Competency J – Information Seeking Behavior

Competency J – Information Seeking Behavior

Competency J: describe the fundamental concepts of information-seeking behaviors.

Meaning and Importance
People search for information in different ways, and information professionals need to be able to accommodate varied information-seeking behaviors. Understanding the different ways people seek information can inform the decisions a librarian makes about how best to meet patrons’ needs. It’d be easier if patrons were able to express what they needed help finding in a clear and succinct manner, but this is often not to be. Often, the first question a patron asks is not the true question needing answered– and librarians must be able to dig deeper into a patron’s inquiry, in order to determine the actual information need. For instance, a patron asking for a book about World War II may actually be looking for a memoir of a WWII soldier, or perhaps a history of WWII ships. A librarian should gently inquire deeper into the base question, as by digging deeper into the patron’s inquiry, librarians are able to better serve their information needs.

Furthermore, information communities have different needs. A patron at the public library who is looking for a book about California birds has different information needs than a research fellow at an academic library trying to write a paper about the history of bird symbolism in the 1400s. While the first patron may get away with only searching the OPAC (or asking a reference librarian), the second patron has deeper information-seeking needs.

The researcher must be able to search a variety of resources, both academic and not, and be able to incorporate their searches into a coherent reference that will serve their needs. A librarian must be able to help guide that searcher through the numerous sources available, picking the best sources for them depending on the need of the searcher. Uva (1977) describes five stages of research: problem selection, detailed planning, data collection, analysis and interpretation, and writing-rewriting. Librarian can help with all of those stages, through careful discussion and questioning of the patron to help gather data, and taking a supporting role in the analysis and interpretation. A librarian shouldn’t do a patron’s research for them, but they should be able to guide them along their information-seeking route.

In INFO 200 Information Communities, we were tasked on picking a particular community and researching their information seeking behavior. I chose the historian community, as they have unique information requirements. They need to have access to primary, secondary, and tertiary sources in order to conduct their research, which means they require access to a wide range of information. Through doing research for this paper, I also learned that historians have unique information-seeking behaviors, especially as compared to other information communities.

In order to write this paper, I had to conduct a literature review and then write an analysis of what research seemed to be missing. I searched through SJSU’s databases, as well as Google Scholar, in order to find relevant information about the information-seeking behavior of historians. I ended up finding some very good research, though it was surprising how little had changed over the course of 40 years of research.

For instance, the typical search pattern of a historian involves focusing on names, places and dates. This is unusual compared to other information communities, who use more keyword search. This unique historian search pattern is still true today, despite the many advances in technology, and the information-seeking behavior of historians still needs lots of support from librarians.

An example of this would be when a geographical name changes. Indexes and thesauri often lack a complete record of all the changes, and this can make information-finding difficult for historians. A historian searching for information about Constantinople when a database only has data coded for searches on Istanbul is going to have an extremely difficult time.

Another unique aspect of historian information-seeking behavior is the wide range of resources that they use. They do not depend on only one or two sources during their research. They instead draw information from as many places as possible, including unusual places like footnotes and Google searches. Historians work multiple stages of research simultaneously, meaning their information needs can change from day to day. Librarians can be good supports for their research, as we are able to guide them to the right resources.

Here’s a link to my paper: Finch_Literature Review

Future Application
Having studied closely the information needs of the historian community, I do feel more prepared to help any researcher with their information request. I plan on eventually working in an archive or local history library, where the majority of my patrons will be researchers. My coursework at SJSU has helped prepare me for digging deeper into a patron’s information inquiry, and I look forward to using that knowledge for helping patrons find the right information for their needs.

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