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Deconstructing Information Poverty Study (DIPS)

Autism DIPS @ UNC is a community-centered initiative to increase understanding and strengthen local information services and resources in support of individuals on the autism disorder spectrum (ASD) and their families. Led by Dr. Amelia Gibson from the School of Information and Library Science at the University of North Carolina, DIPS is funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services and partners with the Autism Society of North Carolina, Durham County Library and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Public Library to improve services for people in the state of North Carolina and around the United States.

The Research

Individuals with Autism  Spectrum Disorder and their families make up a large and growing portion of the U.S. populace.  Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability and serves as an umbrella term to describe a profile of neurodevelopmental differences found in approximately 2.41% of individuals (Xu G et al. 2018). Individuals with ASD are highly heterogeneous. and exhibit characteristics that vary in expression  and fall along a wide continuum of intensity and life impact. Research on parenting children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) suggests that parents often have a wide range of unmet information needs across their children’s lifespans, and that helping families meet these needs can improve social, emotional, and health outcomes. Community-based institutions (including libraries) hold enormous potential for supporting families of people with disabilities and a range of neurodiversities, but often lack awareness of their unique needs and effective provisions of support.  As a result parents commonly experience difficulty understanding and navigating systems of care, struggle to find and secure appropriate services, experience fragmented and inadequate support, encounter under-funded, under-equipped, and under-informed education and healthcare systems, and report difficulty finding trustworthy information (Carbone, Behl, Azor, & Murphy 2010; Gibson, Kaplan, & Vardell 2017; Jacobson & Mulick 2000).  Combined, these challenges contribute to family fragility, decreased well-being, and poorer quality of life for people with ASD and their families. Information seeking as a mechanism for increased agency and coping has been well recognized in the LIS literature (Chatman 1996; Harris et al. 2001; Savolainen 1995; Wilson 2000); and, though less prevalent, particularly observed in information behavior studies of parents who have children with significant health concerns and disabilities (Al‐Daihani and Al‐Ateeqi 2015; Gibson 2014; Jackson et al. 2008; Mackintosh, Myers, and Goin-Kochel 2005; Özyazıcıoğlu and Buran 2014).    Still, like many marginalized groups of people, individuals with disabilities and their families commonly experience chronic information poverty (Chatman, 1996)  Information poverty has been described as a complex social phenomena characterized by conditions of information scarcity or overload that inhibit, misdirect, or prevent access to life relevant information. Chatman (1996) found these conditions to be deeply rooted in systemic inequities, conflicting beliefs and value systems, fear, and self-protective behaviors.

In 2013, the American Library Association presented the Declaration for the Right to Libraries, a public document asserting the role and influence of libraries in communities and individual lives.  The declaration states, “Libraries are the great equalizer. Libraries serve people of every age, education level, income level, ethnicity and physical ability.  For many people, libraries provide resources that they could not otherwise afford – resources they need to live, learn, work and govern.”   Despite this proclamation, research on the information needs and experiences of individuals with disabilities and their families is scarce.   A review of the available literature, as a whole, offers several revealing explanations.  First, despite a strong and vocal history of advocacy and action within the LIS field, the efforts and lessons learned by those on-the-ground are not abundantly reflected in the LIS literature.  Second, strategies and interventions outlined in the literature far too often lack empirical grounding and are detached from the disability research on quality of life experiences of this community.  Third, much of the available literature presents only a narrow view, focused on individuals with physical, visual, and auditory disabilities.  Consideration of individuals with intellectual disabilities and profound sensory sensitivities is largely absent.  Finally, few studies actively solicit and incorporate the voices, perspectives, and priorities of individuals and their families they strive to understand and support.


We are currently recruiting tweens, teens, and adults on the autism spectrum, and their parents or other family members for interviews about their information needs and use, and technology needs and use.

We are also recruiting librarians and library staff for interviews about their services for autistic people.

If either of these describes you, you living in North Carolina, and are interested in participating, please email us at

Methodology and Project Goals

DIPS uses participatory research approach, seeking input and guidance from individuals on the autism spectrum, parents or caregivers, and public library information practitioners across North Carolina through interviews, focus groups, and an online survey to address questions including:

  • What are the information needs of our local ASD communities?
  • How do the information or service needs of members of the local ASD communities differ from other local community members?
  • Where and how do members of the ASD community currently look to fulfill their information, technology, and service needs?
  • How does the library currently fit into the information worlds/horizons of people with ASD and their families?
  • What gaps exist between information resources and ASD community member information needs?
  • What social interactions/dynamics help or hinder library access?
  • What previous and current models for assessing and meeting the needs of local disability communities exist in LIS practice and research?
  • To what extent has critical disability theory been integrated into LIS theory, research, and practice?

Participant input will inform the development of an empirical and applied model of library and information research and practice in support of the ASD community. Additional project outcomes will include an online toolkit, workshop, and webinar designed for library information professionals centered on community assessment and engaging local communities as partners to reduce information poverty experienced by individuals with autism and their families.

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