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Human Information Behavior

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Behavior vis-a-vis information as it bears on problems in library and information services and forms a theoretical and professional base for such services. Diverse contexts of information behavior; processes of information seeking, searching, using, and valuing. Assessment of studies of human information behavior in terms of relevance to library and information services.


Course Objectives

The course will present and integrate the following:

  • Orientation to human information behavior, library and information science and the relationship between the two
  • Instruction, practice and reflection on reading about, discussing and writing about information behavior.
  • Recognition of the differences between professional and scholarly literature. 
  • Developing increasing awareness for information behavior in all aspects of life.
  • Introduction to techniques for recording, analyzing and conceptualizing information behavior in professional settings.
  • Survey of specific research findings about information behavior in a variety of different contexts.
  • Introduction to specialized practices to facilitate the pursuit of a variety of information behaviors as an information professional.
  • Approach issues from an interdisciplinary perspective

Organization of the Course

In this course, students learn, read original research, discuss and write about the practice, study and theory of human information behavior. Human information behavior is the study of the interactions between people, the various forms of data, information, knowledge and wisdom that fall under the rubric of "information" and the situations (contexts) in which they interact. This course provides students an introduction to the human aspects of the world of library and information services, feedback on how to interact with the literature in our field, a greater awareness of the human information behavior around us and an opportunity to work with peers to analyze and present additional relevant research.

Major Assignments

The instructor assesses student performance through assignments that enable students to engage in the course in a scholarly way, to demonstrate understanding of key ideas and their interrelationships, and to actively participate in the learning process. In order for this form of instruction to be successful, all students must complete the assigned readings and prepare questions and notes before each class meeting.

1) Weekly writing:

Critical summaries:  Show your understanding of what you are reading for class and learn APA writing style.  Put these in the DROP BOX and I will return them there as well.  These summaries must be BRIEF (no more than one page, double spaced) and include:

  1. One paragraph summary of the readings "what's the article about"
  2. One paragraph critical response from YOUR point of view.  Use your experiences, observations and knowledge to support your response.


  • These summaries must be written in APA style
  • Include formal references and citations
  • You will receive numerical grades for these summaries
  • If you receive a 100% you do NOT need to write any more.

Here are some general guidelines:

  • Be clear about what readings you are discussing. 
  • Make connections between readings and your own observations and experiences
  • How do you think what you are reading affects, or could potentially affect your work as a practitioner.  Does it change your perceptions of the information profession as you initially envisioned it?
  • Feel free to critique (after you identify!) the authors? assumptions and ask questions that you think will clarify your understanding of the works

Late paper policy: For every week the summaries are late, 5 points will be deducted from the actual grade of the assignment. Reasonable excuses will be considered.

Journal writing: This is a place where you can complain, talk, think, go off on tangents and share whatever ideas you like with me.  You can find this space in the "Dropbox" section in ecollege. Just select the "Journal" function, date it and select "share with instructor." You are NOT graded on this section although if you do not post journal entries points will be taken off from you grade for this section of the course. Typically students have one journal entry per week and they usually label them by week. This space is used for a lot of purposes ranging from "blogging" to talking with the me to telling stories whatever you like. You will NOT be graded on this so format is not important. Journals are not shared with the rest of the class.  I will respond to each journal entry.

2) Group Presentations: 30 % of grade

Allows students to work in groups to develop, organize and present additional refereed and professional publications on the week's topic. During the second and third class meetings, small groups with other class members will be formed and one of the listed topics will be assigned to your group. On the week assigned, the presenting group will hand in the following (One copy for me, and one for members of the class):

  • Brief outline (1-page) of the entire presentation
  • A list of references to the literature that the group used for the presentation and any additional literature that may have been consulted but not included (please list the latter separately).
  • Names of each group member

Presentations should last no more than 30 minutes (a grade will be taken off for going over-time), be lively and include some interaction with the audience. Groups can initiate discussions, present panels, conduct skits or lead class exercises. Presentations may include visual aids (posters, overhead transparencies, graphics, electronic presentations) to display citations, brief outlines, figures or charts. 

Other issues to consider:

  1. What did the members of the group learn about the topic from looking at this additional literature?
  2. How does the topic relate to your current understanding of information seeking (this doesn't have to be an academic response, common sense and experience is acceptable).
  3. Do you see problems with the topic?  Again, use common sense and reasoning.
  4. Try to make a good cohesive argument.

