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Beyond ‘Needy’ Individuals: Conceptualizing Information Behavior as a Social Construct

Michael Olsson

Sparking Synergies: Bringing Research and Practice Together @ ASIST '05 (ASIS&T 2005)
Westin Charlotte, Charlotte, North Carolina, October 28 - November 2, 2005


Understanding information users and their behavior is a question of central importance for information research and practice. The paper challenges several aspects of existing approaches to understanding information behaviour, including: the focus on individual cognition at the expense of social and affective factors; the construction of information users as defined by their areas of ignorance and uncertainty, rather than their expertise; and the focus on purposive rather than non-purposive information behavior. It argues that only by addressing these weaknesses and developing new research strategies and theoretical frameworks which focus attention on the social processes and relationships which underpin users’ information behavior can we hope to develop a truly holistic understanding of the relationship between people and information. It also argues that social constructivist approaches provide a theoretical lens through which information researchers can gain a clearer picture of information users not as ‘needy’ individuals to be ‘helped’, but as social beings, experts in their own life-worlds.

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