Students in SJSU Ischool’s graduate program must be able to “describe the fundamental concepts of information-seeking behaviors” in order to demonstrate their grasp of information sciences, their preparedness to become an information professional, and to prove that they have a firm grasp of this core competency. Understanding the behaviors that surround information-seeking and querying information is imperative to performing effectively in a multitude of information professions, “If you’re a librarian trying to facilitate information seeking, it’s important to have the process in the back of your mind as you engage in a reference interview” (Bell, 2015). Understanding the fundamentals of information-seeking allows information professionals to connect information to users more effectively. Knowing the motivations behind information-seeking and the type of behaviors that users present when seeking information can be extremely beneficial to information professionals when trying to address users’ needs more effectively. Once information professionals understand why and how users seek information we can optimally assist them with finding and using information. According to Chowdhury’s (2010) description of Kulthau’s model of information seeking she views information seeking, ” as a process of construction in which users progress from uncertainty to understanding”.
Understanding the fundamentals of information-seeking behaviors allows information professionals to understand what motivates people to seek information and the techniques or approaches that information seekers use when looking for information. Understanding these fundamental concepts is critical to designing interfaces for effective retrieval, selecting databases, collection development, information management, and many other aspects of the information science field. Belkin (2000) describes why users seek information, “When people engage in information-seeking behavior, it’s usually because they are hoping to resolve some problem, or achieve some goal, for which their current state of knowledge is inadequate”. Information-seeking behavior is driven by an information need. Connecting users with an information need for information is the job of an information professional. Understanding that when people approach an information desk or message a virtual chat service they come seeking information for a particular purpose. We need to ascertain their purpose and fulfill their information needs in order to provide effective service. The same is true when users log in to use a library database or when searching an OPAC (Online Public Access Catalog).
Information users access their mental schema to draw upon information that they have already learned and understand. They use this information as a basis to seek out new information and build upon their current knowledge, “People actively and constantly construct their view of the world by assimilating and accommodating new information with what they already know or have experienced” (Kuhlthau, 1991, p.362). All individuals approach information seeking and filter information through their own personal point of view or knowledge base. These vary from person to person because people have different environments, life experiences, and previous knowledge prior to beginning a search. In order for an individual to make sense out of information, the system must consider the user in its design or in the case of reference questions or information literacy instruction must consider a user’s background knowledge when trying to connect them with appropriate information, “the effectiveness of information retrieval must consider the integration of results into the user’s own life as well as the user’s evaluation of the usefulness of the information for the resolution of the problem”(Kuhlthau, 1991, p.361). Understanding a user’s information need, the context of the information need, the purpose of the need, and the background knowledge that a user has related to the information is essential to providing relevant information to a user. Information professionals need to ascertain this information from users in order to formulate the best approach to assisting a user. As stated by Bell (2015), “Understanding the information-seeking process also helps to inform your whole strategy of questioning in the reference interview (e.g., the use of “open” and “closed” questions) and helps to ensure greater satisfaction on both sides: librarian and patron”. Tailoring assistance to user’s needs while keeping in mind the processes they use to seek information allows databases, or collections, or information professionals providing reference services to maximize the ability to meet the user’s needs.
Information-seeking behaviors have been searched by professionals in library and information fields for decades. Bell (2015) explains that,
“Information-seeking literature can be characterized as belonging to one of two groups: the theoretical, which discusses the topic in abstract terms and seeks to define it in terms of structured models, and the applied, which discusses it in terms of real-world observations and interactions”.
