Places of knowledge, such as universities, referring those who have entrusted them their education to cultural institutions, obviously plays a significant part in the cultural integration of at least one of our respondents. In this aspect, her lack of knowledge of the language provided her with an experience that she may not have sought out herself. Even though library staff created an important meeting point in the two instances mentioned earlier, the collections themselves held more insight into the new culture for these three museum visitors. All three of them commented enthusiastically on more than one exhibition at the museums in their new communities and made parallels between what they learned there and their own cultural heritage. R4 and R5 recollected instances of participating in other events organised by libraries, archives and museums, either at their current places of residence or in their respective countries. Some they visited personally and others through the content and recordings made available online by these institutions.
R10 explained how she perceives the role of the expatriate community archive and library as a source of information and as a place for connecting to her heritage:
I have access to Croatian books and films there, but also access to documents about the community, their stories, and I realised my story and my documents play a role in building that community. I am not the first and not the last, but I am a part of that changing heritage.
Other information sources
As R4 explicitly states, social media is not only a place to meet with friends but a place of news discovery. There are, of course, apps developed that offer such content in both Croatian and international media. Some news sources were mentioned as trustworthy by several respondents regardless of whether they are expats in or from Croatia. However, as R7 notes, news from Croatia, even if she still has interested in accessing it, just does not seem trustworthy and relevant. This sentiment is mirrored in the observation of R5, who said she and her husband still prefer print newspapers but that trying to access information from her country of origin is problematic and she always has doubts regarding their objectivity. To some extent, this was echoed by R1, R2 and R4 who reported finding it difficult to access current news and relevant information from Croatia in English. That is why the respondents used international news sources more often as a way of keeping informed even if these sources do not provide information about their home countries. The respondents were more prone to relying on their friends as sources of information than they on the local media sources.
Culture, identity and the notion of self
All participants in this study were asked whether they felt there was a change in the way they perceived themselves and whether they believed that their identities have changed in any way as a result of their migration experience. All of them perceived the question differently and their answers varied. It is safe to state that the connection between the challenges of their experience and their construction of their image of themselves was not deeply contemplated in that way before. However, there were some common questions that the process of migration raised for all of them. For example, R1 and R5 mentioned that people in their surroundings did not ask them questions about their identities in the same way that they encountered once they arrived to their new homes. The way other people perceive us and our observations of their process of judgment about who we really are influence the way we think about ourselves. This is what the respondents had to say about that:
So yes, the way I see my identity has changed and probably my identity has changed as well. I don't really feel I'm one thing and you've spent a long time away from home in different countries then you become more of what they call, like, a world citizen or international citizen. I don't really identify with one probably, with one group, yeah. I kind of have more...broader idea of identity and what it is. (R1)
Migration helps people to get clearer about themselves—if I stayed at home nobody would ask who I am and I wouldn´t ask myself. As soon as you are at the different place there is this difference and people ask you who are, where you come from, when do you plan to go back and it was very important to me. (R5)
This notion of having ones identity broaden, of identifying with more than just one culture and one heritage, was mentioned by others as well. Some were more reluctant to draw conclusions about how much they had changed from who they perceived themselves to be before the migration experience (R3, R4). They believed their worlds were broader now than they were in their home cultures before their migration and may have even influenced their decision to move.
Even so, R4 concludes, the time spent in her new country influenced her understanding of ‘the other’ and made her draw parallels between the histories of her home and host countries while, at the same time, she was striving to let go of her prejudice.
I think your mind becomes more open. When you live in one country for a long time you just presume that everybody does things the same way or thinks much the same way. I find now that I don’t take anything for granted. I would always watch and observe or ask before I do something because, or you know something new for the first time. (R2)
This notion of opening one’s mind does not come without its drawbacks. All participants agreed about having experienced some form of cultural shock and some have went further in their observations on how their integration influenced their impressions of self and surroundings:
[Back home] you were only one thing, you were a Croat, a citizen. You belonged here. And now, now you are no longer there, nor are you here still. I can’t even describe it…I am perceived as the one who left there, you no longer fit in back there, neither are you one of them here yet. You are somewhere ‘between two worlds’. (R6)
The sense of belonging represents somewhat of a struggle and a complex issue as she concludes: ‘This is home to me, that was home before. But you don’t have that sense of belonging because you still don’t have history here’.
