Exploring the Contexts of Information Behaviour. Proceedings of the Second International Conference on Research in Information Needs, Seeking and Use in Different Contexts. 13/15 August 1998, Sheffield, UK

Anne L. Barker (Department of Information & Library Studies, University of Wales Aberystwyth)

Library Management

ISSN: 0143-5124

Article publication date: 1 February 2000




Barker, A.L. (2000), "Exploring the Contexts of Information Behaviour. Proceedings of the Second International Conference on Research in Information Needs, Seeking and Use in Different Contexts. 13/15 August 1998, Sheffield, UK", Library Management, Vol. 21 No. 1, pp. 49-55. https://doi.org/10.1108/lm.2000.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited

This paperback volume contains 42 papers given at ISIC2, the Second Conference on Information Seeking in Context, which brought together 104 participants from 17 countries in Sheffield in August 1998. In this review I will attempt to indicate the range of research covered and pick out some reported results of interest and relevance to library managers. The papers are organised into seven sections. Five keynote addresses by Introna, Kuhlthau, Spink, Vakkari and Wilson form the first section, followed by groups of papers on Theoretical Perspectives, the Health Services Context, Everyday Life, the Work Environment, Organization of Information in Context, and Information Systems Perspective. As the editors remark in their foreword, research into information seeking behaviour (ISB) “shows signs (‘at last’, one might add) of becoming a well‐founded sub‐discipline in information science”.

The keynote addresses tackle mainly theoretical stances. Introna explores the “entangled” contexts of information, arguing that we draw on our values, interests and beliefs to make sense of the world. Kuhlthau contends that “context” is overlooked in much information science research. She suggests that “uncertainty” is a natural, essential characteristic of information seeking and argues that the concept of “enough” information can only be explored in context. Spink puts forward a three‐dimensional theoretical framework for conceptualising and exploring interactive information retrieval. Vakkari tries to bridge the gap between research in information seeking and in information retrieval. Wilson presents preliminary findings from the “Uncertainty” Project, which aims to explore information behaviour based on a problem‐solving process model and the concept of reducing uncertainty.

Under Theoretical Perspectives, researchers report the use of models and theoretical frameworks from various fields. Audnunson asks whether institutional theory can contribute to our understanding of information seeking behaviour. ISB research tends to be based on individual seekers and means‐end thinking dominates. Some work has looked at how professional groupings institutional theory can contribute by looking also at organisations and systems; for example, studies have shown that in organisations information may be gathered beyond that needed to meet the technical requirements at hand or after decisions have been made. Ennis reports a very interesting study of Medline search behaviour among 17 medical students; Limberg analyses information use for assignments by 25 high school students. Solomon uses “information mosaics” to illustrate how context, tasks and individual preferences create patterns of information behaviour.

There is also a strong focus on methods and conceptual models in the Health Service sector. The papers here present results of studies with some practical implications for supporting information seeking by users of information, e.g. physicians, oncologists, nurses, medical students, when using patient records, in primary care, and in caring for the elderly. In the Everyday Life section studies are concerned with understanding the motivational influences that drive information seeking and barriers and problems experienced in seeking and gaining access to information. Papers cover citizen information needs, household use of ICT, pleasure‐reading as a source of information, and non‐work use of the Internet in Finland. Marcella and Baxter conclude that there is a tendency for individuals to perceive information seeking (about citizenship) as “good”, “positive” or “desirable” behaviour, reflecting well upon themselves as active people. There is an observable related tendency for individuals to increase their estimate of the frequency of their need for information in the future.

The papers on the Work Environment deal with a variety of contexts and issues, e.g. ISB among school governors and students, journalists, and senior executives (concluding that they are driven by three to six issues each day and think in terms of “issue management” rather than information management). The papers on Organization of Information in Context examine frameworks and approaches. The final section, Information Systems Perspective, focuses on research methodologies and includes papers on how social networks influence information management in the public sector, a re‐examination of user‐centred research, the case study approach and designing information systems using metaphors (“mechanisms”, “living systems”, “intelligent systems”).

A number of papers attempt to analyse the stages in the information seeking process and/or to identify the influences on the process, building up a very complex picture of ISB dependent on multiple influences as well as contexts.

As with the previous volume in this conference series, this book would have benefited from closer editorial control (there are an unnecessarily large number of typos and no control over the use of English vs US spellings), adding separators between the different sections, the provision of abstracts for the papers, the inclusion of short biographies of the contributors and an index.

Academics and researchers within the ISB field (and social scientists?) will find these papers fascinating and stimulating. There are interesting and valuable insights for managers and practitioners too, if they are willing to apply considerable effort to understanding the theoretical and methodological approaches.

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