Human Information Behavior

Article excerpt

Introduction

Until recently the computer science and information systems communities have equated 'information requirements' of users with the way users behave in relation to the systems available. In other words, investigations into information requirements were concerned almost entirely with how a user navigated a given system and what he or she could do with the data (rather than information) made available by information systems.

This is now beginning to change as ethnographic methods are introduced into the requirements definition stage of systems design, and Beyer and Holtzblatt (1998) have shown the benefits. However, even when such methods are employed, the designers appear to be asking, "How is this person using the system?" rather than seeking to determine what the individual's (or the organization's) information needs may be and how information seeking behavior relates to other, task-oriented behavior. In fact, a concern with what information is needed has been the province not of information systems as a discipline, but of information science and, before that, librarianship.

To these fields we can add consumer behavior research, marketing, psychology, health communication research, and a number of other disciplines that take the user as the focus of interest, rather than the system. The aim of this paper is to review some of this research and to point to findings that enable the system designer to put the design process in the wider context of the user in the organization.

Some Definitions

Some definitions are needed before we go further. In this paper, four terms are used: information behavior, information seeking behavior, information searching behavior and information use behavior. They are defined as follows:

   Information Behavior is the totality of human behavior
   in relation to sources and channels of information,
   including both active and passive information
   seeking, and information use. Thus, it includes face-to-face
   communication with others, as well as the
   passive reception of information as in, for example,
   watching TV advertisements, without any intention to
   act on the information given.

   Information Seeking Behavior is the purposive seeking
   for information as a consequence of a need to
   satisfy some goal. In the course of seeking, the individual
   may interact with manual information systems
   (such as a newspaper or a library), or with computer-based
   systems (such as the World Wide Web).

   Information Searching Behavior is the 'micro-level'
   of behavior employed by the searcher in interacting
   with information systems of all kinds. It consists of all
   the interactions with the system, whether at the level
   of human computer interaction (for example, use of
   the mouse and clicks on links) or at the intellectual
   level (for example, adopting a Boolean search strategy
   or determining the criteria for deciding which of
   two books selected from adjacent places on a library
   shelf is most useful), which will also involve mental
   acts, such as judging the relevance of data or information
   retrieved.

   Information Use Behavior consists of the physical
   and mental acts involved in incorporating the information
   found into the person's existing knowledge
   base. It may involve, therefore, physical acts such as
   marking sections in a text to note their importance or
   significance, as well as mental acts that involve, for
   example, comparison of new information with existing
   knowledge.

In all of the above definitions data is subsumed under information, that is, data may or may not be information depending upon the state of understanding of the information user. A datum such as "hbar=h/2pi = 6.58*10 [conjunction] -25 GeV s = 1.05*10 [conjunction]-34 J s" does not inform me because I have no framework of understanding in which to incorporate the datum. …