Seeking Meaning: A Process Approach to Library and Information Services (2nd ed.)

Matt Holland (Bournemouth University, United Kingdom)

The Electronic Library

ISSN: 0264-0473

Article publication date: 11 April 2008




Holland, M. (2008), "Seeking Meaning: A Process Approach to Library and Information Services (2nd ed.)", The Electronic Library, Vol. 26 No. 2, pp. 279-280.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

The first edition of Seeking Meaning is a classic text in librarianship and information science. Cited in excess of 230 times (ISI SSCI/AHCI), the second edition reviewed here has already accrued 40 plus citations. If anything the Information Search Process [ISP] model is gaining more currency, making this second edition a timely updating. In the introduction Kulthau sets the parameters for the second edition, “The book represents my own research, reflection, and, in some cases, restatement of the process approach to librarianship”. Kulthau acknowledges, but does not include, applications and research generated using the ISP model by others in the intervening 10 years between editions. New in the second edition is research in using the ISP model in the workplace (Chapter 10).

The user centred approach to information seeking is contrasted with traditional approaches to information science which focus on systems for classifying, organising and retrieving material, identified as the bibliographic paradigm. The ISP model is built on the educational theories of John Dewey, George Kelly and Jerome Bruner described in Chapter 2, Learning as a process. Chapters 3 to 5 describe the research which tested and refined the model. The research approach draws on Glasser and Strauss's grounded theory approach, building theory from the evidence of research. These techniques combine qualitative and quantitative methods, case studies and longitudinal studies. Kulthau integrates theory and practice in “real” settings, generating the ground breaking insights represented by the ISP model.

The model is well known and perhaps more easily summarised diagrammatically. Briefly, however, Chapter 6 introduces the “Uncertainty principle”. Uncertainty initiates information seeking, sending the user on a journey which moves through six “corollaries”: process, formulation; redundancy; mood, prediction and interest culminating in understanding. Chapter 7 looks at the role of mediators identifying five levels of mediation, the types of mediation librarians might engage in and five levels of education, the types of education activity librarians might direct at users. Chapter 8 addresses zones of intervention, the points at which mediators might intervene in the search process and strategies which are appropriate to adopt.

In the final pages of Seeking Meaning, Kulthau describes librarians' feedback to the ISP model as “aha”, a sense of recognition, a feeling of the “rightness” of the ISP/process approach. Her point is the need to validate theory through practice. There are broader lessons to learn from Kulthau's approach in Seeking Meaning. She points the way to research practices, well established in the social sciences that have potential to generate more insights into library and information services. Academic library and information services have also been on a journey in the years between editions that validates another aspect of Kulthau's approach, the development of information literacy strategies that are informed by the pedagogy of teaching and learning. Recognition that skills are built over time, that the process is incremental, and different interventions are needed at different points in a student / researchers development.

It is certain that the second edition is replacing the first edition on the shelves of universities and colleges. For the practitioner who may have missed Seeking Meaning the first time round, it is not the intimidating read you might expect. Clearly written, well crafted and, given the nature of the book, free for the most part of jargon.

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