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Concepts of Information Seeking and Their Presence in the Practical Library Literature

Kelly Patricia Kingrey§
Branch Manager Sulphur Regional Library

Calcasieu Parish Public Library System (Louisiana)§
Searching for information, retrieving it, and using it lie at the heart of library studies and librarianship. Libraries function by and for the human act of information seeking. The where, why, when, and how of information seeking continues as the topic of debate and discussion on both the theoretical and practical level of a variety of social science disciplines. In fact, the fields of psychology and communication in particular offer perspectives and theories on information seeking that enhance and illuminate the study of information seeking in library and information science. Such a multi-disciplinary effort creates the potential to draw connections across paradigms and to develop a more holistic understanding of information seeking. As theories of information seeking in the sister disciplines of library and information science, psychology, and communication are identified and compared, important ideas emerge concepts and principles that inform libraries and librarians in their missions. et, one important consideration remains! are these theories, and their resulting implications, appearing in the practical "ournals read and used by public librarians in the field# The answer to this $uestion lies, at least partly, in e%plicating these theories and in searching for them in the messages and discussions of the practical library "ournals.

What Is Information Seeking?
The terminformation seeking often serves as an umbrella overarching a set of related concepts and issues. In the library world, discussions of database construction and management, community information needs, reference services, and many other topics resonate with the term. et, a single, serviceable definition remains elusive. Like any other comple% concept, information seeking means different things in

and actions during a single problem solving e%perience. andpresentation. retrieval. if clumsy. the resulting information may be embraced or re"ected. including skepticism and ambivalence &Pendleton & Chatman 1998§'. and synthesi)ed into personal knowledge. and there may be a million other potential results. . (hile it was developed primarily to e%plain the formal research performed to complete class assignments. collection./'. the entire e%perience may be carried through to a logical conclusion or aborted in midstream. information seeking involves the search. or holistically as one vein in the body of e%istence. rather than information seeking. as discrete strategies applied when confronting uncertainty. This search may be e%plicit or implicit. the retrieval may be the result of specific strategies or serendipity. a relationship that can include both active searching through formal information channels and a variety of other attitudes and actions. How Is Information Seeking Conceptuali ed and !"plained? (hether viewed procedurally as a discrete series of tasks. as a social and cultural e%change.information behaviormay be a more appropriate term. selection. information seeking defies efforts to bend it to a model or scheme for the purposes of e%plication. one basic.. Information seeking has been viewed as a cognitive e%ercise. and application of meaningful content. used. formulation. exploration.different conte%ts. In fact. this paper usesinformation seeking to denote e%periences or situations in which content is accessed.Kuhlthau§ describes the information search process as moving throughinitiation.arolKuhlthau§ developed a model of information seeking she dubbed theinformation search process &-. means of describing the phenomenon e%ists in noting changes in an individual+s thoughts. to best describe the multi-faceted relationship of information in the lives of human beings. In the simplest terms. After several studies into the research e%periences of students. this model does organi)e information seeking into a set of e%periential stages that offer a rough framework for discussing what occurs in the search for information and the transformation of that . recognition. (hile addressing some aspects of these many alternatives. and as a basic condition of humanity in which all individuals e%ist. *owever. feelings.

The need to modify personal constructs as new situations and e%periences emerge fires information seeking. In selection. regarding information seeking as a dynamic. opinions.00'. emerge from personal construction rather than purely ob"ective retrieval and application &-. and beliefs on the personal and social level. and the information seeking that builds knowledge. and variety provide the initial motivation for information seeking &Went orth & Witryol 199!§'. 3rom the sense-making perspective of comple%ity and change. A psychological desire to predict outcomes. constructive. and material situation of the individual. the sensemaking approach to understanding information seeking and use elaborates upon some of 2elly+s ideas. or to widen the range of e%perience serves as the primary impetus for information seeking from a behaviorist perspective. The process and product of this construction is a uni$ue e%perience influenced by the cognitive. Individuals constantly make and unmake their understanding and perspectives through the e%ploration of the wide and deep ne%us of information that is life."eorge Kelly§ departed from both behaviorism and traditional cognitive psychology to suggest that knowledge. 3ormal information seeking situations may re$uire an individual to relate a highly organi)ed ta%onomy of sub"ect . an intersecting dialogue that e%tends beyond data to include emotions. the $uestion of what one needs to know must be answered. 1rawing on theories of communication and on $ualitative methodologies. the initiation of a specific act or situation of information seeking lies within this larger conte%t. This e%ploration occurs as a communicative process. Selection 4nce one recogni)es the need to know. values. uncertainty. novelty. Initiation Initiation begins with the recognition of an information need and involves the first attempts to resolve uncertainty.information into knowledge. superstitions. In behavioral psychology theories. affective. the individual ascertains his information need in relation to a general topic or field of knowledge. to know the unknown. and negotiated phenomenon &#er$in 1999§'. ideas.

