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Behavioral and Socioeconomic Differences among Users of the Internet Public Library from North Carolina

by Havens, Lauren

Abstract (Summary)
Many variables can affect how user populations behave online, including the environment in which people are accessing the Internet, their familiarity with the Internet in general, and their familiarity with the specific site that they are navigating. This study uses usage data gathered from the Internet Public Library combined with census data to analyze the behavior of visitors to the site from North Carolina. The census data shows that the behavior of user groups varies according to socioeconomic variables such as median household income and the percentage of the county population with a post-high school education. While libraries already make efforts to understand their user populations by examining available demographic information, the relationships revealed between variables in this study can aid in further understanding the behavior of population groups.
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Bibliographical Information:

Advisor:Evelyn Daniel

School:University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

School Location:USA - North Carolina

Source Type:Master's Thesis

Keywords:Internet access for library users Digital libraries – Use studies Libraries and society – North Carolina Internet research Internet Public Library (IPL)

ISBN:

Date of Publication:11/02/2009

Document Text (Pages 1-10)

Lauren E. Havens. Behavioral and Socioeconomic Differences among Users of the Internet
Public Library from North Carolina. A Master’s Paper for the M.S. in L.S. degree.
November, 2009. 58 pages. Advisor: Dr. Evelyn Daniel.
Many variables can affect how user populations behave online, including the environment in
which people are accessing the Internet, their familiarity with the Internet in general, and
their familiarity with the specific site that they are navigating. This study uses usage data
gathered from the Internet Public Library combined with census data to analyze the behavior
of visitors to the site from North Carolina. The census data shows that the behavior of user
groups varies according to socioeconomic variables such as median household income and
the percentage of the county population with a post-high school education. While libraries
already make efforts to understand their user populations by examining available
demographic information, the relationships revealed between variables in this study can aid
in further understanding the behavior of population groups.

Headings:
Internet access for library users
Digital libraries Use studies
Libraries and society North Carolina
Internet research


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BEHAVIORAL AND SOCIOECONOMIC DIFFERENCES AMONG USERS OF THE
INTERNET PUBLIC LIBRARY FROM NORTH CAROLINA

by
Lauren Erica Havens

A Master’s paper submitted to the faculty
of the School of Information and Library Science
of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

in partial fulfillment of the requirements
for the degree of Master of Science in
Library Science.

Chapel Hill, North Carolina

November 2009

Approved by

_______________________________________
Evelyn Daniel


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Table of Contents
Introduction..........................................................................................................................2
Literature Review ................................................................................................................4
Background on the Internet Public Library and the Investigation.....................................11
Design and Methods ..........................................................................................................13
Data and Findings ..............................................................................................................18
Interpretation of Findings ..................................................................................................24
Limitations of the Study ....................................................................................................29
Conclusion and Recommendations for Further Study.......................................................31
Appendix A: Population of North Carolina Counties........................................................34
Appendix B: Median Household Income by County ........................................................39
Appendix C: 2006 SAT Grand Total Average Score by County ......................................44
Appendix D: County Visits to the Internet Public Library................................................49
Works Cited .......................................................................................................................54


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Introduction
Many factors affect user behavior online, such as the amount of knowledge the
individual has on the topic being researched (Bettman and Park, 1980) and parents’
educational levels (Shashaani, 1994). Researchers continue to explore variables that help
explain differences in the behavior of certain populations. When users access educational
Web sites like the Internet Public Library (http://ipl.org), their behavior is influenced by
factors such as the environment in which they are accessing the Internet, their experience
using the Internet, and their familiarity with the specific Web sites being explored. Since
characteristics of a population affect how and what the population is interested in exploring
in regards to online resources, it is important for libraries and educators serving these
populations to be aware of these differences and also to understand why the differences may
exist. Socioeconomic differences like the median household income of the population and
the percentage of the population with a post-high school degree may require that those
providing services to the community keep in mind that these socioeconomic variables may
cause the population to behave differently from a population with a different average
educational or income level. While librarians and other service providers are trained to
consider these variables when tailoring services, more sophisticated methods of recognizing
differences among populations and resulting behaviors are needed. The more any
organization knows about its customers, the better it can reach them and provide services
that the population needs in a more efficient manner. This study is intended to help
librarians and educators learn about the educational level and median income level of the


