Wednesday, March 27, 2024

#LILAC24 I have no idea who I’d even ask": information literacy and dissemination amongst young recently arrived adult immigrants in Montreal, Canada

Pam McKinney here live blogging from the final day of the LILAC conference in Leeds, UK. The first session I'm attending is being led by Marianne Chiu-Lezeau from Montreal University. Marianne has a background as an anthropologist, and this research is an attempt to blend anthropology with information science.  It is an ethnographic approach, a snapshot of some young people's experiences.  Montreal is a francophone city, and has a recent history of immigration with many people on "temporary status" which has implications for access to health, public funds etc. The project sought to understand the information-seeking process of young adult immigrants aged between 18 and 25, interviewing 29 young people and 17 social workers/ community workers. Young adults had a big variety of immigration needs, central life skills but also needs associated with finding themselves and making friends, finding housing, accessing a food bank, how to stay connected with loved ones. Many participants were disoriented, they didn't understand very well "how things work", and there was a a sense of being lost. The information they look for to support decisions they make can have dramatic effects on their lives.  For example, courses taken at university can affect visa status.

Many young people do lots of research, and while some found it easy to find information, others found it very difficult to reconcile their many competing information needs. Young people had a mistrustful relationship with authority and felt they had a problematic relationship with official information and institutions. Some felt they weren't able to ask for help, even though they knew they needed it. Cross-border social media networks were really important, and Facebook groups and WhatsApp groups were really important spaces to share information and ask for advice. Diaspora networks across borders were useful sources of information and provided detailed local knowledge. However, the fluid nature of regulations and laws around immigration meant that knowledge could quickly become out of date. Personal recommendations for trusted contacts were really important, and certain individuals were seen to be "good" people to seek advice from. Information poverty was a big problem, and the disorientation that affected participants and the complexity of their information needs meant that the trusted relationship meant that it was possible to ask for help.

There is a complicated funding environment, and this meant that it wasn't always possible for advice workers to give the support they wanted to, that the new people would need.  Counsellors were terrified of giving the wrong advice because if they gave the wrong information this could lead to someone being deported from the country. Policymakers assume that immigrants are either studying or at work, but this isn't true and these people are much harder to reach. There's a need for digital tools as young people are seeking information in a digital environment.  Digital tools would also mean that information could be updated quickly.  However it was acknowledged that there is a digital divide, and some young people don't have computers, low literacy is a problem. 

The recommendations coming out from the project covered macro, meso and micro level recommendations, recognising that working only at a local level will only be effective with systemic change. Recommendations were co-created with young adults and service providers. At a micro level, it is about fostering mutual aid, and for practitioners to take a holistic approach to supporting service users.  At a meso level, it is about providing services in multiple languages, and offering digital outreach in spaces that are frequented by young people.  programs are needed that answer concrete needs e.g. how does the higher education system work. Information must be shared between different providers and an effective referral system so that young people don't have to repeat their story many times.  This was a fascinating presentation which showed that the issues that young people in Montreal face are similar to the problems faced by immigrants in the UK.

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