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Young people’s conceptions of political information : insights into information experiences and implications for intervention

Smith, Lauren N. and McMenemy, David (2017) Young people’s conceptions of political information : insights into information experiences and implications for intervention. Journal of Documentation, 73 (6). pp. 1-25. ISSN 0022-0418 (In Press)

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Abstract

Purpose: This paper explores young people’s conceptions of political information. The study sought to identify what political information sources young people encounter, how they construe these sources and the messages they communicate, and how the information experiences of young people may be better understood to inform information literacy interventions to support the development of political agency. Design/methodology/approach: Using personal construct theory as a conceptual framework, repertory grid interviews were used to explore the different ways in which 23 young people aged 14-15 from a town in northern England conceive of political information and how they evaluate its quality and authority. Findings: The study identified the sources of information young people engage with for finding and receiving what they understand as political information. The results from the repertory grid interviews indicated that young people use a wide range of sources of political information to become informed about politics and the world around them. These sources of information include family, friends, teachers, television news, newspapers, radio shows, comedy shows, social media and community meetings. Participants were aware that they passively encounter information sources as well as actively engage in debate and discussion with other sources. Some participants had difficulty critically evaluating the political information sources they encounter. The nature of young people’s experiences of political information varied greatly. The degree of complexity in the experiences of political information varied not only between participants but was also dependent on their particular relationship with the information sources under scrutiny. Research limitations/implications: The paper has implications for personal construct analysis as a research approach broadly, from the point of view of its use within library and information science research. It is the first study to apply the personal construct approach to the study of young people’s political information use and to consider implications for information literacy support that would have been difficult to access using other approaches. Practical implications: The paper provides insight into an understudied area; that of young people’s conceptions of political information. This insight may be used to inform the improvement of political information provision and information literacy support for young people. Social implications: A deeper understanding of the different ways in which young people identify, engage with and use information for political purposes may contribute to a clearer understanding of young people’s information needs, ideally leading to improved political education and a strengthened democratic process. Originality/value: The paper explores a relatively under-researched area of library and information science research, and does so using a relatively under-used method in the domain. Insights into the perceived characteristics of different sources of political information are novel and contribute to the development of information behavior and information literacy fields in terms of information for empowerment and democracy.