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Interview of a High School Student Staci M. Novak Emporia State University

Running Head: INTERVIEW OF A HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT Interview of a High School Student There are many theorists that talk about how individuals go about searching for


information. Theorists like Dervin, Grover, Kuhlthau, Bates, and Wilson have spent many hours researching and perfecting their methods of information seeking behavior. However, if you never test these theories, they remain abstract concepts that may mean little in the real world. That is why I conducted a diagnostics interview testing the hypothesis of Kuhlthau’s Information Seeking Process or ISP. Library Experience of Interview Subject My interview subject, Student Z, is a fifteen-year-old freshman in high school originally from South Carolina. Her experience level in relation to searching for information, in my opinion, is average for a high school student. She didn’t really start using the library until she was in the seventh grade. Her English teacher took them to the library to check out books they could read for pleasure. She said she has used the library once before for research purposes, otherwise her use of the library simply extends to finding “a good book to read.” In her previous research experience, she used mostly Internet search engines such as Google, and also used print sources like books. She has never used a database to find information. In this search for information, she reported that she has quite a bit of background knowledge regarding her topic, which is the life of the late entertainer, Michael Jackson. She and her classmates were allowed to choose their subject based on their interests. She chose Michael Jackson because of her previous familiarity and thought this would be a great opportunity to elaborate and deepen her understanding of his life. Cognitive/Learning Style

Running Head: INTERVIEW OF A HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT In my experience with Myers-Briggs and from my observations of Student Z, I would venture that she is an ESFP. She is most definitely an extrovert that is not shy to give her opinion or participate in an interview. She is very flexible, at times is spontaneous, and according to her, “likes to make work fun.” When asked how she learns best, she reported that


she is a visual learner who likes to see pictures or watch movies when learning, but also a doer in that she likes to work with other people and kinesthetically create a product. Behaviors During our interview, I observed several behaviors. First, her communication style and body language was very positive. Student Z was very open and friendly and was willing to participate. She smiled a lot during the interview and had an even and clear tone of voice. She seemed very confident in her actions with this project, and was willing to talk about how she went about finding and putting her research together. In my observation of Student Z, her technical skills are limited for someone her age. She uses a cell phone and an MP3player, but in her investigation she only used the computer for a few sources, and not at all to create the project in which she was researching. Developmentally, she would fall under the category of ten to eighteen. As an adolescent, she has increased independence from her parents, but increased dependence on her peers. She is seeking her identity as an individual, and also has a firmer sense of self than her younger counter parts. Information Need and Search Student Z’s information need was prompted by a project in her 9th grade communications class. Her teacher gave her an assignment in which she had to choose a person in American history that has endured despite his or her struggles in life.

Running Head: INTERVIEW OF A HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT In order to fulfill this information need, Student Z went through several steps to find information. First, she searched the online card catalog to see what books she could find. She was disappointed in her search, because the results only showed websites related to her topic. Next, she checked the biography section of the school library. She looked through several biography books before she finally found some information about Michael Jackson. For the project, the students had to have two print sources. Before finding the Michael Jackson biography, Student Z said she felt, “frustrated and ready to select a new person.” After finding her print sources, she went back to the websites found on the school library’s catalog. Her search of the websites only proved partly fruitful. One led to Google, another led to Wikipedia, and the others were links to celebrity biography websites. She was


somewhat disappointed with the lack of websites because her teacher said they were not allowed to use Wikipedia as a reliable source and there was “way too much information on Google and it would have taken forever to search through it all.” She searched the library catalog for print sources first because the teacher required them to have two print sources in order to research their person, so she wanted to make sure she had enough information. She then went to the websites because, according to Student Z, “I usually go to Google or the Internet first when I need to find something out. It’s what I’m most used to.” During the search process, Student Z had mixed feelings. At first, she was very excited because she is a huge fan of Michael Jackson. During her search for print sources, she was frustrated and angry because she couldn’t find what she was looking for. She also reported that she felt anxious because “we only had a certain amount of time to do research and then construct our project. It’s worth a lot of points and I really want to get a good grade.” Once she had found

