Information needs and information-seeking behavior: a survey of college faculty at Bahawalpur.

Author:Khan, Shakeel A.


We are living in the information age. The term "Information Age" has been used to represent the impacts of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) on every aspect of life. Baby, et al (2000) has mentioned that twentieth century witnessed an "information explosion" owing to the exponential growth of printed material every minute at the global level. The growth rate of publication is greater in science and technology than that of social sciences. The term Information explosion describes the rapidly increasing amount of published information and the effects of this abundance of data. As the amount of available data grows, the problem of managing the information becomes more difficult, which can lead to information overload. Information overload refers to the state of having too much information to make a decision or remain informed about a topic (Wikipedia, 2009). This information explosion and information overload gave the birth to the concept of studying the information needs and seeking behaviors of different groups of users. Information need is an individual or group's desire to locate and obtain information to satisfy a conscious or unconscious need (Wikipedia, 2007). As Sharma (1992) and Vickery (n.d.) has stated that understanding the user is the half battle in providing information-services. The key operation is to select from the store the information needed by a particular user at a particular time.

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. There has been a gradual shift in the focus of information behavior research from a system orientation to a user orientation (LISWiki, 2007). At the end of 1970's and in the beginning of 1980's researchers began to realize that questions in information needs, seeking and use couldn't been seen only from the systems point of view. The user of the information and his/her needs came into focus and research in cognitive science was applied in the studies. The new view was called the new paradigm or the cognitive view (Dervin, 1986). The origins of human information seeking behavior are found in the work on the users of libraries and in readership studies in general. The post-war increase in the amount of scientific literature which was either newly published or recently released from war-time restrictions led, in 1948, to the Royal Society Scientific Information Conference, which marks the beginning of the modern study of human information seeking behavior. However, the subject goes rather further back in time (Wilson, 2000).

With the advent of information need and seeking behavior research different models were proposed for identifying different steps involved in this process. For example, Kuhlthau (1991) studied as how students searched for information as part of their writing process. She proposed a model that was consisted on seven stages. The stages of Kuhlthau's model are: a) Initiation b) Selection c) Exploration d) Formulation e) Collection f) Presentation.

Jarvelin and Wilson (2003) reviewed different models for information behavior (Wilson 1981), and information seeking behavior (Wilson 1981; Dervin, 1986; Ellis, 1989; Kuhlthau, 1991). They discussed the functions of conceptual models in scientific research in IS & R research and concluded that some models are of summary type and others more analytic. Such models serve different research purposes.

Most of the earlier studies of information needs were based on indirect methods, like citation counting of recent documents, library issue records, reference records, etc. It is true that such studies can bring out some aspects of the use of literature. The Royal Society's Conference held in London in 1948 helped much to focus documentalists' concern and interest in this area. Before the Washington Conference there appeared, in 1956, one of the most important studies entitled Pilot study on the use of scientific literature by scientists conducted by Ralph R. Shaw. This study and a few others brought an element of pessimism into such studies. They were compared with public opinion polls conducted for the improvement of consumer services and it was held that in library and information services, which were essentially technical services, there was hardly any scope for such surveys (Dawra, 2003, pp. 182-183). One of the pioneer studies was conducted on teaching of psychology in teacher-training institutions of the South by Dunkle and Peterson (1926) with the help of questionnaire.

Watson, Blakeley, and Abbott (1998) carried out a study on the use of communication technologies in teacher education. Findings showed that teacher educators, whether in universities or schools appeared to have limited understanding and experience of ICT, with a complex set of perceptions that might be at odds with reality. The staff of university computer networks failed to understand users' needs of distributed and distance networks. Shokeen and Kushik (2002) studied information seeking behavior of social scientists working in the universities located in Haryana. They reported most of the social scientists visit the library daily. The first preferred method of searching the required information by the social scientists followed by searching through indexing and abstracting periodicals, and citations in articles respectively. The social scientists use current journals followed by books. Cothey (2002) examined the information seeking behavior of 206 college students using the World Wide Web during a 10-month period. The study was intended to suggest how the general population uses the web. It was concluded that Web users have become more passive and more eclectic as they become more experienced using the Web. It was also discovered that they use less querying techniques; however their Web usage was more sporadic, which might suggest greater selectivity.

Suriya, Sangeetha and Nambi (2004) carried out a research on information seeking behavior of faculty members from Government Arts Colleges in Cuddalore District. The purpose of their study was to investigate, how faculty members seek information from the library. It was concluded that most of the respondents 61 (38.12 percent) used to visit the library several times a week to meet their information needs. Regarding the type of search made by the respondents, majority of the respondents (57%) made their search by subject. Similarly Lewin and Stokes (2004) explored the information-seeking behavior of a group of lecturers, based on one site, delivering a nursing and midwifery curriculum in the School of Health Studies of a higher education institution. Findings showed that in order to access information, lecturers were most likely to access the institutional libraries, the Internet, advice from colleagues and their personal collections. Refereed journals were the top-ranked information resources with professional studies and research cited as the most sought after topics. Lecturers mentioned the role of library staff as integral to the information-seeking process.

A detailed review of the literature presented in the above section reveals that a large number of research studies are carried out to find out the information needs and seeking behavior of different groups of people, while very few studies are found on Pakistan. Anwar (2007) has critically analyzed the beginning of research activity on information needs and presented an analysis of the literature on...

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