Focus On: Nicole Dalmer
February 5, 2016
Highlighting research by members of the Canadian library and information management community.
PhD Candidate, Faculty of Information and Media Studies, Western University
What is your research topic?
Family caregivers of older adults grapple with an inordinate amount of information throughout their caregiving trajectory – the topics needed and the amount and timing of the information needed likely vary as the older adult ages. Information work saturates every facet of caregiving, providing tools for coping, solving problems and dealing with uncertainty through knowledge, support and affirmation.
In broad strokes, my research aims to understand the intersection of eldercare work and information work. More specifically, my dissertation research is attempting to uncover why the information work (a term that highlights the labour-intensive nature of using, managing and sharing information) that family caregivers of older adults do is often invisible and poorly supported and studied. Through a series of four studies, I hope to map how different institutions related to aging in place policy might contribute to this invisibility.
The federal government’s endorsement of aging in place (the ability to live at home for as long as possible) combined with a shifting away from institutionalization and decreasing availability of government-funded home care programs is increasingly transferring responsibilities for caregiving onto families and local communities. As a result, the expectation that family caregivers will “do” information work to meet the complex and changing needs of older adults is troubling given that a number of studies continue to report caregivers’ frustration with finding and using caregiver or older adult-related information. My study questions current trends towards the informatization of care and is in recognition that, as Roma Harris so beautifully puts, the every day information work involved in caring for an older adult involves much more than simply looking for and locating information relevant to a specific condition, it means sifting through, interpreting and dealing with the implications of the information one finds.
And while not the focus of my doctoral work, I continue to explore public library services, materials and programming for older adults. Public libraries are a key component of a dynamic informational, recreational and educational infrastructure for our aging population. The focus, however, of public libraries in library and information practice, research and education has traditionally been on children and young adults. I’m curious to see if this focus will shift or expand given that older adults over the age of 65 now outnumber the number of children under the age of 15 in Canada. I’m currently examining the potential applications of critical gerontology theory in the development of more responsive public library services for aging populations. Stay tuned!
What interested you in that topic?
My interest in aging and older adults has a rather curious start. I started my undergraduate degree in neurosciences, studying neurodegenerative disorders – I was (and still am) fascinated with the brain as it ages. From this microscopic, rather quantitative examination of aging, I completed my MLIS at the University of Alberta where I switched to a more macroscopic, qualitative lens to approaching and understanding aging. While I was initially interested in examining how older adults assess the reliability of health information they found online, after some reading, I realized what piqued my interest were the complex information activities in using information on behalf of someone – in particular, family caregivers of older adults. I found the concept of caregivers’ needing, searching for, using and sharing information that is for them, but not about them, quite intriguing.
As I continue down this road, I’m struck by the number of older adults in Canada (doubling from 4.8 million (14%) in 2010 to 10.4 million (25%) by 2036) combined with a possible care gap (a decreasing availability of families and friends to provide care). How can we, in LIS, best support both an increasing number of older adults living in the community who may be without the assistance or support they require and those caregivers providing care?
What impact would you like to see your research have on LIS practitioners?
I suppose I’m primarily interested in bringing a work lens to the informational activities not only of family caregivers but of LIS practitioners as well. I’m quite curious why we, in LIS education, practice and scholarship, don’t seem to highlight or emphasize the complexities relating to the work involved in searching, manipulating, storing, managing, etc. information.
I’m also hopeful that my research will spur the development of more responsive informational tools and service for caregivers of older adults. With an understanding and increased awareness of information work, LIS professionals, particularly those who have ongoing interactions with caregivers and who may need to go beyond traditional reference interactions, might better “understand the situated information needs of their in-crisis patrons” (from an article by Lynn Westbrook who is developing a model to guide reference interacts with in-crisis patrons).
Given the increasing number of older adults and as older adults are encouraged to age in place, I hope my research stimulates a conversation about the services, materials and spaces we currently provide older adults and their caregivers and perhaps prompts us to rethink those services and to question embedded assumptions we may have in the conceptualizations of older adults and those that surround and support them.
What emerging topics do you foresee in the future of LIS research?
This might be (and likely is) completely biased given my area of research, but I am hoping to see an expansion in the focus of LIS research, practice and education towards older adults. I am admittedly sometimes frustrated with the lack of focus on aging populations in LIS. I hope to see the development of courses in MLIS programs that focus on aging populations and the creation of positions within public libraries specifically dedicated towards building relationships with older adults and baby boomers in the community. Related to this relationship building, I am hopeful to see a greater number of librarians undertake an advocacy role for/on behalf of their patrons. I expect to see changing outreach options for the community as older adults may increasingly choose to age in place.
Moving more towards emerging trends and topics in practice, I have an interest in better understanding the intricacies of health literacy and am curious to see whether we might have an increase in consumer health librarians in public libraries – especially as the onus on finding, using and dealing with health information to guide’s one health and wellbeing appears to be shifting from professionals to the public. I also question whether we might begin to see an emergence of a different approach to the study and adoption of technology in LIS. While issues related to privacy and security are crucial to librarianship and our practice as librarians, at times, research and practice appear to eagerly take up new technologies. I wonder whether we might adopt an increasingly critical lens towards technologies, questioning its sustainability and its impact on our roles and on those that come into our buildings to use our services.
What advice would you give to LIS students or practitioners hoping to engage in research?
For students hoping to engage in research, I cannot stress enough the importance of undertaking a research-for-credit course (such as a directed study). This course allows you to get your feet wet under the supportive guidance of a faculty member and also provides you with some material to publish or present (important facets of research). I would also encourage you to ask faculty members in your department whether they might have research assistant opportunities.
As for practitioners, I was fortunate enough to work in a library environment at the University of Alberta where undertaking research projects was both supported and encouraged. From my time there, I was struck with the importance of finding a partner in crime with whom to conduct the research with or to bounce ideas off of. A willingness to engage with faculty members or graduate students both within LIS and outside of our areas of expertise (and sometimes comfort) are also crucial steps in engaging in research. Looking at different journals or conference calls for special issues, upcoming conferences or different awards being offered are also helpful starting points.
Dalmer, N. (In review). Beyond gray: Integrating critical gerontology approaches in public library practice. Journal of Critical Library and Information Studies.
Dalmer, N. (2014). Health literacy promotion: contemporary conceptualizations and current implementations in Canadian health librarianship. Journal of the Canadian Health Libraries Association/Journal de l’Association des bibliothèques de la santé du Canada, 34(1), 12-16.
Rothbauer, P., & Dalmer, N. (2015). Reading among older people: A concise overview. Available at: http://works.bepress.com/paulette_rothbauer/1/