There are many models that attempt to define or explain the human behaviors related to information-seeking.There are many existing models of information-seeking behaviors that have been formulated by professionals in the library and information science field. These models of information-seeking behavior attempt to explain the users approaches related to information-seeking. One such model that is widely referenced is Kuhlthau’s (1991) model of information stages which describes the state that exist in the process of searching for information in relation to the writing process. Kuhlthau’s (1991) model presents information seeking in a six stage process of initiation, selection, exploration, formulation, collection, and presentation. This behavior model has influenced research in the field and continues to be utilized as Bell (2015) explains that in later literature about information seeking behaviors Kuhlthau’s model (1991) was expanded and enhanced by exploring the emotional aspects that accompany each state:
|Recognize a need for information||Uncertainty, apprehension|
|Selection||Identify and select a general topic or approach.||Optimism|
|Exploration||Need to locate information about a topic, become informed, integrate new information with previously held constructs, reconcile sources providing inconsistent or incompatible information||Increased confidence, sense of clarity|
|Formulation||Focus, personalize topic by identifying and selecting ideas from all the information retrieved.||Increased confidence, sense of clarity|
|Collection||Gather information related to the restated, focused topic; clearer sense of direction allows for more efficient, relevant interactions with information systems.||Confidence increases, interest in project increases, uncertainty subsides.|
|Presentation||Prepare presentation of findings.||Relief, satisfaction (or disappointment if search has not gone well)|
Information professionals need to be equipped with the understanding of the emotional and cognitive tasks related to information seeking so they can better identify the stage of information seeking that a user presents so they can facilitate positive movement through these processes, stages, tasks, and emotions. In order to provide information users with the relevant information so they can form new understanding and process new information to build knowledge.
My first piece of evidence information is the blog that I did for INFO 200 on information-seeking behaviors. Students in this course were required to write a blog about an information community of their choosing. This blog post assignment was to describe the information-seeking behaviors of the information community that I chose. In this assignment I chose parents of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder as a community. In this assignment I described the information-seeking behaviors that are typical of this community and defined the information needs of this community. I included this assignment as evidence because it demonstrates my fundamental understanding of information-seeking behaviors related to a specific information community.
The second piece of evidence is my blog assignment #3 from my INFO 200 course on information Communities. Students in this course were assigned to write a blog about an information community. The students were asked to choose an information community to write about in a blog. This blog post assignment students were asked to interview members of that community to gain a better understanding of the information needs and their information-seeking behaviors. In this blog I interviewed two different members of the information community that I chose to ascertain how they use libraries, what information needs they have, where they seek information, and how they seeking information related to their community. I included this blog as evidence of my understanding of interviewing information users to gain a better understanding of their information-seeking behaviors and process of an information community.
The final piece of evidence I included is my reader advisory assignment from my INFO 210 course of Reference services. Students in this course were given the assignment of discussing the behaviors related to reader advisory and determine a strategy for helping a patron find a good book. Students were asked to identify, assess, and characterize the function of various types of reference. Students were asked to conduct a reference interview and generate a list of recommendations. In this assignment I discussed the recent trend of reader advisory in academic libraries. I discussed the reference interview and the information seeking behaviors related to reader advisory reference. I describe the features of Goodreads and NoveList as resources for assisting with reader advisory. I then used a combination of NoveList and Goodreads to compile a list of books that were similar to a book called Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. These books either include stories about witches, vampires, historical fiction, magic, fantasy, time travel or are written by the same author. I included this assignment as evidence because it demonstrates my understanding of information seeking behaviors related to providing reader advisory assists to library patrons.
Identifying and understanding the process that individuals move through to construct knowledge and discover information is vital to understanding how to assist patrons as an information professional. The evidence I provided demonstrates my understanding of information behaviors within a specific information community and how information-seeking behaviors relate to reference services. Serving one’s user whether in person or via computers such as through interfaces appropriately takes a fundamental understanding of the processes and emotions that user’s experience when seeking information. It’s necessary to understand the cognitive approaches and stages that users move through in the process of information-seeking. When an information professional understands the motivation and approaches that are utilized by users they become more proficient in assisting users to develop strategies, select interfaces, designing interfaces, developing collections, designing information literacy instruction, and providing relevant information to their users. Understanding the fundamental concepts of information-seeking is has prepared me to become a successful information professional that can efficiently connect users to information via multiple mediums through understanding information seekers and their behaviors related to information-seeking.
Belkin, N. (2000). Helping people find what they don’t know. Communications of the ACM, 43(8), 58-61.
Bell, S. S. (2015). Librarian’s guide to online searching (4th ed.) [Kindle DX version].
Chowdhury, G. G. (2010). Introduction to modern information retrieval. New York, NY: Neal-Schuman Publishers.
Chowdhury, G. G., & Chowdhury, S. (2011). Information Users and Usability in the Digital Age. London: Facet Publishing.
Kuhlthau, C. (1991). Inside the search process: Information seeking from the user’s perspective. Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 42(5), 361-371.