Looking for Information: A Survey of Research on Information Seeking, Needs, and Behavior

By Gray, Sharon M. | Journal of the Medical Library Association, April 2003 | Go to article overview

Looking for Information: A Survey of Research on Information Seeking, Needs, and Behavior


Gray, Sharon M., Journal of the Medical Library Association


CASE, DONALD O. Looking for Information: A Survey of Research on Information Seeking, Needs, and Behavior. San Diego, CA: Academic Press, 2002. 350 p. $89.95. ISBN 00 -120 -1503810 -X.

Research into information-seeking behavior occupies a niche at the intersection of psychology, management, communications, and information science. Donald case estimates there are more than 10,000 publications in these and other disciplines related to the basic human quest for knowledge. In Looking for Information: A Survey of Research on Information seeking, Needs, and Behavior, he presents a comprehensive survey of information behavior studies over the last two decades.

Information professionals often assume that users want, need, and use information. Intended to serve as an introductory text for graduate students and a review for information-seeking behavior researchers, this book examines those assumptions. The author makes a convincing case for the complexity of research that, among other things, attempts to define information, describe need, and explicate information use. In addition, his survey brings together traditional studies of how and what information users seek, as well as investigations based on Brenda Dervin's influential "sense-making" model (p. 70) that places information need and the behaviors to alleviate that need with the user.

Consequently, questions of why are pivotal in emerging literature, and the implications of browsing, information avoidance, information literacy, and information overload revert back to situation, background, and environmental stress of individuals at the center of the behavior. case's book is an especially useful source, assembling and framing user-centered studies.

Information-seeking behavior models, such as Dervin's, serve to flesh out and guide theory. case outlines other sources of social and psychological theory in information seeking, concluding "the diversity of theoretical borrowings makes a single, comprehensive comparison impossible" (p. 140). His review indicates that the lack of a theoretical center limits meta-analysis and generalizations from combined data and continues to hinder empirical research into informationseeking behaviors.

With a quilt of vague definitions and half-stitched theories, how, then, have researchers approached the study of information seeking since the 1980s? In case's view, the growing emphasis on users manifests itself in many recent studies of occupations, roles, and demographic groups. He provides methodological examples-such as case studies, experiments, and surveys-and he introduces evolving qualitative approaches and combinations of interviews, focus groups, diaries, historical analysis, and content analysis that characterize many information-behavior studies as they appear in contemporary information-seeking research.

Case quotes Tom Wilson's 1984 comment that "the study of information-seeking behaviour can be said to be the study of scientists' information-seeking behaviour" (p. 235). He assesses a widening occupational base of information-seeking behavior studies of social scientists, humanities scholars, managers, lawyers, and journalists. Health occupations are widely represented in his sampling. Progress in health and sciences has resulted in a staggering body of available information, proliferating electronic sources, and growing concerns about what health professionals and health consumers need to know and how they find it. …

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