Information-Seeking Behavior of Geoscientists

By Bichteler, Julie; Ward, Dederick | Special Libraries, Summer 1989 | Go to article overview

Information-Seeking Behavior of Geoscientists


Bichteler, Julie, Ward, Dederick, Special Libraries


* Authors Investigated problems encountered by geoscientists retrieving and processing Information. Through Interviews and questionnaires, geologists judged the importance of Information sources and described their continuous and "on-demand" modes of Information seeking. Journals and personal contacts rank highest. Geologists show little Interest In end-user searching and need additional training In Information services, sources, and procedures. Results also Illustrate opinions of foreign language literature, variations In patterns of Information seeking which depend on professional position and time available, and problems resulting from constraints set by employers. Several Implications for librarians emerge from the study.

Introduction

OUR infoffnation-based society invests enormous sums annually for developing and acquiring sophisticated systems and services, Some of the largest and most expensive of these services are designed to facilitate and enhance scientific and technical communication and result from commitments by business and industry, universities, scientific societies, and the federal govemment. Such efforts are predicated on the belief that these industries and institutions know how scientists and engineers actually seek information and how they wish to access it. Some past user studies have investigated scientists and engineers as broad user groups, as well as concentrated on specific disciplines such as geoscience or chemistry; Pruett provides an excellent summary of this research on user behavior. (1)

The present swdy is of broader scope than previous work in geoscience communication. In a series of interviews, the informationseeking behavior of geoscientists was investigated and their use of a wide range of in formation resources from traditional to new technology-dependent sources was examined. Of particular interest are implications of the findings for information service to the geoscience user group, implications which suggest an expanded role for librarians in the communication of geoscience information.

Interviews were arranged by contacting geoscience librarians in private firms, govemment, and academia and asking them to select library users and nonusers who would participate in the study. The sample was balanced according to geoscience specialty, type of employer, age, and sex. Several geoscientists who had no onsite library were also interviewed.

A total of 56 interviews in eight states, with concentrations in the East, Midwest, and Southwest were conducted; interviews lasted from 45 minutes to one hour.

Geoscientists who were interviewed represented 17 specialties on list used by the American Geological Institute (AGI) in a 1986 survey. (2) Participants were from the following broad categories: geology and geochemistry, 68 percent; geophysics, 11 percent; engineering geology, 10 percent; and hydrology and hydrogeology, 11 percent. Ages of participants ranged from the mid-20s to the mid-60s with 71 percent in the 30's and 40's; thirteen percent were female. The swdy included several types of employment: colleges and universities, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and state surveys, the petrolewn industry, private consultants, and environmental firms. Overall, the employment breakdown was academia, 45 percent; private firms, 32 percent; and govemment, 23 percent.

In the interview the geologist was first asked to complete a brief questionnaire covering information described above, as well as type of training received, if any, in the use of libraries and literature and in the use of com puters to build or search databases. Participants also judged the relative importance of various information sources used in the home or office, in libraries, and through professional contacts.

The interviews continued with open -ended questions relating to the individual's research interests, patterns followed in meeting information needs in both the continuous and "ondemand" modes, changes in pattems, frustrations and successes, effectiveness of information seeking, foreign language literature, and desirable improvements. …

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