3) Final project (term paper):  40% of grade

Students will select an identifiable group, apply models, principles and concepts from the course, analyze their information behavior and draw conclusions for professional practice. Choose a group for which a body of published research is available. There is no restriction about two students who wish to pursue a similar topic but they must work independently. Students have written on the following groups: elders/seniors, doctors, high school students, genealogists, and journalists. Others have written on more obscure groups such as caregivers (of stroke victims, cancer patients, etc); ethnic communities information behavior issues; journalists; parents of college bound students and even punk rockers! 

Depending on your topic, you may need to search for articles in refereed research journals in from other disciplines. We will discuss this in greater detail as the semester goes on and we address research skills within the context of this class.

This project will be broken down into very specific steps and you will be forced (yes, forced) to write this paper over a long period of time!!!!  Last minute term papers do not work.

I will break down the steps so that you learn how to construct bibliographies; write critically and summarize properly; and cite correctly and, in general, synthesize a whole lot of information.

Please note that the research process for any term paper, particularly this one can be laden with frustration and annoying experiences (and this is why we have the journal - so that you can vent there).  Just understand that you are not alone and that it is normal to experience roadblocks and frustrations at all points of the research process.  Basically the grading will be broken down to:

  1. 5% bibliography - correct APA style
  2. 5% concise critical discussion of citations
  3. 20% ability to pull information together; synthesize and critically analyze literature.
  4. 10% ability to make some kind of conclusion (original!) based on your review of the literature

This paper is due the second to the last class (Week 14)

User group paper presentation: Each student will give a very brief (time limit will be set based on number of students) individual presentation highlighting 3 points from their user group paper. You may use one transparency or one screen shot maximum.  Five minutes of questions will be allowed.

These informal discussion will occur on the 14th and 15th meeting sessions.



The course materials for weekly readings will be available via ecompanion under the "doc sharing" tab.

Citation format should follow APA Style (5th Edition). A variety of online style manuals are available through the Rutgers Library Web Site including for citing electronic sources.

Students are also expected to do research beyond the syllabus for the group assignments and final papers

Highly recommended:

Fisher, K.E., Erdelez, S., & McKenchnie, L. (2005).  Theories of information behavior.  Medford, NJ: Information, Today.

This is a new book that just came out that supplements many of the theories and perspectives found in the information seeking behavior literature. I will be assigning supplementary readings from this text as "recommended" throughout the semester. The reason they are recommended and not required is because they talk about the particular subject matter in a general sort of way in a vocabulary that is occasionally more explanatory in nature than the reading assigned for the week. If you don't read the supplementary readings you will not miss anything from the requirements of the course.  However, I feel that the supplementary readings will actually enhance your understanding of those requirements. I think that this book will actually be quite useful in the first section of the course where it tends to get a bit theoretical.

Weekly schedule of readings

Week 1:  Introduction to the course 

1.1 Wilson, P. (1983). Second hand knowledge; Cognitive authority. In P. Wilson,  Second-hand knowledge: An inquiry into cognitive authority (p.vii-viii, 13-37, 107-112, 120) Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. 

1.2 Meltzoff, J. (1998). Critical Reading (Chapter 1)  In J. Meltzoff Critical thinking about Research p. 3-12. Washington, D.C.:  American Psychological Association

Week 2: Perspectives on information behavior 

2.1 Wilson, T. (1994). Information needs and uses: Fifty years of progress? In B.C. Vikery (Ed.), Fifty years of information progress: a Journal of Documentation review (pp. 15-51). London: ASLIB.

2.2 Julien, H. & Duggan, L. (2000). A Longitudinal analysis of the information needs and uses literature. Library and Information Science Research, 22, 291-309.

2.3  Pettigrew, K. E., Fidel, R. & Bruce, H. (2002). Conceptual models in information behaviour research. In M. Williams (Ed.), Annual Review of Information Science and Technology  (Vol. 55, pp. 249-270). Medford, NJ: Information Today.

Week 3: Analyzing information behavior: Working from practice to theory and from theory to practice 

3.1 Taylor, R. S. (1968). Question negotiation and information seeking in libraries. College & Research Libraries, 28, 178-194.

3.2 Belkin, N.J, Oddy, R.N., Brooks, H.M.   (1982). ASK for information retrieval:  Background and theory. Journal of Documentation, 38:2, 61-71.

3.3 Belkin, N.J, Oddy, R.N., Brooks, H.M.   (1982). ASK for information retrieval Part II:  Results of a Design Study. Journal of Documentation, 38:3, 145-164.

