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Information behavior theories

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Information behavior, or IB, is a sub-discipline within the field of library and information science Library science. It describes “how people need, seek, manage, give and use information in different contexts.”1 It may also be described as information-seeking behavior or human information behavior.”2 By the strict definition of the word theory, scholars of information behavior acknowledge that there is no single theory of information seeking per se.3 Information behavior approaches are typically regarded as models because they focus on specific problems.4


The concept of “information behavior” was coined in the late 1990s, but it traces its roots to the concept of “information needs and uses” that arose in the 1960s.5 There has been a gradual shift in the focus of information behavior research from a system orientation to a user orientation.6 Systems oriented studies focused on formal information systems, their artifacts (e.g., books, articles) and venues (e.g., libraries, schools, radio and television).7 In the 1970s, study began to shift toward its contemporary emphasis on the individual as information seeker and user. The role of context in information seeking is of particular interest in the emerging literature. Context in information behavior studies may be defined as “the particular combination of person and situation that serve[s] to frame an investigation” of information behavior.8 Three types of contexts that are commonly studied are occupation, social role, and demographic grouping.9


Information behavior[edit]

Information behavior (IB) encompasses intentional information seeking as well as unintentional information encounters.10

Information seeking[edit]

Information seeking is “a conscious effort to acquire information in response to a need or gap” in your knowledge.11

Information need[edit]

An information need is “a recognition that [one’s] knowledge is inadequate to satisfy a goal.”12

Selected models and concepts of information behavior[edit]

Robert S. Taylor[edit]

Robert Taylor’s work focuses on the kind of formal information seeking activity that occurs at a library reference desk. His model has been instrumental for the training of reference librarians. He identifies four levels of information seeking: (1) the identification of a visceral need, or “vague sort of dissatisfaction” that is unexpressed; (2) the formulation of a conscious need that is expressed as “an ambiguous and rambling statement” and which sometimes results in communicating the need to another person; (3) the construction of a formalized need, expressed as a “qualified and rational” statement of the need; and finally, (4) the establishment of a compromised need, which is a query that is expressed in terms that fit the organization of the information system (i.e., the library collection or database).13 14

Nicholas Belkin[edit]

Nicholas Belkin is the proponent of the Anomalous States of Knowledge (ASK) concept for explaining how information needs arise. An information need arises when a human individual encounters an ASK; an ASK is a situation where “the user realizes that there is an anomaly in [their] state of knowledge with respect to the problem faced.”15 The person may address the anomaly by seeking information. After obtaining information, the person will evaluate again whether the anomaly still exists. If it does, and the person is still motivated to resolve it, more information may be sought.16 according to Belkin every search Begin with a problem and a need to solve the problem, the gap between this is refers to information need, which lead to information seeking

Brenda Dervin[edit]

Brenda Dervin is prominent among proponents of models that focus on the cognitive dimensions of information behavior. Dervin’s sense-making metaphor describes humans as moving along through time and space until they reach a cognitive gap, where an information need is perceived. Such gaps must be bridged through the acquisition of new information before they can move forward again. The goal of a person’s information seeking endeavors is to make sense of a current situation.17

Carol Kuhlthau[edit]

Carol Kuhlthau’s research is based on the work of psychologist George Kelly. Kelly theorized that learning is a process of testing constructs. Kuhlthau built on Kelly’s theory to develop a model called the Information Search Process (ISP).18 Similar to Belkin and Dervin, Kuhlthau’s ISP model posits uncertainty reduction as the prime motivator for research, and like Taylor, Kuhlthau breaks the information seeking process into stages.19 However, Kuhlthau’s focal point is the emotional states that accompany the stages. Anxiety, for example, accompanies the recognition of uncertainty at the first stage, initiation. The next five stages and common affective states with which they are associated (listed in parens) are: (2) selection (optimism), (3) exploration (confusion/frustration/doubt), (4) formulation (clarity), (5) collection (confidence), and (6) presentation (relief/satisfaction or disappointment).20

T.D. Wilson[edit]