areas to their particular $uestion or problem. suggests that each information seeking situation is a uni$ue e%perience. 08. identify multiple disciplines with perspectives on the issue. 7opening up the personal dimensions of meaning in a universe conceived in terms of process &Warren 1991§.7 6%ploration provides the topography that one traverses to carve out an individual path of understanding. 6%ploration serves as the method by which the foundations of new constructs are laid.'. comple% problems often re$uire a great deal of thought and effort. 4f course. The philosophy of phenomenology. 3or e%ample. and to present their findings in a uniform format. and relate e%ternal hierarchies and systems of data to internal impressions of a uni$ue and distinct personal need. Individuals must limn what is known and what is unknown. *owever. made distinct by everything the seeker brings to the search &%udd &!!1§'. while ta%onomies are necessary and beneficial to the organi)ation of information. grappling with the basic concepts. students must translate their information needs into the organi)ational systems that libraries and other information agencies have developed. 9oth personal and social factors affect both the process and the product of e%ploration &"andy . Thus. To complete the assignment. Answering simple fact-oriented $uestions presents little difficulty beyond locating the appropriate discipline. The e%ploration stage finds the seeker searching for information about their topic or topics of interest. In her information search process model./'. with its re"ection of the sub"ect5ob"ect dichotomy. et.. or sub"ect descriptor. topic area. the act of selection places a formidable demand on the individual to correlate the personal and peculiar to the ob"ective and general. and identifying related issues. school term papers assignments often ask students to investigate their research $uestion using prescribed methods.Kuhlthau§ seems to recogni)e these challenges and stresses that individuals should be encouraged to proceed at their own pace in the process of selection and that feelings of an%iety common in this process should be recogni)ed and affirmed &-. to utili)e certain sources of information. all of this order and regulation belies the inherent messiness of actually placing an unanswered $uestion inside the vast scheme of human knowledge. follow the vast web of tangents and side issues to the heart of the dilemma. the most relevant and crucial issues in life tend to be the most complicated.

fostering a non-threatening environment where mistakes are accepted and learned from. and communication is more than the e%change of substantive data. adapt. or only partially known. but that collaboration and communication afford the individual the opportunity to use such information in ways that are meaningful. e%ploration becomes an instance of negotiation between the self. 3ormulation re$uires the seeker to make connections between different ideas. beliefs. This is not to suggest that information from outside the immediate personal and social realm is not relevant or helpful in information seeking.Kuhlthau 199'§. it is a relationship in which participants share their ideas about themselves.(yers 1998§'.#er$in 1999§. and encouraging cooperation may mitigate some of the fear and frustration that e%ploration and subse$uent stages of information seeking entail &Wood et al) &!!!§. and transfer values. a means by which individuals identify. As individuals begin to use general information to generate more specific and detailed $uestions. 3rom a social perspective. in all of its aspects.(o+ros et al) 199. and to begin searching for information of greater depth than breadth. Information seeking is communication.%udd &!!1§'. . 4ffering seekers the freedom to investigate at their own pace. 3urthermore. and opening oneself up to new knowledge.onse$uently. as new perspectives emerge out of the negotiation between new information and previous concepts within the full conte%t of the individual+s life . and codes of behavior &Pendleton & Chatman 1998§'. individuals tend to value information gained from first-hand investigations within the sphere of daily life. they engage in formulation.Kuhlthau 199*§.§'. and to make personally relevant choices based upon his or her learning. to narrow their topic. to think critically about the information reviewed thus far. information seeking can be considered a socially normative process. Another aspect of e%ploration that several theoretical models of information seeking address is the inherent risk that comes with admitting what is not known. Shaping future in$uiry depends on more than logical deduction. ideas. and the larger world in which the seeker+s identity and social status are both vulnerable.1998§. such as learning from their own e%periences and seeking advice from others within their social group &Pendleton & Chatman 1998§. their cohorts.Pendleton & Chatman 1998§. and others outside of the relationship.