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patron population through new techniques of data collection and analysis and thus be able to
meet the needs of the users better.
Since the educational background of the population and the average income level
affect how members of the community use online resources, libraries and other information
providers may be able to create better computer user guidelines for the library or to make
better resource recommendations to users, such as through bookmarks on public computers
or through classes offered to help patrons develop computer or searching skills. This study
will help librarians and educators be better able to meet the needs of their patrons when they
consider the combination of variables affecting the online behavior of the population that
they are seeking to serve. Variables such as the educational level and income level of the
patron population may help to predict what sources the population will examine online, how
long they will take examining the information available on bookmarked reference sites, and
how much assistance patrons need in finding relevant information.


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Literature Review
a) General Information Seeking Behavior
As defined by T.D. Wilson (1981), an information need occurs only in the mind of
an individual. The person’s behavior and reports of his actions can be analyzed to try to
determine what a particular need was and whether it was satisfied through particular
information seeking actions, but without being that individual, any conclusions drawn are
speculative. Wilson (1981) examines how various aspects of the individual’s environment
can stimulate information-seeking behavior. Even if there is a cognitive need, the individual
may not seek information to satisfy that need if information resources are not reasonably
available. There is a direct economic cost associated with being able to access more
information sources by purchasing material or traveling to a resource like a library or
bookstore (Wilson, 1997). Individuals with greater financial resources have a greater ability
to access these resources and so gain information, become familiar with a wider range of
information sources, and become more adept at finding information than those individuals
who lack the financial resources to explore these resources. Wilson (1997) discusses factors
that could help to predict user behavior, and of the socioeconomic variables that affect
behavior, the educational level of the individual, the total household income, and whether
there were two adults in the household were important for predicting advantages in
acquiring and processing information. These are important variables that can play a role in
an individual’s environment that could hinder or encourage the information-seeking
behavior as discussed by Wilson (1981).


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Morgan (1971) proposes that needs emerge through three kinds of motives:
physiological motives such as hunger; unlearned or instinctual motives such as curiosity;
and social motives such as the desire for affiliation. This fits with the conclusions of Weijts
(1993) and Wilson (1981), who found that needs are cognitive, affective, or physiological.
It also supports the observations of Tuten and Bosnjak (2001), who found that individuals
sought information online for necessary issues (43% of individuals in the sample used the
Web for learning and educational purposes), entertainment (59% of the individuals), and for
staying current on social events (38% used the Web to gather information on news and
current events). Tuten and Bosnjak (2001) obtained completed questionnaires from 400
students at three colleges in the southeastern area of the United States. Of the participants,
88% were between the ages of 19 and 26, 94% were single, and 84% were Caucasian.
Though demographic information was collected in the questionnaires, the researchers did
not report any results relating to demographic variables. Tuten and Bosnjak (2001) analyzed
participant responses and found differences in motives and search style that varied according
to personality characteristics such as neuroticism, which was negatively related to searching
the Web for educational purposes and further adds to the observations by Wilson (1997) of
the influence of personal characteristics in search behavior. Regardless of the cause for the
information need, not everyone will try to find information to satisfy a need. Wilson (1981)
observed three kinds of barriers that prevent individuals from seeking information: personal
barriers, social or role-related barriers, and environmental barriers. While personal barriers
and individual motivations do play important roles in an individual’s information-seeking
behavior, I am primarily concerned in this study with factors predictive of informationseeking
behavior that are objective and that can be easily collected.


