Information Need and the Beginning of Information Search

Information Need and the Beginning of Information Search

Charles Cole
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 12
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5888-2.ch405
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Information need has long been a primary sub-topic in the information science subject area of information seeking, needs and uses research, which includes user studies. The first studies of this type occurred in the 1940s; according to Wilson (1994; 2010), the first usage of “need” occurred in 1958 at the International Conference on Scientific Information (1959) under the subject term “Literature and Reference Needs of Scientists: Knowledge now available and methods of ascertaining requirements.” In the 1960s-70s (Menzel, 1966), there were annual chapters on information need in the Annual Review of Information Science and Technology (ARIST). The last two ARIST chapters were Dervin and Nilan (1986) and Hewins (1990). In the 1990s, information need was subsumed under the rubric, information seeking, with either a sociological emphasis (e.g., Allen, 1996), or a cognitive approach (e.g., Ingwersen & Jӓrvelin, 2005). Since 2000, information needs research has been subsumed under the rubric, human information behavior (since Wilson, 1999; see also, Case, 2012; Ellis, 2011; Fisher, Erdelez & McKechnie, 2005). Cole (2012) is a recent attempt to refocus information science research on information need.

The apogee of the need concept was Taylor’s (1968) four level model of information need, developed for question negotiating at the library reference desk. Users come to the reference desk with a real information need, which Taylor called Level Q1, but it is unconscious, visceral and unspecifiable even to the user herself. The exceptional idea that Taylor conceptualized in his information need model was that users articulated their need to an information system—the card catalogue/classification scheme or librarian— at Level Q4, which was a compromised form of their real information need. Taylor called Level Q4 the command level of the user’s information need, while Levels Q1-Q3 were the question levels. In Level Q4, the user commands or requests from the information system a specific item or a specific form of answer. “In response to his command,” writes Taylor (1968), “the inquirer is delivered, or he locates, a specific package.”

Key Terms in this Chapter

Information seeking: All purposeful information activity by the user.

Uncertainty: An operational definition of the gap in knowledge that is the start state for information search. There is a cognitive and an affective component to uncertainty.

Human Information Interaction: How humans interact with information.

Information Search: Purposeful and non-purposeful information interaction between a user and an information system.

Human Information Behavior: Purposeful and non-purposeful behavior activities or actions.

Information Need: The start state for information search, seeking and human information behavior. A gap in knowledge of the information user. See also: Uncertainty.

Information Use: From the user or cognitive perspective, information use is the modification of the user’s knowledge structure.

User: A technical term for the person with an information need who seeks or searches for information. See also Information Use.

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