the individual should have developed enough of a general understanding of the principles and concepts underlying his or her problem to make decisions regarding relevance of both content and e%pression of one+s uni$ue perspective.ollection re$uires the individual to choose not only what is germane to the specific concern but also to determine how each new idea fits into the developing solution. 3ocusing information to the specific character and dimension of a particular problem re$uires speciali)ed knowledge. and individuals should be considered e%perts in terms of understanding their world. then collection involves more than accepting or re"ecting bits of data.#er$in 1999§'. --0'. to organi)e and to connect information in ways that are valid from both an ob"ective and sub"ective perspective.ust as in e%ploration. a vision that will guide one+s efforts to their fruition.§'. individuals must invest part of themselves in the reflection and turmoil of formulating a more deliberate direction for their search. . 3ormulation can be messy and uncomfortable. In formulating a clearer focus for their investigation. the seeker gathers and reviews resources that address the specific focus he or she has formulated.:sers e%perience an%iety and frustration as they encounter information available from many different perspectives. If the goal of information seeking is to develop personal understanding. . their information needs. Collection In collection..&"andy 1998§.Warren 1991§. much of which is not compatible with their own constructs &Kuhlthau 199'§.Pendleton & Chatman 1998§.(o+ros et al) 199. . &Kuhlthau 199'§. and the way that information may be applied to the specific conte%ts of their lives &#er$in 1999§'. Although the stress of developing a specific area of concentration can cause some to abandon their search for information. those who succeed in finding a more narrow and individuali)ed scope for their in$uiries often e%perience greater enthusiasm as they proceed in their research &Kuhlthau 199'§'. but herein lies the e%perience that all creativity strives towards . At this point. individuals consider how new information fits within e%isting constructs and confront the uncertainty that comes with reshaping old ideas to accommodate new perspectives! 1isconcerting feelings are commonly associated with formulation.

Presentation Kuhlthau§ describes the presentation stage in her information search process model in terms of a report. *owever./'. or other product for a school e%ercise or assignment &-. <ew knowledge may be a tool for resistance or assimilation. only a few of which may be addressed within the confines of this "ournal article.. What #re the Implications of These Theories for Library Practice? (orks in the fields of psychology. communication. all individuals present the fruits of their information seeking when they apply new knowledge. speech. As information is put to use. then generic reference solutions will not suffice. one $uestion remains. This idea has long en"oyed popularity in the ethos of library studies. Information Seeking #s a Cogniti$e% #ffecti$e% and Social !ncounter The depiction of information seeking as an event embedded in a comple% interplay of personal and social factors possesses great resonance for librarianship. It may provide insight into a problem. the application and transformation of data into a new personal understanding serve as the crucial outcome that differentiates information seeking from information retrieval. et. if a person+s information seeking encounter grows out of the whole of his or her e%perience. and library studies present a picture of information seeking as a dynamic and negotiated process that is intellectually intriguing. but it cannot guarantee that outside circumstances will allow for a solution. Assisting the patron in a search for information is more than a matter of locating the appropriate materials. It . It may help to resolve an issue or reveal even greater depths of dissonance and controversy. but fre$uently loses out to the allure of a onesi)e-fits-all approach to reference work in the rush of day-to-day practice. =egardless of its outcomes. issues of power and obligation arise. et. *ow does this vision translate into the actual function of libraries# The e%planations and models of information seeking previously discussed apply to the every day world of libraries and librarians in several ways. These theories of information seeking hold important implications for refining the practice of librarianship.

librarians may need to dialog intensively with patrons about how they envision solving their problem. Thus. and seek patrons+ evaluations of the totality of their information encounter rather than simply asking if an answer was found. . and focusing on the technical aspects of information delivery over the personal aspects of knowledge construction may actually undermine the learning that libraries seek to facilitate. and the value of the information found. the success of an information search. and creativity in their methods and principles. and giving him or her both the counsel and the freedom necessary to craft a meaningful answer. the social. assist patrons in choosing resources that provide information in ways that are intuitive and comfortable to them.includes seeking to understand the situations that gave birth to the need. with the help of professionals. a piece of information does not e%ist independently as an unassailable and universal good. libraries adopting such a view of information and information seeking would function as places where individuals. depends significantly on the relevancy and meaning of both process and product to the individual. limiting library education to general orientations and generic brochures. =ather. Ideally. and the ob"ective or factual dimensions of e%perience. and e%periment in ways that make sense to them. considering the information encounter from the patron+s viewpoint. could $uestion. Asking patrons to rely on a single source or format for their information. 3ulfilling such a role would re$uire libraries to develop diversity in their resources. speculate. Information #s a Sub&ecti$e Tool 'ot an (b&ecti$e )alue >any of theoretical perspectives on information seeking herein discussed share a common view of information as being both created and disseminated through the negotiation of the personal. 6nacting a more personal and holistic approach to the each patron+s information $uery means considering that individual differences may re$uire distinct approaches to even the commonest $uestions and that all information sources and formats may not be created e$ual from the patron+s perspective. 9eyond their traditional role of locating sources and suggesting standard research strategies. instead of having a standard strategy and answer determined for them. fle%ibility in their design.

