Holland, M. (2000), "Exploring the Contexts of Information Behaviour: Proceedings of the 2nd International Conference on Research in Information Needs, Seeking and Use in Different Contexts", The Electronic Library, Vol. 18 No. 3, pp. 216-238. https://doi.org/10.1108/el.2000.18.3.216.5
Emerald Group Publishing Limited
As the title suggests this book reports the proceedings of the 2nd International Conference on Information Seeking in Context (ISIC2). It contains 42 papers arranged in seven sections: keynote papers; theoretical perspectives; health service contexts; everyday life; work environment; organisation of information in context; information systems perspective. These headings are a post‐conference rationalisation of the material for publication, not those of the conference sessions themselves.
The key word here is contexts, meaning the study of information seeking in real world environments. The aim of the conference was to aid the escape from a cycle of iterative empirical studies and to move towards a theoretical framework that will underpin information seeking as a robust area of research. The editors see some hope in this regard:
Research into information seeking behaviour, or human information behaviour as it is increasingly coming to be called, shows signs (“at last”, one might add) of becoming a well founded sub‐discipline of information science (Foreword).
In the paper by Carol Kuhlthau, “Information patterns in information seeking: concepts in context” the aspiration is set out in some detail:
Research centring on information seeking contexts offers opportunities for investigating differences that are unique to a situation while at the same time revealing patterns of information seeking across a variety of contexts. This contextual approach also provides opportunities for discovering fundamental underlying concepts for understanding information seeking and use from the user’s perspective. These underlying concepts studied in a variety of contexts offer opportunities for developing a foundational theoretical framework that is essential for designing information systems and services that respond to users’ needs in the complex technological environment (p. 10).
The opening paper from Lucas Introna begins by addressing postmodernism literatures. The postmodern theme, however, is not picked up in the papers that follow which although excellent in themselves follow the mechanistic process driven logic that informs much writing in this area.
There is evidence of some interesting research approaches; examples include Christine Urquhart’s paper on “Using vignettes to diagnose information seeking strategies”; Paul Solomon’s “Information mosaics” and Linda Cooper and Carol Kulthau’s “Imagery for constructing meaning in the information
search process”. Other papers follow familiar descriptive models. Clearly some contexts are more favoured than others; six papers report medical contexts and two use journalists as their subjects.
The impression is of a narrow base of theory on which an extensive research effort teeters. A quick but not exhaustive review of the bibliographies reveals a few names, Belkin, Dervin and Kulthau extensively represented. It would seem to the writer that in an era of rapid technological change, the past and present are not predictors of the future information landscape and that a more speculative future oriented approach might provide a larger space in which to explore theoretical considerations. The reader might also speculate with what effect this research is applied to improvement of information design and information systems, that is from observation to action.
This is a text for academic libraries, where I am sure it will find a place. An index would have been appreciated and perhaps a Web version would have been more appropriate for this material with the benefits that full‐text search and lower costs might have brought.