Competency J

describe the fundamental concepts of information-seeking behaviors;

Information seeking is an activity all people participate in for both work, living and for curiosity. People search for information in a variety of ways from berry picking, as described by Marcia Bates to completely avoiding information as Mooers discovered. Between these two extremes lies the library patron looking for the information he or she needs. According to Donald Case in The Portable MLIS, there are three facets of information seeking: recognizing the need, the actual seeking, and the overall behavior, which is what this competency addresses. (Case, 2008, p. 36) It appears obvious when stated, but the need must be recognized before it can be followed up with seeking. The seeking itself can take many forms from asking an aunt for a particular recipe, to researching articles for a paper, to figuring out what is the safest car to purchase. The seeking process can be expressed in many different ways. The complete behavior includes all of these. Because of the depth of different studies and theories on information seeking, this piece will focus on a small portion of the theories.

Many models of information seeking behaviors have been documented and chronicled in the literature. In the berry picking midterm I chose for an artifact, I discuss the main point of discovering patterns in searching is to create a retrieval system that more closely mirrors how people actually search. The end result of a long search is relatively easy to measure but the long thought process that lead up to the final successful search is much more difficult to quantify and document. In this paper, the focus is Marcia Bates' theory about search as an iterative process. For example, a person starts with a vague information need, does some research and learning, all the while continuing to modify the search string and patterns. This pattern of building and modifying is called pearl building. In Bates' berry picking, the searcher gathers information from a variety of sources, much like picking berries. Some of the methods Bates cites as being used are footnote chasing, citation searching, journal running, physically scanning shelves, browsing classifications, and author searching. Each activity gathers a little bit of knowledge to inform the seeker better. These bits are gathered, processed, synthesized and put into the final searching product.

All of this activity happens at a level that would be extremely difficult to monitor and track, which is why information retrieval surveys look at the final few searches. However, it is crucial to create the ability to do berry picking in an information retrieval (IR) system to better mimic better the methods used by those searching. Bates wrote about berry picking and searching in 1989, so a lot of computer advances have occurred since. Hypertext and Internet access are technologies that can be used to facilitate the berry picking model. In the new online catalogs, the technology allows the seeker to jump from area to area as well as keeping a record. This record helps the user to more fully refine or retrace steps when she or he gets off the track.

For evidence supporting my understanding of information seeking behaviors, I am submitting several pieces. First, the article on Marcia Bates' berry picking is a thorough discussion of her theories and ideas of information seeking and how it informs the information retrieval process. Another term used for the searching and refining and searching again is pearl building. This is a way to make the seeking more accurate and focused on the information need. The other methods she mentions are used in searches that may or may not be true berry picking. A searcher could simply citation search, but it is likely those citations will further entice the seeker to other ones. This behavior is what Bates was getting at, the constant moving and consuming of information then circling back around from a new angle.

Three additional pieces of evidence are included from the other side of information seeking. Two papers are database reviews of my own and another classmate's. These reviews look at the information resource and evaluate it for use by end users. This is a way to look at information seeking from the other side of the fence; taking the current knowledge in information retrieval and attempting to make a system that will facilitate the usage. There is no point in creating a system that is unusable by the intended audience. While the knowledge of information behaviors is changing with the current research and knowledge growing, it is still a place to start the conversation. For example, since we know that users commonly using berry picking as a search strategy, we could make IR systems that accommodate that style. Or if the library has a lot of users doing citation searching, let us make that more functional for them. This section of the librarianship field is definitely evolving and growing, so the answer for today will not be the answer tomorrow. A watchful eye and interest in the growth would behoove the beginning librarian.

The final piece of evidence submitted is a back of the book index. This is a method of searching still used by book readers and a valid behavior. The project was completed for a vocabulary class and supports the concept of information seeking behaviors. The project was interesting and valuable because it forced me to read the chapter with a user in mind. I constantly questioned the words, subjects and categories I chose the best representation for what a user would search in an index. With the project, I also started using and reviewing more indexes to better understand how to create them. The index can be a useful tool or it can completely miss what the user needs. Referring to creating more robust and better built IR systems, the back of the book index can be a good method for pearl building or berry picking a way to a better search.

Information seeking behaviors are interesting study material but only to the point that knowing more helps the librarian build a better system, more tailored to the user. This particular field is certainly growing at a rapid pace but it is in the librarian's best interest to keep up with the changes and involved. Librarians will spend a lot of their professional time using information retrieval systems and helping patrons learn how to seek effectively. The librarian needs to be informed and interested in this aspect of the profession. With the changing landscape in libraries with more computer savvy patrons, a librarian will need to be up and informed in order to best serve. Otherwise, the patrons will only use Google and think they found all that exists.


Haycock, K. & Sheldon, B. E. (Eds.). (2008). The portable MLIS. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.


Evaluating Team 3's cat database

Review of Team 2 Database

Berry Picking model

A to Z book index