Immigrant Teens as Lay Information Mediaries: Supporting Social Information Literacy through Application Design

Community needs: One in nine U.S. residents is foreign born. While diversity brings incredible richness, it also belies responsibility for helping immigrants participate fully in American life. However, their needs for help with everyday life situations, particularly through effective information services, are acute due to an influx of immigrants from new countries, settlement outside traditional gateways, and increasingly complex informational, language, cultural, social, physical and financial barriers. Of 9,214 public library systems, 75% serve patrons from over 30 countries, some up to 200 nationalities. Libraries are thus poised to provide solutions and local leadership that can benefit entire immigrant communities and affect policy making. The solution, posed in this project, lies with empowering immigrant youth through social information literacy supported by computer and Internet services at public libraries. New research shows two-thirds of people use library computers on behalf of someone else, including strangers. These Lay Information Mediaries (LIMs) tend to be young, non-white, non-native English speakers, suggesting immigrant youth are key pathways for understanding the information needs of their respective populations, passing on needed information to otherwise hidden users (especially non-English speaking, non-library users), and identifying the greater range of how libraries help overall.

Audiences: (1) immigrant youth and the people on whose behalf they seek information and perform instrumental tasks, particularly using public library computers and services; and staff of (2) libraries and (3) community organizations and government agencies that serve immigrant communities.

Activities and products center around 3 aims: (1) understanding how immigrant teens function as conduits of everyday information for their social networks and how this propensity can be supported by library staff; (2) developing a mobile phone application that supports users in (a) surfacing the information needs of others, (b) integrating library-sourced and social network-sourced information for meeting those needs, and (c) disseminating and repurposing the information for immigrants in similar situations; and (3) delivering social information literacy tools to library staff for supporting immigrant needs through LIMs. These aims will be met over 3 phases: (1) LIMB Exploration—Mobile Diary Reporter and monthly Teen Days with 50 Seattle youth to capture and understand LIMB; (2) Design & Deploy—development of a LIMB mobile application with qualitative and quantitative analysis of LIMB activity; and (3) Disseminate & Engage—implementation of social information literacy workshops at libraries, engagement of stakeholders, and dissemination of findings and products.

Audience outcomes: the project will make a meaningful difference to people—locally and globally—by: (1) increasing understanding of the information worlds of today’s immigrants, particularly regarding service and policy implications; (2) elaborating on the LIMB model of how and why people engage in LIMB and its inherent micro-behaviors—little systematic examination has addressed LIMB and no research has focused on the recipients of LIM information; (3) expanding current paradigm of information literacy to reflect informal information flow across social relationships and how library expertise can support inherent behaviors, especially around information needs, giving, and personal information management; (4) modifying the Tween Day methodology for teens with distinctive socio-demographic characteristics; (5) designing open source tools—Mobile Diary Reporter and the LIMB application which will be made freely available through libraries and TASCHA; and, (6) developing social information literacy tools for library staff to use in support of immigrant LIMs and other patrons.

Grant Info


Christopher Coward


Maria Garrido

Grant Dates

Jan 1, 2010 – Sep 1, 2010