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of the American Society for Information Science

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Volume 25, No. 3

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February / March 1999




Information Seeking and Finding

by Yung-Rang Cheng and Debora Shaw

Yung-Rang Cheng can be reached by e-mail at ycheng@falstaff.ucs.indiana.edu. Debora Shaw can be reached at shawd@indiana.edu Both are affiliated with the School of Library and Information Science, Indiana University, 10th and Jordan, Library 012, Bloomington, IN 47405.

Information seeking is an important activity in our daily lives. We look for information for different purposes, in many situations; we develop a variety of behaviors to encounter, seek, comprehend and use information. Approaches to information occur in different situations and in response to a wide array of needs, wants and desires. Not surprisingly, information seeking has been the subject of much research in library and information science, in addition to fields as diverse as business, public administration, market research, management, consumer research, medical informatics, health sciences, communication and psychology of personality.

Researchers have taken a variety of approaches to the study of information seeking. One perspective views it as a component of information use, decision making or problem solving. For example, Brenda Dervin's sense-making theory has information seeking as a means to bridge one's perceived gap in understanding a situation. Other researchers have focused on the processes or components of information seeking; for example Marcia Bates discusses berry picking as a model of how people choose among a variety of information sources. Robert Taylor's analysis of the information use environment is another touchstone, reminding researchers that information seeking is properly studied in context.

There is a growing realization that this is a "big problem" or "grand challenge" and one of considerable importance for information science. The delightful complexity of information seekers, coupled with the variety of influences from information seeking environments, provides a huge puzzle for the social scientist. Introduce questions of aesthetics, perception, emotions, creativity and serendipity, and the mix becomes even more interesting. Then add the technical complications and impact of computer and telecommunications technologies, and it is evident why the challenges for interdisciplinary research have captured so much attention. In this issue of the Bulletin of the American Society for Information Science four researchers who take different approaches to information seeking/encountering introduce their work.

Carol Kuhlthau's original studies considered individual information seekers in a familiar context gathering information to write a term paper. Her attention to the evolution of the interaction and the thoughts and feelings associated with information seeking have been useful to practitioners as well as theoreticians, and her model has been expanded to encompass descriptions of information seeking in other settings.

Pamela Sandstrom focuses on scholarly information use, developing an interesting analogy between information seeking and the model of optimal foraging from biology and anthropology. Her study of citation patterns for evidence of foraging behavior also juxtaposes bibliometrics with information seeking.

Chun Wei Choo's paper broadens our focus to include the organization as context for the individual information seeker. His work on environmental scanning raises intriguing questions about how organizations affect information source identification and use.

Returning to the focus on individuals, Sanda Erdelez confronts a real life experience for many of us, that information is not always "sought," but is sometimes "encountered." Her analysis of information encountering is a useful reminder of the difficulty but also the reward of taking a rich and varied perspective on the fundamental problems of information behavior.

Information seeking/encountering/use is of interest to many ASIS members. At the 1998 ASIS Annual Meeting, Barbara Wildemuth convened an initial meeting to create a Special Interest Group on Information Needs, Seeking and Use (SIG/USE). The preliminary description for the SIG is presented in the sidebar. Barbara Wildemuth (University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill) will serve as initial chair, David Robins (Louisiana State University) will serve as chair-elect and Sarah Prown (Yale University) and Jane Starnes (Intel Corp.) will serve as communication officers. They will ask the SIG Cabinet for a charter at the ASIS Mid-Year Meeting in Pasadena in May. If approved by the SIG Cabinet, the charter will be submitted to the Board of Directors for approval.

SIG/Information Needs, Seeking and Use (SIG/USE)

SIG/USE members are concerned with the activities, both behavioral and cognitive, of people who are interacting with information. These activities include recognizing information needs, seeking information that will address those needs, exploring information sources present in one's context/situation, retrieving information from available information sources, communicating and collaborating with others concerning an information need or information resources, using information, and other interactions between people and information. The SIG wishes to promote studies of human information-related behavior and provision of information services and to encourage the application of the study results to information systems design.



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@ 1999, American Society for Information Science
Last Update: February 21, 1999