This is reminiscent of the sentiment previously conveyed by R2 in relation to the objects left behind. The sense of history, memories created in relation to something, induce the sense of belonging. Moreover, as R7 stated, the context and the surroundings influence the way one acts and sees oneself: ‘I feel different depending on who I’m with’, she says and continues: 'I feel I don’t belong anywhere anymore, or I belong everywhere. I can never have strong roots anywhere. Maybe that’s a good thing, maybe that’s a bad thing. I don’t really have time to think about it’.
In the following section, the influence that the time has on the integration of the respondents personal values and cultural heritage with the host country culture is discussed further.
Importance of personal stories and physical connection
All participants in this study were asked whether they felt integrated in the societies of their host countries. They all expressed a feeling of content with their current places of residence but most concluded that there were still aspects in which they do not feel fully integrated. Several elements were repeated throughout the scope of this study by multiple participants. Time, as a crucial factor (or obstacle) for the nourishment of the sense of belonging (R3, R4, R5, R6, R8), sense of memory and history in a place (R2, R4, R6) and the connection to people and their individual stories (R2, R4, R9, R10). The importance of maintaining connection by travelling to their respective home countries was mentioned as important for creating a connection with the new home as it is for staying connected to the culture of the old. R1 and R4 mentioned it particularly in this context, as a way of staying up to date with what changes had occurred in their home culture since their departure. R4 spoke of the importance her trip to her home country had on staying connected to the culture even though her job has her reading the news and writing for a paper in her home country on a daily basis. With respect to those respondents who were less disposed to follow current events on a regular basis, the difficulty in consuming a certain type of information that is usually delivered through participatory practices was highlighted:
I'm interested in that topic. But I don't really know how to find out. Like, I don't travel there that often to be able to know. But yeah, that would be something I would be interested in knowing, yes. I just don't know how to find that information. (R1)
When asked what might help increase the extent to which they felt integrated, some participants mentioned being invited over to other people’s houses. R5 noticed that she was missing the physical aspect to integration: ‘It´s not easy to visit colleagues of mine in their houses. It happened in two or three cases maybe, but in five and a half years so it’s not normal here’. R4 mentioned having to invite herself to a person’s home in one instance, referring to it as ‘autoinviting’.
One of the reasons mentioned for the importance of this type of acceptance—inviting expats into the homes of the locals—was exchange of stories and experiences. R2 and R4 tried to elaborate on what individual stories meant for their own sense of integration into their new countries. R2 strongly emphasised the way in which her contacts with the people she met in her everyday life, hearing their stories and being invited into their homes influenced her own sense of belonging, understanding and integration in the host country: ‘Just in my mind but I know I do love, you know hearing anybody’s story. I guess individual stories are definitely, you know, valuable to me and helping me to form a sense of what Croatia is and isn’t’.
Step 2. Diaries
In the second step, we aimed to explore whether personal collections and personal information management could be used to influence the participants’ information behaviour, sense of cultural understanding and a sense of belonging and identity. We also aimed to further explore the participants attitudes towards using libraries, archives and museums as sources of information for further knowledge about personal culture and identity.
Possessing an insight from the interview results obtained in the first step, in the second phase, we asked the participants to use a digital information source that would help them learn more about items in their personal collection or answer their cultural information needs. They were then asked to describe their experience in semi-structured diaries.
The participants were asked to think about what they need to know or are simply curious about when it comes to Croatia and Croatian culture. They were also asked to think about why they want to know this information. They were encouraged to link it to their personal collection or knowledge/memory. A structured form was given to participants to fill out for each source they used but they were also invited to use free form if that suited them better. However, all participants used the given forms and returned 1–3 diary entries per participant.
The diary form that the participants were given to answer had seven questions or prompts:
- The topic I am interested in.
- Why is this topic interesting/relevant to me?
- What do I want to find out about the topic?
- Information source I visited.
- Describe how you used the information source.
