The Changing Nature of Information Behaviour

The Changing Nature of Information Behaviour

Jennifer Rowley (Manchester Metropolitan University, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5888-2.ch389
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Searching for information is and has always been an inherent part of human behaviour. However, over the last fifty years searching for information, or information behaviour has been revolutionised through succeeding generations of digital technologies, and is likely to continue to evolve for the foreseeable future. Information users have always searched for information about people, companies, subjects, products, and documents in their various roles of user, consumer, learner, teacher, worker and leisure-seeker, however search has undergone and continues to undergo major transformations. The wealth of information available on the web ranging from the latest research, through health advice, to product reviews, means that the information content of the web can touch every aspect of people’s lives. However, in order to make full use of this information, people need to be able to locate the information that they require to support the various activities in which they engage. In response to this inherent demand for search tools, search technologies have been continuously enhanced, so that they are more flexible, easier-to-use, and, with their implementation in smart phones and other mobile devices, are always to hand. Some describe this as the digital age and people as digital consumers. This article argues that it is more apt to think in terms of the ‘search age’ and ‘search-led consumers’, and acknowledges that we are on the brink of a future in which search is a seamless part of everyday living, which with the advent of the latest mobile technologies can be performed anyplace anytime. In addition, social media, and most importantly its access through mobile devices, is placing increasing emphasis on the social and collaborative aspects of information behaviour. These changes need to be factored into models and theories regarding information and search behaviour.

The objectives of this article are then to:

  • Review established theories on information searching and seeking behaviour

  • Explore the following facets of emerging information behaviour:

    • o

      The centrality of relevance, convenience, and trust.

    • o

      The impact of mobile, and social media technologies on information behaviour

  • Offer recommendations for further research.



Information science has a longstanding interest in information behaviour in general, and more specifically, information seeking and search behaviour. Many of the earlier models were developed in the context of searching in libraries, for both print and online information resources and documents, and often focus on search behaviours in contexts relating to learning or research. However, over the past fifty years there has been a revolution in which first search tools, and then increasingly documents, have become digital. Digital search tools, or search engines, use the natural language of documents, and web pages and any associated author-created metadata to assign search keys or metadata to documents. Key early contributions are the behavioural model of information searching strategies (Ellis, 1989), Information Search Process (Kuhlthau, 1991) and the problem–solving model (Wilson, 1997). Kuhlthau’s (1991) model, for example, identified six information-seeking stages: initiation, selection, exploration, formulation, collection, and presentation. These models are grounded on the underlying assumption that information seeking is a process in which information needs are pursued, or in which problem-solving takes place. Two more recent models that place emphasis on the iterative nature of the process, and go some way towards reflecting the complexity of the process in web environments, are those of Hope (2007) and Foster (2004). The central research objectives for this discipline are to: understand information behaviour (for its own sake); enhance the design of information retrieval and search systems; and, discover best practice to inform the training of information users and information professionals. Key themes are: information needs, search processes, search tasks, and information literacy and expertise.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Relevance: A judgment made by a user as to the match between information or a document and their information need. Information may have differing levels of relevance.

Trustworthiness: A perception held by a user as to whether they can rely on, say the information in a digital document, and may be associated with credibility, reputation, and authority.

Browsing: A process, which people conduct when they are unsure as to the information that might be useful to them and/or where suitable information might be found.

Information seeking: A process, which people undertake to collect information that will assist them to make sense of the world, or to solve specific problems; it may be purposive or incidental.

Information Searching: A process, which people undertake to locate or retrieve specific information to meet an information need, typically, but not always with the aid of a search engine or other information retrieval system.

Everyday Life Information Seeking: Information seeking undertaken to support everyday life in areas such as consumption, health, education, employment, transportation, recreation, and financial and legal matters.

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