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Fulfilling information needs by classifying complex patron needs

Charles R. Senteio (School of Communication and Information, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey, USA)
Kaitlin E. Montague (Department of Library and Information Science, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey, USA)
Stacy Brody (Himmelfarb Library, The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Washington, District of Columbia, USA)
Kristen B. Matteucci (Jenkins Law Library, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA)

Reference Services Review

ISSN: 0090-7324

Article publication date: 10 February 2021

Issue publication date: 6 May 2021




This paper aims to describe how public librarians can better address complex information needs. First, librarians should classify the degree of complexity of the need by using Warner’s classification model; then they can use Popper’s three world theory to anticipate and respond to complex information needs by following specific steps.


After examining the information science literature, appropriate models were selected to support public librarians. Our information science scholarship, coupled with our practical experience, informed our search and selection.


This paper details specific steps that public librarians can take to anticipate and respond to individual information needs. Doing so is imperative as the information needs of the public continue to become increasingly complex.


This paper improves information practice because it offers specific steps to aid public librarians to anticipate and respond to complex information needs. It draws upon an existing model and theoretical framework. This paper also highlights selected examples of how public librarians across the USA have anticipated information needs, and developed partnerships with organizations external to the public library to address complex information needs.



The authors wish to acknowledge the institutionals who have supported the work that has informed this research. The authors also wish to acknowledge the support of Karen Parry and the East Brunswick Public Library in addition to the Rutgers University School of Social Work.


Senteio, C.R., Montague, K.E., Brody, S. and Matteucci, K.B. (2021), "Fulfilling information needs by classifying complex patron needs", Reference Services Review, Vol. 49 No. 1, pp. 39-54.



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