- Describe your thoughts and feelings while interacting with the information source.
- Assess the usefulness of the information you discovered and its impact on your life.
Content analysis of the diary entries identified topics and issues that are presented in Table 1 in two groups. Group 1 (G1) refers to the Croatian expatriates living in other countries and Group 2 (G2) refers to expatriates from other countries living in Croatia. We grouped answers into two groups in this step because that way we could differentiate between searching for information about the host and home countries and any differences in information behaviour that this might reveal.
|Content analysis area||G1||G2|
|Topics of interest||Traditional cooking|
Events and people presented in photographs
Citizenship and legal issues
Legal regulations and residency issues
Cultural events and customs
Way of life
|Relevance of the topic||Relevant to achieve or maintain legal status in a country|
Relevant for maintaining connections between people and places
Relevant for acquiring additional knowledge about items/documents from personal collections
Relevant for telling personal stories
Relevant for understanding customs and norms of a country
|Relevant to achieve or maintain legal status in a country|
Relevant for understanding customs and norms of a country
|Information sources used||Friends and family|
Personal and professional blogs
Libraries, archives, museums as physical spaces
Websites and digital collections of libraries, archives, museums
Social media for expats or created by expats
Expat communities, physical and online
Foreign newspaper sites
Libraries, archives, museums as physical spaces
Websites and digital collections of libraries, archives, museums —if available in English
|Issues during the search process and interaction with information sources||Memory and pre-existing background information used in defining information gap and designing search strategy|
Trust in friends and family holding key and direct information
Uncertainty, ambiguity and being overwhelmed
Strong emotional reactions during the search process, positive and negative
|Understanding context and interpreting information|
Identifying trustworthy and reliable sources
Absence of taken-for-granted knowledge
|Impact of information discovered||Knowledge|
Topics of interest can be grouped in several key areas: traditional cooking, historic events, legal regulations, hobby- or profession-related topics of interest, education and raising children, cultural customs and way of life. For some participants these topics were a result of current pressing needs, such as residency issues for G2 participants. For G1 participants, it was more challenging to decide what topic they want to explore due to absence of that ‘pressing information need’ factor. However, a need usually arose from a gap between how they currently lead and how they had led their lives in their host and home countries, respectively.
It is obvious that the time of the year during which the study was conducted would prompt interest based on the media coverage of certain topics and, presumably, the social conversations around those topics. For example, November in Croatia is a time for remembering the victims of the 1990s war—thus a few diary entries were about that topic. Similarly, Christmas time turned attention towards traditional seasonal food and customs.
The relevance of the topics for G2 participants came primarily from the importance that the information has for integrating in the host society, whether formally, e.g. achieving or maintaining legal status in a country, or informally, e.g. understanding customs and norms of a country. ‘I wanted to find out if it is the norm for people to ask for a recommendation here from a person they don’t really know in order to find a job’, was one diary comment (D3).
For G1 participants, chosen topics were relevant because they enabled creating or maintaining connections between people and places, e.g. based on acquiring additional knowledge about items/documents from personal collections or enabling them to tell their personal stories.
This is the recent history, people very often mention this event and experience related to it; they share their point of view... I'd like to understand the complexity of all this. To enter into the core. Understand this experience. (D9)
The information sources used ranged from institutional to personal. For G1, they included friends and family, personal and professional blogs, Facebook, Youtube, newspaper sites, Wikipedia and the websites and digital collections of libraries, archives and museums. G2 were more inclined to use government sites, social media for expatriates or created by expatriates, expatriate communities, physical and online, personal meetings and foreign newspaper sites. They were also inclined to use both physical and online libraries, archives and museum collections but only if available in English.
We were interested in the cognitive and emotional issues that the participants experienced during the search process and interaction with information sources.
For G1 participants, it was interesting to note the role of memory and pre-existing background information in defining the information gap and coming up with a search strategy. People were often the ones found having the right piece of information after a less successful formal search. As one participant described her search for tips and tricks for a certain traditional recipe, ‘Information that my mother gave me was crucial’ (D2). Looking for information about people, places and events that are represented in personal collections, such as collections of photographs, uncertainty and ambiguity was often expressed, resulting in feeling overwhelmed and giving up on the search unless there was a pressing need to find information. ‘Every photo or text on Internet lead to a next photo or text….so I end up with thirty and more open windows, each one only partially useful’, was a comment in one diary (D1).
