Date of Award

2014

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

School

School of Computer and Security Science

Faculty

Health, Engineering and Science

First Advisor

Dr Justin Brown

Second Advisor

Dr Yusuke Fitzgibbons

Abstract

This research investigates the role of public libraries in building communities and cross-cultural citizenship through provision of equitable information resources and services to English as Additional Language (EAL) speakers, particularly in metropolitan Perth, Western Australia. The rapidly changing demographic profile of Western Australia is producing an ever increasing diversity of people who need to access information in order to thrive in their new community. However, access to these information services pose challenges to users who lack competency in language, computer and general literacy, while the increasing diversity in the local population creates widely divergent competencies in information seeking skills among library clients. Diversity, which has become evident in many contemporary communities, unveils a wide range of information seeking skills, which varies from individuals who are illiterate (often from an agrarian background) and others who are highly educated with substantial English language and computer skills. In this research, the concept of equity in the provision of library services for EAL speakers was investigated by reviewing the library environment in Perth, Western Australia from the perspective of library staff and EAL clients. In-depth interviews were conducted with participants from across various EAL backgrounds as to their knowledge, understanding and current usage of library services. The interview sessions identified the extent of user acceptance of these services and the factors which indicated levels of perceived equity of these library services. The findings from the responses of the public library staff and EAL speakers revealed a complex and diverse local library environment. The public library system, in Western Australia traditionally modelled to serve English language clientele, is yet to fully recognise the presence of the multicultural clientele in its library service provision. Thus, the shift in public library perspectives towards service provision for diverse ethnic groups is evident in isolation but not in adherence to a transparent, consistent government policy which filters down to the local libraries as a guide for normal practices. The EAL speakers’ responses revealed a dire need for English language and computer skills education for some ethnic groups, in order to facilitate their public library access. The findings revealed that some of the EAL groups are unaware of the public library system, its intrinsic value or its culture including that the services are free and offered in a democratic and safe space. Some of the EAL groups also distrust government entities and figures of authority per se as officials symbolise maltreatment of their families and ethnic groups in their countries of origin. Reliance on natives from their own communities, revealed within the interview data, has led to an emergence of bonding social capital tendencies and limited integration with the host culture. The public library is strategically located to draw diverse individuals from its local suburb and contribute towards community building strategies and integration in Western Australia. Having located gaps between library service provision and library service needs, this research developed a model for possible future strategic directions for public libraries in Western Australia.

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