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Investigating failures in information seeking episodes

Yiwei Wang (School of Communication and Information, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey, USA)
Chirag Shah (School of Communication and Information, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey, USA)

Aslib Journal of Information Management

ISSN: 2050-3806

Article publication date: 17 July 2017




People face barriers and failures in various kinds of information seeking experiences. These are often attributed to either the information seeker or the system/service they use. The purpose of this paper is to investigate how and why individuals fail to fulfill their information needs in all contexts and situations. It addresses the limitations of existing studies in examining the context of the task and information seeker’s strategy and seeks to gain a holistic understanding of information seeking barriers and failures.


The primary method used for this investigation is a qualitative survey, in which 63 participants provided 208 real life examples of failures in information seeking. After analyzing the survey data, ten semi-structured interviews with another group of participants were conducted to further examine the survey findings. Data were analyzed using various theoretical frameworks of tasks, strategies, and barriers.


A careful examination of aspects of tasks, barriers, and strategies identified from the examples revealed that a wide range of external and internal factors caused people’s failures. These factors were also caused or affected by multiple aspects of information seekers’ tasks and strategies. People’s information needs were often too contextual and specific to be fulfilled by the information retrieved. Other barriers, such as time constraint and institutional restrictions, also intensified the problem.


This paper highlights the importance of considering the information seeking episodes in which individuals fail to fulfill their needs in a holistic approach by analyzing their tasks, information needs, strategies, and obstacles. The modified theoretical frameworks and the coding methods used could also be instrumental for future research.



The authors would like to thank all of the participants and Shawon Sarkar for her assistance with coding process for some of the analyses reported here. The work reported here is supported in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) Grant No. LG-81-16-0025-16.


Wang, Y. and Shah, C. (2017), "Investigating failures in information seeking episodes", Aslib Journal of Information Management, Vol. 69 No. 4, pp. 441-459.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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