Wilson's Information-Seeking Behavior Models (1981, 1996, 1999)

Wilson's Information-Seeking Behavior Models (1981, 1996, 1999)

Devendra Potnis (University of Tennessee at Knoxville, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8156-9.ch006
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This chapter analyzes and compares the goals, key concepts, key features, strengths, and weaknesses of Wilson's information-seeking behavior models. Wilson's models grounded in multi-disciplinary research serve as milestones shaping the information behavior research. The models steered the direction of information behavior research from “system-centric” to “person-centric” inquiries by proposing information-seeking behavior as a new lens in combination with information use to study the dynamic process experienced by users for satisfying information needs. Wilson also introduced “observations to be the “root” method of data collection. The ability of Wilson's models to continue serving as frameworks for developing and testing new combinations of information behavior constructs and theories illustrate the rigor, relevance, and utility of the models in rapidly changing landscape of information environments. As researchers from diverse disciplines employ Wilson's models as a basis for solving the problems of information behavior experienced by well-defined groups from different parts of the world, the models are likely to evolve in the future.
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Human information behavior, also known as information behavior, can be defined as “the totality of human behavior in relation to sources and channels of information, including both active and passive information-seeking, and information use” (Wilson, 2000, p.49). Information behavior includes active searching of information through face-to-face communication and passive reception of information where information is received by the person without any intention to act on it. Information behavior is an umbrella term that covers human and technological factors and their interaction related to seeking, searching, storing, retrieving, processing, and using information. Information-seeking behavior with information searching as its subset is a major part of information behavior. Hence, it is a common practice to use the terms – “information behavior” and “information-seeking behavior” – interchangeably. Therefore, any model on information-seeking behavior should be seen as a part of information behavior (Wilson, 1996).

Research contributions from science, technology, and social sciences dating back as late as 1940s, have enriched the field of information behavior and helped it evolve significantly. In 1948 for the first time, public presentations on the information behavior of scientists and technologies were delivered at the Royal Society Scientific Information Conference (The Royal Society, 1948). In the early phase (1948 to 1965) of information behavior research, a number of document-centric studies explored the ability of documents including answer providing tools to satisfy information needs of library patrons. With the increasing use of tools and technologies for storing and retrieving documents in libraries, the information behavior research experienced the emergence of system-centric approach where manual and computer-based document management systems were of prime interest to library and information science (LIS) researchers.

Since the 1980s, information behavior research experienced a gradual shift from the system-centric to the person-centric approach which focused primarily on information needs. Wilson (1994) quotes several reviews to show that the beginning of a move towards more person-centered studies in information behavior was attributed to his 1981 article, together with independent work by Belkin and Dervin. The significance of information environment and information context, which included information-seeker’s characteristics and their role and features of the external environment, emerged with the development of person-centric research approach.

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