Noah Lenstra defends dissertation

Doctoral candidate Noah Lenstra (MS '09, CAS '11) successfully defended his dissertation, "The Community Informatics of an Aging Society: A Comparative Case Study of Public Libraries and Senior Centers,” on June 20.

His committee includes Associate Professor Kate Williams (chair), Professor Linda Smith, Professor Michael Twidale, and Bo Xie (associate professor, University of Texas at Austin School of Nursing and School of Information).

Lenstra will present his findings to the public this Friday, June 24 from 4:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m. at the Douglass Annex located at 804 North Fifth St. in Champaign.

Abstract: The information society is also an aging society. This means that as information technology becomes woven into the fabric of daily life, the median age of humanity continues to rise. The participation of this growing population of older adults in the information society is often seen in the popular press and even in scholarship as dependent on their ability to cope with their supposedly declining minds and declining bodies. This study reframes this phenomenon by studying older adults in the communities where they live.

This dissertation asks to what extent and how does community-based information infrastructure support older adult digital literacy. Three theories shape this analysis: 1) information infrastructure as the co-creation of information systems and information users, 2) digital literacy as the integration of technology into our lives, and 3) older adulthood as a socially shaped stage in the human lifecourse. Using the extended case method approach, these three theories are scrutinized in relation to the empirical reality I studied. Through this situated understanding, this dissertation contributes to the development of these theories, which are used in multiple academic disciplines. This dissertation further contributes to the fields of community informatics and library and information science, both of which are only beginning to study aging in the information society.

This can be best understood through a new concept articulated in this dissertation, the informatics lifecourse. This concept refers to how a person learns technology through the stages of his or her life. The informatics lifecourse is populated by countless informatics moments, instances of giving and receiving technology support. Breakdowns in the informatics lifecourse of the individual relate to breakdowns at the level of the community. This finding illustrates how individuals and communities are interdependent.

By foregrounding the agency of older adults in the information infrastructure they and others rely on to learn technology across time, this dissertation challenges deficit models of aging premised on decline and disengagement. Public libraries and senior centers are overpressured, publicly funded institutions. By embracing the agency of older adults, these institutions could reconfigure themselves for an information society that is aging.

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