Feelings that arose during interactions with information sources were both positive and negative. For example, a knowledge gap in cultural issues for one G1 participants evoked uncomfortable feelings of inadequacy and doubt in their identity and remembering historic events, such as the 1990s war, resulted in a strong emotional reaction of being estranged from country, family and friends (D8). For another participant, the interaction evoked positive feelings of still caring for her country and culture and maintaining those feelings in her family (D11).
G2 participants were less emotional but expressed uncertainties in understanding the context and evaluating reliability and trustworthiness of sources consulted. Therefore, their need was to rely on more formal sources, such as government sites and library, archive and museum sources, or on expatriate social media platforms on which they were more likely to find other perspectives or felt freer to express their own views of culture and customs without fear of being inappropriate.
Basically I was intrigued, because it appears that things are quite different here to my home country in this respect. This was more about curiosity on my part, but it helps to build my awareness of day-to-day life in Croatia. (D3)
However, this kind of engagement with information sources created a different kind of link and helped one G2 participant connect her home and host country experiences.
First, I compared my experience of liberation of [country] from Soviet Union, which was also hard and asked victims....I wondered, why this cruel war, this continuing hate? Who really stands behind all this ‘theatre’? I wanted to know who was writing the script of all these events... (D9)
She reported being more sensitive now, ‘I feel less judgment and more compassion for the population here’ (D9).
The impact of discovered information was the last rubric in the participants’ diaries. For both groups, it asked about new knowledge, new forms of connections and evoking curiosity. In one case, new knowledge enabled better coping with the mentality and bureaucracy faced while solving residency issues (D2). In another case, it was about a G1 participant linking the histories of the home and host countries:
I think it's extremely important to learn again about history of your country. I always forget about the facts and how exactly things happened. It's part of my identity so I should try to explore Croatian history much more. And also learn about [host country] history in order to understand them better. (D8)
One interesting observation made was about forming social connections and understanding in new ways after following a personal blog that reflects the Croatian culture. A G1 participant followed her friends’ blog and said:
I found out much more about her than in our conversations. People say that Croatian people are negative and complaining all the time. This girl is opposite!…I appreciate our relationship even more now and I'll read her blog again and definitely try to call her more often and talk about all those amazing things. (D7)
Step 3. Follow-up questions
The aim of the third step was to determine whether the participants’ attitudes towards using the library, archive and museum collections changed after engaging with the activities from the second step. The aim was also to gather the participants’ opinions about the usefulness of looking for information about cultural heritage based on tangible and intangible items in per-sonal collections.
Only two follow-up questions were used in the third step. The first question aimed to find out whether the participants’ perceptions of libraries, archives and museums’ collections had changed after the second phase. The participants were asked if they consider the library, mu-seum and archive collections to be useful sources of information for learning about a particular culture. Most replied positively, while some still emphasised the lack of time as the main barrier to engaging regularly in these kinds of activities. As R4 said: ‘Absolutely, yes. Maybe [library, museum and archive sources] should be more advertised, made public and attractive…I learned much or better to say, it stimulated my curiosity to learn more’. R2 pointed out the interactive and engaging nature of museum sources:
I find these sources very useful. Particularly in the case of museum collections, they tend to collate a lot of related information into one place. The information is usually presented in a way that is engaging and interesting. Often the information provided does not provide the full story but is a useful way of encouraging me to do further research when I find an aspect of culture and history that I am especially interested in.
The second question asked whether the activities from the second step of the research (inter-action with information sources) influenced the participants’ attitudes and understanding of the host/home culture(s). Stimulating curiosity was raised as a result again, as well as acquiring more complete and objective understanding then before.
The knowledge I acquired made me want to gain even more knowledge. In a way, I now know that there is even more that I do not know or understand than before I started to explore the culture through digital sources. I think that it is healthy to realise that there are things that you do not understand about a culture because it makes you more sensitive to differences and leads you to explore culture more thoroughly, both by using online avenues and also by interacting with local people.