*o Practical Library +ournals #rticulate Theories of Information Seeking and Their Implications? As demonstrated previously in this article..American Libraries. communication. =eview of recent volumes of those practical library periodicals commonly available to public librarians at work in the field will provide some indication of the degree to which this topic is e%plored and discussed. affective. These theories have potentially profound repercussions for libraries as organi)ations and for the information professionals who serve within those organi)ations.endi/ 1§'. Theoretical approaches to information seeking have long en"oyed much coverage within scholarly "ournals in the field of library science and in those of other social science disciplines. andLibrary Journal' and two state association maga)ines &Texas Library Journal andLouisiana Libraries' were chosen for this study as representatives of the types of professional reading commonly available in public libraries. many theories of information seeking from psychology. they share a common purpose to inform the practice of librarianship. and is affected by. and library and information science depict information seeking as an e%perience embedded in conte%t and as a comple% process that affects.. making the number of issues reviewed for this study different for each "ournal &-. and . 2eywords and sub"ect descriptors related to this topic were identified in three databases! 3irstSearch+s LibraryLit. the cognitive. for these theories and implications to serve as a foundation for developing and refining the practice of librarianship. This set of serial publications includes four maga)ines of professional associations and one maga)ine by a corporate publisher.ethodology Three national library periodicals &Public Libraries. 3irstSearch+s 6=I. et. . they must appear in those publications devoted to informing the day-to-day work of libraries. The "ournals have varied publication schedules. and social dimensions of human e%istence. (hile each of these maga)ines has a slightly distinct editorial agenda. Issues from the past three years of these publications were reviewed for articles or editorials that discussed theories of information seeking or the implications of such theories.

cognition and communication bore high relevance to the idea of information seeking as being both a psychological and social endeavor. but each issue of each "ournal was read regardless of whether or not they contained an article denoted as potentially germane. These evaluations then informed determinations of whether theories of information seeking or related topics arose as points of discussion or e%plication within any articles &e%cluding book reviews. Information needs and use studies occurred as sub"ect terms in the highest percentage of articles in the 7information seeking7 and 7information behavior7 result lists. letters to the editors. . The study evaluated each hard-copy issue of these "ournals for the past three years &8@@---.' and the inde%ing of these issues in the aforementioned databases. Those articles marked during this preliminary review received first attention. The first step in the study involved reading the periodical issues in hard copy form. 6ach title and abstract on the subse$uent result lists received a thorough review for any reference to the how or why of information seeking. in the ne%t phase of the study. *owever. databases searches served to narrow the focus of the study and to provide search terms that could be formally compared against the contents of the "ournals. and the other using information behavior. and any advertising or commercial supplements' of these issues. allowed for an almost duplicate research process. These four sub"ect terms and the keyword phrases information seeking and information behavior were used separately in a series of 9oolean searches with the ISS< for the each of the "ournals and with the years selected for the study. The term information seeking functions as a recogni)ed sub"ect term in 6=I... the only relevant distinctions between the two databases occur in "ournal titles and volumes covered &-.. were conducted in LibraryLit. This yielded a large number of results that were then evaluated for their common sub"ect descriptors.6bsco+s Academic Search ?remier. they did not represent a highly methodical approach to evaluation. Two other common sub"ect terms in both key word searches . Two key word searches. one using the term information seeking.endi/ &§'. Any articles appearing to be relevant were then re-read. (hile these initial readings provided a general picture of the "ournals coverage of information seeking topics. The table of contents of each "ournal issue and "ournal inde%es were studied and possibly relevant articles were identified. The similarities between LibraryLit and 6=I. (ithin the conte%t of this study..

