bird of maps

competency J

describe the fundamental concepts of information-seeking behaviors


The process of searching for information is a highly dynamic and individual one. It is a problem-solving activity based on an informational need or curiosity, and infinite strategies and tools can be used. During the search process, the informational need can become more defined or refined based on the information that is encountered during the process. Generally, this cumulative feedback from consecutive searches will cause the searcher to move from broader to narrower queries until they have deemed their search complete.

After an articulation of the informational need has been made, most information seekers tend to follow a similar method of obtaining the information they are looking for. They will consult members of their communities: their colleagues and social networks - both on and offline. When consulting other informational resources, the path of least resistance will be taken. This is significant for information professionals involved in resource aggregation and design.

When using an informational resource or the non-social web to locate information, the information seeking process shifts from a social process to an highly individual one. The background, experience, and education of the information seeker all influence the approach they will take. Information is also always sought within some sort of context, which is often another factor in making the process such an individual one.

Searching for information is also a dynamic process, as seekers will respond to results from a query: an initial search will most likely lead to subsequent, more defined searches as the seeker becomes aware of the information they are encountering. Marchionini (1997) states that "information seeking is fundamentally an interactive process. It depends on initiatives on the part of the information seeker, feedback from the information environment, and decisions for subsequent initiatives based on this feedback." These steps will be characterized by the personal backgrounds and mental models of each seeker since subsequent search clarifications will be influenced by these traits and the context of the individual's informational need.

Individuals with similar backgrounds and informational needs will often have similar search skills and strategies. There is a wide body of research in information science dedicated to the needs and characteristics of specific user groups, which is valuable when considering which services to provide in an information organization. Yet each information seeker must still be regarded individually because, despite the technologies involved, the search process is still a human one that uses cognitive power, and thus there are inevitable differences among us.


The first piece of evidence I am submitting in order to prove my competency in describing information seeking behaviors is an essay from the final exam of my Information Retrieval course. In this essay, I describe the concepts of Marchionini's (1997) personal information infrastructures and Kuhlthau's (2004) professional zones of intervention. Personal information infrastructures refer to the skills and resources that an information seeker has, including mental models of information environments, which can become sharper with experience. Zones of intervention represent a scale of opportunities for an information professional to provide instruction and assistance to an information seeker. Understanding these two concepts helps us recognize information seeking behaviors and ways in which we can help seekers locate what they are looking for.

To illustrate my ability to provide services to a group of information seekers based on the context in which they will be seeking information, I am submitting a segment of a group project that is also from my Information Retrieval course. For this project, my group designed a searchable database using a controlled vocabulary that is catered to Library and Information Science students, and I am submitting the corresponding user guide. I was responsible for creating this guide, which includes examples relevant to the projected users and best practices for searching this particular database. The guide explains Boolean Logic and how to construct search terms to help information seekers create effective queries. While not necessarily considered to be part of the aforementioned "path of least resistance," this guide would theoretically inform the behaviors of information seekers since it explains useful search strategies.

Finally, to demonstrate my understanding of information seeking in a social information environment, I am submitting a blog post I wrote for Open Library about an upcoming Lists feature they will offer. Users of Open Library will be able to create, search, and browse lists of books, authors and subjects once this feature is released. The lists will also have searchable user-created tags working alongside the records of items within the list, allowing searchers to jump between records and "collections" with each click. In the blog post, I discuss how this can benefit information seekers because they will be able to search through information that has been grouped by a wide range of people with far-flung interests and areas of expertise, using so many parameters.


I have submitted evidence that demonstrates my competency in describing the concepts of information-seeking behaviors. I have also discussed how information professionals can use these concepts to provide better service to information seekers, as understanding the search process and the context of the information seeker can be valuable insight into what they want. Searching is a dynamic and individual process, but I plan to use my knowledge of this competency to participate in the creation of strong and effective information environments and while directly interacting with information seekers.


Kuhlthau, C. C. (2004). Seeking meaning: A process approach to library and information services. Westport: Libraries Unlimited.

Marchionini, G. (1997). Information seeking in electronic environments. New York: Cambridge University Press.