Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Karen Fisher: Information Literacy in Refugee camps: cultural effects of gender, place and time #ecil2018

I (Sheila) arrived in Oulu last night so I'll be sharing liveblogging duties with Pam for the rest of the ECIL conference. I'm starting with today's keynote speaker, Karen Fisher (University of Washington) who is talking on Information Literacy in Refugee camps: cultural effects of gender, place and time. Fisher presented the overall statistics of the Syrian conflict: 7 years of war in Syria with 13 million people displaced, and most of them staying in countries bordering Syria.
She is a field consultant with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), working in the Za'atari Syrian refugee Camp in Jordan. Security is high in Za'atari, since it is close to the "cradle of the rebellion" in Syria. This camp is now "the 4th largest city in Jordan", with a population of about 83,000, with a hundred babies born each week. 80% are under 25, which is problematic, as elders are not there to pass on knowledge, help with care etc. Also, significantly in this gender-based culture, there are more women than men. There is also a business life, with over 3500 businesses in the camp. The camp is divided into 12 sectors, and Fisher emphasised how the camp is in the desert, where there are no resources and everything is rationed. Fisher's goal, as funded by the UN, is to "build capacity per UN SDGs through information science methods" - she has visited over 20 times in four years.
Fisher posed the question "What is information literacy in a refugee camp?" although she pointed out that each camp is different. She presented some quotes from one of the refugees who was keeping a diary for Fisher's research, illustrating how people's lives had been turned upside down, and made worse when internet access was cut off. Fisher characterised the camp as "Rocked by extreme information needs". The restricted internet access affects both communication and education. Every book that comes into the camp has to be approved: there are some libraries but no bookshops. Fisher stressed how you witness resilience every day in the camp.
Fisher described her research methods, saying you had to work with everyone who you could and who wanted to work with you. Responding to a question at the end of her talk, she talked about the nitty-gritty of working with data in these circumstances, taking photos of data collected that day, at night, spread out in the bed.
Everything had to be social, as people might have low literacy, different trauma levels, different languages. "All people set up for success, able to participate, enables researcher to extract data in multiple ways from broad swathes of people". People will "create, share, present" items, photos, memories etc. In terms of collecting data and elciting it, they use a wide variety of methods - workshops, diaries, home visits (including co-cooking), narrative drawings, time sheets, "magic genius devices" (asking people - "if you had a magic device..."). She showed pictures of the diaries, sometimes with multiple people writing in the same diary. She photographs the new pages that people have written, each time she visits.
Fisher presented her research question of "What are the information worlds" of those in the camp. I think this is based on Burnett and Jaeger's information worlds theory, looking at information needs, but also the socio/cultural/political context. One of the things to be explored is - what is information in this context. As well as text, it is verbal, sensory (smells etc.), memories, doctrine, feelings, visual. Also information has qualities: dangerous, hidden, social, fuzzy/changing, private, scarce and abundant, threatening, valuable and a commodity. Fisher talked about the gendered nature of the society, tribal affiliations.
She felt that time was different in this culture/ this camp, because of the pattern of daily prayers, the holy days and so forth. Unsurprisingly, since she developed Information Grounds Theory, Fisher talked about the significance of place/s and how there were information grounds e.g. at places where water was collected, people where children played.
Fisher presented two of the sheets on which people had described (in words and sketches) their information world. One was of a man who had an occupation which involved travelling round the camp, another of a woman whose life is within her home in the camp (an example of information poverty). Fisher talked about how phones acted as photo albums, which means at least in part dealth albums of friends and relatives who died in the conflict. Fisher then talked about the community memory project, where they gave phones to girls, but which did not succeed because of the internet connectivity problems. She also showed extracts from story booklets, including a picture of "peace robots" drawn by a young girl.
Fisher talked about literacies and resilience. She picked out how boys would go to the perimeter and try and hack into to the internet. Most of them can't afford to stay in school, or it isn't safe to go to school. Instead they try and hack in and do information work at the camp fence, getting information for their families, finding things out (it is boys that do this, not girls). She also showed some of the "magic genius devices" drawn and described by young people e.g. "magic caravan heaters" (phot above).
She talked about one group "TIGER girls" (These Inspiring Girls Enjoy Reading" (girls who want to learn, be teachers and doctors etc.). Fisher also showed pictures of libraries: they are aiming at a camp-wide sytem, and have things like storytime.
She came back at the end to the question "What is information literacy in a refugee camp"? As she had shown it a complex issue, tied up with the meaning of information and the context in which it is experienced in the refugees' world.
Fisher, K.E. (2018). Information worlds of refugees. In C.M. Maitland (Ed). Digital lifeline? ICTs for refugees and displaced persons (pp79-112). Cambridge: MIT Press. (also I blogged a webinar she did a little while ago on this topic and the recording is here

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