(hile some articles in the studied "ournals did use the term information seeking in a title. when the studied "ournals were placed into the searches the number of items on the result lists dwindled to few or none. abstract..endi/ '§. this search procedure was repeated using information behavior and the terms generated from LibraryLit as either a sub"ect.-8@@-. 4nce again. or within the te%t. . -esults The initial reading of the "ournal issues produced no seemingly relevant articles. andLibrary Journal. Also. As demonstrated in-. <one of the "ournals seriously addressed theories of information seeking or the way such theories . >any of the articles on subse$uent result lists were the same as those from the LibraryLit searches. abstract. 2eyword searches using the terms information seeking and information behavior were performed. Then. the detailed records of any articles not appearing on previous result lists were reviewed. 9ecause it is produced by another database vendor and has an organi)ational scheme distinct from that of 3irstSearch. and those addressing information seeking specifically were re-read.. *owever. if 6=I.. or keyword. These sub"ect terms were then used in searches identical to those carried out for the keyword phrase information seeking. te%t. the database searches using only the sub"ect and keyword terms with limitations for the years in $uestion yielded a high number of results. browsing Academic Search ?remier+s alphabetical sub"ect list yielded two terms which seemed ideologically related to information seeking!conceptual structures andknowledge representation. recogni)ed the term as a descriptor. 6ach search was then limited by a "ournal title. any new articles underwent the same scrutiny of title. it functioned primarily as "argon. each term was combined with the standard number of a particular "ournal and then limited to the appropriate years. This process was performed separately for each "ournal in the study inde%ed by Academic Search ?remier -American Libraries. if necessary. and.ust as in LibraryLit. and the subse$uent database searches confirmed this preliminary finding. *owever. The subse$uent result lists were then studied for articles within the years -. 6bsco+s Academic Search ?remier re$uired slightly different treatment.and it was thus applied in combination with the ISS< for the "ournals within the years of the study.Public Libraries.

et.and that the latter is infinitely more important than the latter. As research in the area of information seeking progresses. while LibraryLit did retrieve a substantial number ofLibrary Journal articles for the search terms used in the study. Those articles that did mention the term information seeking primarily concerned statistics of library use. then how can librarians. research should do more than demonstrate facts or figuresA it should discuss what differences this data makes.the ways in which individuals e%perience and accomplish the search for knowledge. et. the following $uestions must be entertained! what does understanding information seeking theory . without an underlying appreciation for theory. maintaining. and why should "ournals devoted to advising and supporting the actual work of libraries spend limited column space and publishing dollars discussing it# 4ne common sentiment heard often in the library field is that graduate school is for learning theory and library "obs are for learning practice . and new ideas and connections emerge. or discussed the relationship between understanding the information search process and improving library practice. one finds it very difficult to understand. or enact principles of practice. or could make. issues of electronic access. or the libraries they operate. <one of the articles in this study critically e%plicated the dynamics of the individual+s search for information. In terms of this research.have to do with running a library. theories develop and change. patron satisfaction measures.even those staffing reference and .or any theory . these articles were mostly articles on purchasing. or the logistics of reference service. accept. offered a model of information seeking based on research and formal hypotheses. in the larger scheme of things. The importance of discussing theory in practical "ournals becomes even more apparent when one considers that many library employees .apply to everyday librarianship. 3or e%ample. evolve in their understanding of and service to patron+s needs. If the e%posure to theory ends with graduation. this research does suggest a lack of attention to theory and research on the part of practical "ournals of library science in one key paradigm of the discipline . Conclusions (hile the narrow scope and methodology of this study precludes any broad or authoritative conclusions. and promoting specific digital resources.

the better. .onnecting the theoretical and practical perspectives on the subtleties and comple%ities of the individual information seeking e%perience offers a firm foundation from which to build a library collection and plan library services. such insights and anecdotal knowledge could only be rendered more precise and comprehensive through correlation to research and theory in the field. on-the-"ob training. These employees rely almost e%clusively on work e%periences. 3urthermore.have not had the benefit of being e%posed to library theory through graduate study. (hen librarians and library organi)ations are constantly being encouraged to pursue the bigger. the current climate of technological innovation and change makes discussion of information seeking theory increasingly important in the daily work of librarianship. and the faster in electronic resources. 6ven though a great deal of what is re$uired to help another individual in their information seeking efforts can be considered intuitive. and the practical professional literature commonly available to them in their workplace to e%pand and refine their e%pertise as librarians. .research desks . but also why to do it. it+s important to have the understanding necessary to determine not only what to do.