Competency J

Describe the fundamental concepts of information-seeking behaviors


In order to provide the best possible service to information seekers, understanding their processes and intentions is vital. A foundational understanding of information seeking behaviors will, then, provide information professionals with crucial tools to effectively assist information seekers in finding relevant information. As new ways of seeking and accessing information become available, information seeking behaviors may evolve. The basics of these behaviors, however, will generally stay the same.

One theory which applies beyond information seeking behavior but certainly is relevant within the topic is that of the Principle of Least Effort. This theory can help explain why information seekers sometimes or even often end up with incorrect, outdated, or otherwise potentially useless information. “A searcher will often use the first piece of information that sounds likely or easy to find, based on the principle of least effort,” write Mawby, Foster, and Ellis (2015, p. 476). Here, a solid background in information literacy can help combat the access of poor information.

Carol Kuhlthau holds one of the leading theories in the discussion of information seeking behavior. Cassell and Hiremath (2013, p. 350) summarize her theory in the following sequence of events, in which “they” are the information seeker(s): “…from the time they become aware of needing information, to their selection of a topic, their exploration of the topic and its various facets, their formulation of a more focused topic based on their exploration, their actual collection of information for their project, and finally their presentation of the results of their findings [constitutes the information seeking behavior model].”

Bates’ (1989) berrypicking model, while applicable to various forms of research, is best applied to online research. His theory of information seekers selecting bits of information through varying methods of search as well as several resources has certainly increased in incidence since Bates first developed the theory. Today, with the internet as a commonplace thing in a typical American’s life, berrypicking occurs on a regular basis as individuals look up everything from films an actor has appeared in to complex concepts in the study of physics.

Another theory which has become more relevant with the emergence of communication and social media technologies especially is Erdelez’s (1999) theory of information encountering. Erdelez describes information encountering as, “a memorable experience of an unexpected discovery of useful or interesting information.” Facebook is an ideal example of this theory in action. While many users certainly do not access Facebook to find out how to create a personal lap desk, nearly five million people (as of April 10, 2016) have encountered a video on their Facebook feed from a page called Nifty which details how to do just that. Having encountered this information, the user may choose to store this information by bookmarking the page or otherwise saving the content for later use. Facebook, of course, is not the sole example of this theory in action, but is likely one of the most frequently occurring instances.


LIBR 200 Sources Survey

In a review of resources for consumers of young adult literature, the sources survey evaluates a variety of these sources from the following perspectives: scope and content, credentials and authority, purpose and intended audience, design and currency, biases, and value. A brief discussion considers which of the materials are potentially the most valuable to information seekers within the community of young adult literature readers, whether those are young adults or adults. As this assignment addresses information resources from both the perspective of an information professional and an information seeker, it fulfills the description as presented in Competency J.

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LIBR 200 Research Paper

Describing the information community of young adult readers in a public library, this research paper utilizes previous studies to understand the information needs and seeking behaviors of this population. Additionally, I administered a brief survey to further inform my findings. As is often the case, the conclusion of this research is ultimately about the individual experience that is unique to not only a specific community, but a specific reader. The information needs and seeking behaviors differs by individual and, while information professionals can use theories to help inform their work, they cannot expect those theories to perfectly fit every time. As a detailed look at a particular information seeking community and their behaviors, this assignment therefore fulfills Competency J.

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These few theories are just an introduction to some of the many regarding information seeking behavior. Additionally, as with many theories, as the landscape for accessing information changes, so do will theories change, evolve, and develop to reflect that landscape and how humans interact with the information. Indeed, theories heavily rooted in technology, such as Bates’ berrypicking model, are far less likely to have developed without the emergence of online technology. When society inevitably creates further information technologies, information scientists will no doubt transform old theories to fit and conceive of new theories entirely. With regular engagement with theories new and old, information professionals can be well-prepared to assist information seekers of all kinds.


Bates, M. J. (1989). The design of browsing and berrypicking techniques for the online search interface. Online Review, 13(5), 407-424.

Cassell, K. A. & Hiremath, U. (2013). Reference and information services: An introduction. Chicago, IL: Neal-Schuman.

Erdelez, S. (1999). Information encountering: It’s more than just bumping into information. Bulletin of the American Society for Information Science & Technology, 25(3), 25-30.

Mawby, J., Foster, A., & Ellis, D. (2015). Everyday life information seeking behavior in relation to the environment: Disposable information? Library Review, 64(6/7), 468-479.

Nifty. (n.d.) In Facebook [Fan page]. Retrieved April 10, 2016, from