T.D. Wilson has put forth a series of models of information seeking (1981, 1996, 1997, and 1999). 21 The last of these, like Dervin’s sensemaking metaphor, emphasizes the complexities of context for information seeking.22 Wilson’s 1996 model explains three aspects of information seeking: (1) Why information seeking is more likely to occur in response to some needs more than others; (2) why some information sources get more use than others; (3) why people’s perceptions of their own efficacy influences their success in meeting an information goal.23 Following the precedent set in his 1981 paper24, where feedback is an essential part of the total information seeking process in Figure 1 of that paper, his 1999 model emphasizes “information process” and invokes a feedback loop wherein information seeking is thought of as iterative at various stages, rather than successive. 25


  1. Savolainen 2007:112.</ li>
  2. Ibid.</ li>
  3. Case 2007:148.</ li>
  4. Ibid., at 120.</ li>
  5. Case 2006:294.</ li>
  6. Case 2007:6.</ li>
  7. Ibid.</ li>
  8. Ibid., at 13.</ li>
  9. Ibid.</ li>
  10. Ibid, at 5.</ li>
  11. Ibid.</ li>
  12. Ibid.</ li>
  13. Ibid., at 76.</ li>
  1. Taylor 1968:182.</ li>
  2. Belkin 1980:135.</ li>
  3. Ibid., at 140.</ li>
  4. Dervin 1992:68-70</ li>
  5. Kuhlthau 1993:340.</ li>
  6. Case 2007:74.</ li>
  7. Kuhlthau 1991:367.</ li>
  8. Case 2007:123.</ li>
  9. Ibid., at 136.</ li>
  10. Ibid.</ li>
  11. Wilson 1981:2.</ li>
  12. Wilson 1999:267.</ li>


  • Belkin, Nicholas J. (1980). “Anomalous states of knowledge as a basis for information retrieval.” The Canadian Journal of Information Science.” 5, 133-43.
  • Case, Donald O. (2007). Looking for Information: A Survey of Research on Information Seeking, Needs, and Behavior (2nd ed.). Amsterdam: Elsevier. ISBN 0-12-369430-2.
  • Case, Donald O. (2006). “Information behavior”. Annual Review of Information Science and Technology 40 (1), 293-327.
  • Dervin, Brenda (1992) “From the mind’s eye of the user: The sense-making qualitative-quantitative methodology”. In Jack D. Glazier and Ronald R. Powell (Eds.). Qualitative Research in Information Management, 68-70. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited. ISBN 0-8728-7806-6.
  • Kuhlthau, Carol C. (1993). “A principle of uncertainty for information seeking”. Journal of Documentation 49 (4), 339-355.
  • Kuhlthau, Carol C. (1991). “Inside the search process: information seeking from the user’s perspective”. Journal of the American Society for Information Science 42 (5), 361-71.
  • Savolainen, Reijo (2007). “Information behavior and information practice: reviewing the ‘umbrella concepts’ of information-seeking studies”. The Library Quarterly 77 (2), 109-27.
  • Taylor, Robert S. (1968). “Question negotiation and information seeking in libraries”. Journal of College and Research Libraries 29 (3), 178-94.
  • Wilson, T.D. (1981). “On user studies and information needs”. Journal of Documentation 37 (1), 3-15.
  • Wilson, T.D. (1999). “Models in information behavior research”. Journal of Documentation 55 (3), 249-70.

Further reading[edit]

  • Choo, Chun Wei, Detlor, Bryan, and Turnbull, Don (2000). “Information seeking”. In Web Work: Information Seeking and Knowledge Work on the World Wide Web, 3-27. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers. ISBN 0-7923-6460-0.
  • Fisher, Karen, Erdelez, Sanda and McKechnie, Lynne E.F. (Eds.) (2005). Theories of Information Behavior. Medford, NJ: Information Today. ISBN 1-57387-230-X.
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See also the Wikipedia article on:
Brenda Dervin
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See also the Wikipedia article on:
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See also the Wikipedia article on:
Information Search Process
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George Kelly (psychologist)