Elfreda Chatman

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Dr. Elfreda A. Chatman was well known for her ethnographic approaches in researching information seeking behaviors among understudied or minority groups (poor people, the elderly, retired women, female inmates, and janitors).


Dr. Chatman's research contributions or developments resulted in several middle-range theories: Information Poverty, Life in Round, and Normative Behavior. Based on her background in sociology, she introduced her "small worlds" method to studying information behavior.

Life in the Round[edit]

This theory draws on Chatman's study of female prisoners at a maximum-security prison in the northeastern United States.[1] After observing inmates both during and outside their interactions with the prison's professional employees,[2] Chatman observes that the women live "in the round", that is, "within an acceptable degree of approximation and imprecision".[3] Instead of seeking information about the outside world, over which they have no control, prisoners avoid gathering this type of information: in order to survive, they place importance on "daily living patterns, relationships, and issues that come within the prison environment" over which they can exercise agency.[4] In this way, inmates display defensive information seeking behavior.

Inmates form a "small world," a closed community where private opinion gives way to a shared reality and accompanying information-seeking behavior.[1] Social norms established by inmates determine the importance or triviality of a piece of information; as such, information that affects prisoners in an immediate way - such as illness while medical staff are off-duty - gain importance, while information on the outside[5] world becomes trivial.[4] Chatman concludes that life in the round disfavor's information seeking behaviour, as there is no need to search for outside information. Prisoners "are not part of the world... being defined by outsiders";[4] because inmates do not need additional information to participate fully in their reality, they do not seek it out.[4]

Chatman saw that these disincentives to information seeking could become cultural norms in the small worlds that the people she observed took their norms from, and that these cultural norms could produce what she labeled information poverty, where a group could perpetuate norms that would cause the avoidance of information that would be useful to people in the group if they were to seek it out.[6]


Dr. Chatman received her B.S. from Youngstown State University, her M.S.L.S. from Case Western Reserve University, and her Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley. Her 1992 book, The Information World of Retired Women (Greenwood Press), won the ACRL Best Book Award in 1995. Dr. Chatman participated in the American Library Association's Library Research Round Table (LRRT) during the 1980s and 1990s, and served as LRRT Chair in 1993-1994. Dr. Chatman was a professor for more than a decade at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill UNC School of Information and Library Science, starting in 1983, and a research award there is named for her.[7] She was teaching at the School of Information Studies at Florida State University at the time of her death on January 15, 2002 at the age of 59. An Association for Information Science and Technology Special Interest Group named a research award for her in 2005.[8]


  • The diffusion of information among the working poor. Ann Arbor, Mich.: University Microfilms International, 1984.
  • "Field Research: Methodological Themes". Library and Information Science Research, An International Journal. 6 (4): 425–38. 1984.
  • "Information, Mass Media Use, and the Working Poor". Library and Information Science Research. 7 (2): 97–113. 1985.
  • "Diffusion Theory: A review and test of a conceptual model in information diffusion". Journal of the American Society for Information Science. 37 (6): 377–386. 1986. doi:10.1002/(sici)1097-4571(198611)37:6<377::aid-asi2>3.0.co;2-c.
  • "Opinion Leadership, Poverty, and Information Sharing". Reference Quarterly. 26 (3): 341–53. 1987.
  • "The Information World of Low-Skilled Workers". Library and Information Science Research. 9 (4): 265–83. 1987.
  • "Life in a Small World: Applicability of Gratification Theory to Information-Seeking Behavior". Journal of the American Society for Information Science. 42 (6): 438–449. 1991. doi:10.1002/(SICI)1097-4571(199107)42:6<438::AID-ASI6>3.0.CO;2-B.
  • "Alienation theory: Application of a conceptual framework to a study of information among janitors". Reference Quarterly. 29 (3): 355. 1990.
  • "Channels to a Larger Social World: Older Women Staying in Contact with the Great Society". Library and Information Science Research. 13 (3): 281–300. 1991.
  • The information world of retired women. New York: Greenwood Press, 1992.
  • "The Role of Mentorship in Shaping Public Library Leaders". Library Trends. 40 (3): 492–512. 1992.
  • Pendleton, Victoria (1995). "Knowledge Gap, Information-Seeking and the Poor". Reference Librarian. 49–50: 135–145.
  • "The Impoverished Life-World of Outsiders". Journal of the American Society for Information Science. 47 (3): 193–206. 1996. doi:10.1002/(sici)1097-4571(199603)47:3<193::aid-asi3>3.3.co;2-m.
  • Pendleton, Victoria (1998). "Small World Lives: Implications for the public library". Library Trends. 46 (4): 732.
  • "A Theory of Life in the Round". Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology. 50 (3): 207–217. 1999. CiteSeerX doi:10.1002/(sici)1097-4571(1999)50:3<207::aid-asi3>3.3.co;2-#.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • "Framing social life in theory and research". The New Review of Information Behaviour Research. 1: 3-17. 2000.
  • Huotari, Maija-Leena (2001). "Using everyday life information seeking to explain organizational behavior". Library & Information Science Research. 23 (4): 351–366. doi:10.1016/s0740-8188(01)00093-7.
  • Burnett, Gary; Besant, Michele (2001). "Small Worlds: Normative behavior in virtual communities and feminist bookselling". Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology. 52 (7): 536–547. doi:10.1002/asi.1102.abs.
  • Dawson, E. Murrell (2001). "Reference group theory with implications for information studies: a theoretical essay". Information Research: an international electronic journal. 6 (3): 105.


  1. ^ a b Chatman 1999, p. 207
  2. ^ Chatman 1999, p. 210
  3. ^ Chatman 1999, p. 213
  4. ^ a b c d Chatman 1999, p. 215
  5. ^ Chatman, Elfreda (1996). "Chatman, Elfreda A.The impoverished life-world of outsiders". Journal of the American Society for Information Science. 47 (3): 193–206. doi:10.1002/(sici)1097-4571(199603)47:3<193::aid-asi3>3.3.co;2-m.
  6. ^ Chatman, Elfreda A. (1996). "The impoverished life-world of outsiders". Journal of the American Society for Information Science. 47 (3): 193–206. doi:10.1002/(sici)1097-4571(199603)47:3<193::aid-asi3>3.3.co;2-m.
  7. ^ https://sils.unc.edu/why-sils/excellence-exemplified/awards/chatman-awards
  8. ^ https://siguse.wordpress.com/elfreda-a-chatman-research-award/

Further reading[edit]