Academic journal article Library Philosophy and Practice

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

Academic journal article Library Philosophy and Practice

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

Article excerpt

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. Yet, one important consideration remains: are these theories, and their resulting implications, appearing in the practical journals read and used by public librarians in the field? The answer to this question lies, at least partly, in explicating these theories and in searching for them in the messages and discussions of the practical library journals.

What Is Information Seeking?

The term information 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. Yet, a single, serviceable definition remains elusive.

Like any other complex concept, information seeking means different things in different contexts. In the simplest terms, information seeking involves the search, retrieval, recognition, and application of meaningful content. This search may be explicit or implicit, the retrieval may be the result of specific strategies or serendipity, the resulting information may be embraced or rejected, the entire experience may be carried through to a logical conclusion or aborted in midstream, and there may be a million other potential results. Information seeking has been viewed as a cognitive exercise, as a social and cultural exchange, as discrete strategies applied when confronting uncertainty, and as a basic condition of humanity in which all individuals exist. In fact, information behavior may be a more appropriate term, rather than information seeking, to best describe the multi-faceted relationship of information in the lives of human beings, a relationship that can include both active searching through formal information channels and a variety of other attitudes and actions, including skepticism and ambivalence (Pendleton & Chatman 1998). While addressing some aspects of these many alternatives, this paper uses information seeking to denote experiences or situations in which content is accessed, used, and synthesized into personal knowledge.

How Is Information Seeking Conceptualized and Explained?

Whether viewed procedurally as a discrete series of tasks, or holistically as one vein in the body of existence, information seeking defies efforts to bend it to a model or scheme for the purposes of explication. However, one basic, if clumsy, means of describing the phenomenon exists in noting changes in an individual's thoughts, feelings, and actions during a single problem solving experience. After several studies into the research experiences of students, Carol Kuhlthau developed a model of information seeking she dubbed the information search process (1993). Kuhlthau describes the information search process as moving through initiation, selection, exploration, formulation, collection, and presentation. While it was developed primarily to explain the formal research performed to complete class assignments, this model does organize information seeking into a set of experiential stages that offer a rough framework for discussing what occurs in the search for information and the transformation of that information into knowledge. …

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