Running Head: INTERVIEW OF A HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT all of the necessary information, she said that her anxiety went away and she was excited again and also relieved. Student Z determined that her search was successful. She found her required print


sources and also enough information from the biography websites to complete the project for her class. When asked if any part of the search was confusing she replied, “I don’t think any part of the search was confusing because I had been to the library once before to do some research and several times finding books that I wanted to read. I’m just happy I found the information I needed!” While researching her project topic, Student Z received minimal assistance by professionals. She felt like she didn’t really need help from the librarians, because her teacher was there to help her. When she needed to find the biography section of the library, she asked her communications teacher to help her. She said she didn’t ask the librarians because they looked busy behind the desk and didn’t really come out from behind it to see if the students needed anything. In the process of conducting my interview, it came to my attention that Student Z encountered several barriers. First, she encountered Dervin’s first assumption that only objective information is valuable (Case, 2007). I think had she searched for more books or searched the databases, she would have found more information related to her search. Instead, she seemed to settle for what she found and then moved on. I also think she ran into the second barrier that says more information is always better (Case, 2007). When she searched the library catalog, one of the results was a website that led to Google. It was here that she could have possibly found more information, but there was too much to sift through.

Running Head: INTERVIEW OF A HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT Search Process Compared to Kuhlthau’s ISP


While conducting this interview, I believe Student Z’s search process followed some, but not all, of Kuhlthau’s ISP. First, I don’t believe my interviewee went through the first stage of task initiation (Thomas, 2004). She seemed pretty confident in that she immediately knew over whom she would focus her search. Instead, I think she went directly to the second step of topic selection (Thomas, 2004). I don’t think she went through the pre-focus exploration (Thomas, 2004). She did, however, experience the uncertainty principle when she was having trouble finding sources. It was at this point where she almost switched her focus to another person, but soon enough, hit the focus formulation and information collection stages almost simultaneously (Thomas, 2004). During the focus formulation stage, she found all of her necessary resources and went back to being excited about her research project. She is currently in the last stage, search closure, in that she is creating a poster with the information she found. More Productive and Effective Search Process I think Student Z’s search process could have been more productive and effective if she had narrowed her search more specifically. Her search for information of the life of Michael Jackson was very general and therefore only found very general information. If she had been more specific in searching for his life struggles or how he had persevered, I think she would have found more detailed and in depth information. I also firmly believe that if she had enlisted the help of an information professional, she would have had fewer feelings of anxiety and frustration. Lastly, I feel that the research completed by Student Z would have been more productive and effective if she had not limited her search to the library catalog and Internet. She

Running Head: INTERVIEW OF A HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT may have found more credible and more specific sources if she had tried to access a database that would have provided her with newspaper articles as well. Assistance by Service Provider


After conducting this interview, I was disappointed by the lack of support by information professionals. I feel that Student Z was partly responsible for lack of interaction because she didn’t see how the librarian could help her to physically find the location of a source, let alone assist in finding information pertinent to her research. I feel the information professionals were also to blame because they were not appropriately providing a service to a user with an information need. I think Student Z could have avoided her state of anxiety if she had requested assistance from, or had been approached by the librarians. Instead of feeling frustrated by not being able to find print sources, she could have begun her search by relaying her information needs to the professionals, thus being better guided in her search, and ultimately finding more pertinent and specific information. Conclusion An information need can arise for a multitude of reasons. Someone may be interested in buying a new car or a house. An information need may arise out of a health issue or a research project. There are a variety of studies that map out information seeking behavior in an assortment of ways, but no one need, behavior, or seeker is the same. To truly understand these theories and behaviors, we, as librarians, must do our best to understand the context and needs of the information seeker whether the need be simple or complex.



References Case, D. O. (2007). Looking for information: A Survey of research on information seeking, needs and behavior. (2nd ed.). Amsterdam: Elsevier. Thomas, N. P. (2004). Information literacy and information skills instruction: Applying research to practice in the school media center. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.