Elfreda Annmary Chatman in the 21st Century

At the Intersection of Critical Theory and Social Justice Imperatives


  • Bharat Mehra University of Alabama, School of Library and Information Studies




Elfreda Annmary Chatman (1942-2002) is considered a pioneer library and information science (LIS) scholar for her theory development and ethnographic approach to understand information behaviors of understudied populations (e.g., female inmates, janitors, the elderly, poor people, female retirees, etc.). This article discusses the limited contemporary relevance of her contributions to information science research in the 21st century when subjected to an epistemological assessment from critical theory and social justice imperatives. Progressive scholars operationalize this intersection in terms of action-oriented and socially relevant outcomes achieved via information-related work to extend the LIS professions beyond its historical shackles. They also encourage community-engaged scholarship and community-wide changes via partnering with and providing programs to people on society’s margins. Scrutinizing Chatman’s legacy in terms of these attributes helps extend the discourse and identify its trajectory, especially relevant in the context of today’s political and cultural climate. Some factors that influenced Chatman’s work are traced within an emerging, yet narrow, trajectory and scope of information science research of those times. Select evidence and examples discussed in this narrative illustrate some of these perceived limitations while critiquing Chatman’s contributions and still valuing their significance.

Pre-print first published online 3/28/2021

Author Biography

Bharat Mehra, University of Alabama, School of Library and Information Studies

Bharat Mehra is EBSCO Endowed Chair in Social Justice and Professor in the School of Library and Information Studies at the University of Alabama. His research examines issues of diversity and social justice in library and information science and community informatics or the use of information and communication technologies to empower minority and underserved populations to make meaningful changes in their everyday lives. He has applied action research while collaborating with racial/ethnic groups, international diasporic communities, sexual minorities, rural communities, low-income families, small businesses, and others to represent their experiences and perspectives in the design of community-based information systems and services.