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Affordance theory: a framework for graduate students' information behavior

Elizabeth (Bess) Sadler (Alderman Library, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia, USA)
Lisa M. Given (School of Library and Information Studies, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada)

Journal of Documentation

ISSN: 0022-0418

Article publication date: 23 January 2007




This study seeks to apply ecological psychology's concept of “affordance” to graduate students' information behavior in the academic library, and to explore the extent to which the affordances experienced by graduate students differed from the affordances librarians were attempting to provide.


In‐depth, qualitative interviews with graduate students and academic librarians explored how the students perceived and used the library's various “opportunities for action” (e.g. books, databases, instructional sessions, librarians, physical space, etc.) and compared these perceptions and behavior with librarians' intentions and expectations.


Findings indicate a disparity between expectations and experience and point to graduate students as an underserved population in this context, especially in terms of the library's outreach efforts. In addition, because graduate students are increasingly teaching introductory undergraduate courses, communication methods that bypass graduate students tend to miss undergraduate students as well.

Practical implications

Practical implications discussed in this paper include possible methods of improving communication channels between graduate students and academic librarians, and considerations for information literacy instruction.


This paper presents a unique perspective by using affordance theory to frame students and librarians' expectations about library services. The findings are particularly valuable for their implications for library‐patron communication and information literacy.



Sadler, E.(B). and Given, L.M. (2007), "Affordance theory: a framework for graduate students' information behavior", Journal of Documentation, Vol. 63 No. 1, pp. 115-141.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2007, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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