R9 summarised the potential of personal collections and personal information management practices by saying:
There are so many things you can learn about a culture and so little time in our busy lives. My family cultural experience is a mix of different countries, cultures and generations. I try to focus on what is in my home, in our personal things, photos, and paintings, and objects and tell that story.
This study explored links between personal information management practices and the poten-tial role of libraries, archives and museums for managing personal cultural heritage in the con-text of migration.
The results of the study showed that the migration process influences personal information management practices and the use of information sources to look for information about one’s cultural heritage in the following ways:
- More thought is given to assessing the value of personal information and objects.
- Items without value are more easily discarded.
- Effort is invested in describing, safeguarding and even sharing those documents or items with significant value.
- Documents and objects brought from a home country serve as proof of identity and history and connect participants to their home country culture and customs.
- Documents and objects brought from a home country are used as anchors to share a personal story and to look for more information about the topic that is represented in these documents and objects.
- Family, friends and social networks are significant sources of additional information about the home country.
- The role of libraries, archives and museums in supporting expatriate communities is not immediately recognised but is considered to be important.
- The strength of information needs, the time and the ease of access to trusted information sources are key factors for engaging with information sources and building knowledge about a home or host culture.
- Searching for information about a home or host culture is emotional and emotions affect both the search process and the outcome.
This research study confirmed that there is a stronger motivation to use libraries, archives and museum collections if there is an obvious connection to personal dimension. Personal information management practices can make a significant difference in managing personal cultural heritage legacy and libraries, archives and museums’ collections can be a part of those practices. Our findings, therefore, agree with the need to question the traditional use of heritage under the influence of mobility, as Colomer (2017) pointed out, and to have sufficient knowledge to manage the evidence of personal lives (Cox, 2009). Awareness of the value and importance of personal records influences the extent of the effort that is invested in personal information management, which is in line with the findings of Sinn, Kim and Syn (2017) and with the research conducted by Hwang, Lin and Shin (2018) on the role played by personal information management motivation.
Although this research did not attempt to explicitly explore the differences between physical and virtual possessions, we conclude that the migration process changes the perception of the value of both types of possessions and increases the need to manage both personal and family knowledge about the cherished items in personal collections. This builds on Odom, Zimmerman and Forlizzi’s (2014, p. 994) argument, which states:
As virtual possessions become more pervasive, and archives continue to grow ever larger, it is a crucial time to consider factors shaping people’ experiences with them and how they can become more meaningful parts of our lives and ourselves.
There is a space for libraries, archives and museums to play an important role in the lives of the members of immigrant communities—for example, by ensuring the presence of libraries, archives and museums on social media for expats, by maintaining contact with both online and physical immigrant clubs and communities, by offering information sources in other languages and supporting language acquisition. As our results showed that the participants responded to the prompts based on current events or seasonal activities, which also makes this a possible way of offering relevant content that could be distributed to immigrant communities.
This stand on the proactive role that libraries, archives and museums could take agrees with Fourie (2011), who advised that information institutions can help their patrons make maximum use of relevant information and develop innovative practices, and with Cushing’s (2010) writings about the archives and records management tradition in addressing the issues related to personal archives.
The underlying idea presented in this paper is that information has transformative value in managing one’s sense of cultural identity. Based on our findings, this paper brings into dis-cussion the idea that managing personal information in migration can help individuals gain control over their sense of cultural identity and take a proactive approach to gaining knowledge about the histories and cultures of both home and host countries. Collections of libraries, archives and museums can be used as trusted and accessible sources of information to help individuals develop knowledge about items and events from their personal domains.
About the authors
Hana Marčetić is a research student at the Swedish School of Library and Information Science, University of Borås, Sweden. She can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Maja Krtalić is a senior lecturer in information studies at School of Information Management, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. Before joining School of Information Management in 2017, Maja worked as an assistant professor at the Department of Information Sciences, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Osijek, Croatia. During that period, Maja's research and teaching activities focused on the library and archives management with specific emphasis on preservation of cultural heritage. She can be contacted at email@example.com.
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