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b) Educational Influences
Bettman and Park (1980) suggest that highly knowledgeable people may not be as
inclined to search for more information. They assert that the highest level of education that
the individual has completed does not equate to the individual being more or less
knowledgeable in a particular area. Bettman and Park (1980) look at the individual’s
educational level but did not gather data on the level of knowledge that an individual already
had on the particular subject for which he is trying to find information; the individual’s level
of knowledge about the search topic did not necessarily correlate with his educational
background and was not tracked. Still using the variable of knowledge to rank individuals,
MacInnis (1991) suggests that the more knowledgeable an individual is, the easier it is for
that individual to understand the information, enabling him to understand additional
information on the topic more easily. The work of Moorman and Matulich (1993) shows
that individuals with high levels of knowledge on a topic will be able to acquire additional
information on that topic more easily, similar to the observations of MacInnis (1991).
However, Moorman and Matulich (1993) also show that when the individual is motivated by
health concerns, individuals with greater levels of knowledge on the health topic will
perform more actions relating to their health than individuals who have lower levels of
knowledge on the topic.
Studies have shown a correlation between education and economic well-being (S.
Pandey & Kim, 2008) (Rank, 2004) (Sweeney, 2002). Even in different kinds of families,
the parents’ education plays a role in the family’s economic welfare. In female-headed
households, women with higher levels of education were more likely to be above the
poverty level, and in two-parent families, the family was more likely to be living in poverty


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if the female head had not completed high school (S. Pandey, Zhan, & Kim, 2006). Pandey
and Kim (2008) found that those mothers with a college education or higher had incomes
36% higher than mothers who had less than a high school degree, with the difference being
observed among both white and African American mothers. Though race did affect how
much of an increase in income single mothers had, the difference in income due to
educational level was still observed across the races, for example with African American
mothers of college or more educational levels having a greater average income than white
mothers with a lesser educational level.
In trying to determine the effect of parents’ educational levels on their and their
children’s online behavioral habits, research on the parents’ behavior is of importance since
the children are still advancing in their educational careers. Fulmer (1997) examines the
complexity of the parents’ education and decision making regarding childcare issues.
Though Kang (1985) found that the parents’ number of years of education did not appear to
affect the level of parental awareness or measures of parental competence, Fulmer found
that the number of years of formal education significantly influenced the parental decisionmaking
strategies in selecting childcare. Fulmer (1997) reports that highly educated mothers
are more likely to choose quality childcare, setting their children up for a better educational
experience and environment. Further, Fulmer (1997) notes that the parents’ educational
level is of greater importance than the number of years of parenting experience. People can
use information in different ways, depending on training and cognitive ability. Parents who
have more years of education may require and request less information that may be more
specific to their information needs than parents who have had less experience in the formal
educational setting (Fulmer, 1997).


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Postsecondary education was found by Pandey and Kim (2008) to improve the
economic well-being of mothers significantly, regardless of the marital status of the women.
Education is considered a form of human capital, enabling people to increase their
opportunities for employment and greater income. Single mothers with a four-year college
degree have been found to be more likely to be living above the federal poverty line than
those who do not have a high school diploma (Zhan & Pandey, 2004). Educated women
have fared better when trying to raise their family’s income above the poverty line, so the
impact of the parents’ educational level has an effect on the children in regards to the
economic welfare of the family in addition to any educational aspects relating to the child’s
upbringing (Meyer & Cancian, 1998).
c) Socioeconomic Effects on Information Seeking Behavior
Redmond, Spoth, and Trudeau (2002) link socioeconomic status with parent supportseeking
efforts and with the use of informal information seeking such as reading newspaper
articles. Parents with more education are also more likely to engage in formal information
seeking behavior such as participating in a parenting skills class (R. Spoth, Redmond, Kahn, &
Shin, 1997). Informal information seeking in the 2002 study by Redmons, Spoth, and
Trudeau is defined as obtaining information from easily or casually accessible sources. The
researchers found a positive correlation between education and informal support seeking as
well as an inverse correlation between informal support seeking and the percentage of
families eligible for the free or reduced cost school lunch program. With a greater
percentage of more well-off families exposing themselves to informal information sources,
they are more likely to find information than their poorer counterparts. Redmond, Spoth,

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