Week 4: Metaphors from understanding information behavior: "Sense-making" and "Berry-picking"

4.1 Dervin, B.  (1992).  From the mind's eye of the user:  The sense-making qualitative-quantitative methodology.  In  Glazier, J.D. & Powell, RR.  Qualitative research in information management  (pp. 61-84).  Englewood, CO:  Libraries Unlimited.

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

NOTE:  The following Dervin reading is a supplement to article 4.1.  Do not write a critical review of this report.

4.3 Dervin, B., Clark, C. (1987).  ASQ:  Alternative tools for information need and accountability assessments by libraries; Published by Peninsula Library Systems for the California State Library

Week 5:  Testing theories in research and practice: The information seeking process and user-centered information services

5.1 Kuhlthau, C.C. (1991). Inside the search process: Information seeking from the user's perspective. Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 42, 361-371.

5.2 Tuominen, D. & Savolainen, R. (1999). A social constructionist approach to the study of information use as discursive action. In P. Vakkari, R. Savolainen, & B. Dervin (Eds.), Information seeking in context (pp. 81-96). London: Taylor-Graham.

5.3 Talja, S. (1997). Constituting 'information' and 'user' as research objects: A theory of knowledge formations as an alternative to the 'information man' theory. In P. Vakkari, R. Savolainen, & B. Dervin (Eds.), Information seeking in context (pp. 67-80). London: Taylor-Graham.

Week 6: Introduction to research on information seeking in context

6.1 Meltzoff, J. (1998). Critical thinking about Research. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. pp. 13-48.

6.2 Cool, C. (2001). The concept of situation in information science. In M. Williams (Ed.), Annual Review of Information Science and Technology (ARIST) (Vol. 35, pp. 5-42). Medford, NJ: Information Today.

6.3 Dervin, B. (1977). Given a context by any other name: Methodological tools for taming the unruly beast. In P. Vakkari, R. Savolainen, and B. Dervin (Eds.), Information seeking in context (pp. 13-38). London: Taylor-Graham

NOTE:  We will discuss Talja et al (1999) in class, but you are not required to write separately about this article:

6.4 Talja, S., Keso, H. & Peitilainen, T. (1999). The production of 'context' in information seeking research: A metatheoretical view. Information Processing & Management, 35, 751-763.

Week 7: Information behavior in personal and social contexts

7.1 Harris, R.M. & Dewdney, P. (1994). Barriers to information. How formal help systems fail battered women. Westport, CN: Greenwood. Chapters 4 & 8: pp. 47-60, 121-140

7.2 Chatman, E. A. (1991). A Theory of Life in the Round. Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 50, 207-217.

Week 8: Information behavior in educational institutions

8.1 Brown, J. S., Collins, A. & Duguid, P. (1989, Jan/Feb). Situated Cognition and the Culture of Learning. Educational Researcher, 32-42.

8.2 Covi, L. M. (1999). Material mastery: Situating digital library use in university research practices. Information Processing & Management, 35, 293-316.

Week 9: Information behavior in organizations and working environments

9.1 Kuhlthau, C. C. (1999). The role of experience in the information search process of an early career information worker: Perceptions of uncertainty, complexity, construction, and sources. Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 50, 399-412.

9.2 Davenport, T. H. (1997). Knowledge Management at Ernst & Young. Retrieved 5 May 2002 from

Week 10: Medical and health information behavior

10.1 Pettigrew, K. E. (1999). Waiting for chiropody: contextual results from an ethnographic study of the information behaviour among attendees at community clinics. Information Processing and Management, 35, 801-817.

10.2 Todd, R. J. (1999). Utilization of heroin information by adolescent girls in Australia: A cognitive analysis. Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 50, 10-23.

Week 11: Legal and governments information behavior

11.1 Kuhlthau, C. C. & Tama, S. L. (2001). Information search process of lawyers: A call for 'just for me' information services. Journal of Documentation, 57, 1, 25-43. [Available via RUL through IRIS]

11.2 Dilevko, J. (2000). "My mother can't quite understand why I decided to go to library school:" What patrons say about library staff when asking government documents reference questions at depository libraries. Journal of Government Information, 27, 299-323.

Week 12: Arts & letters (humanities) information behavior

12.1 de Tiratel, S. R. (2000). Accessing information use by humanists and social scientists: A study at the Universidad de Buenos Aires, Argentina. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 26, 346-354.

12.2 Case, D. O. (1990). Conceptual organization and retrieval of text by historians: The role of memory and metaphor. Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 42, 672-689.

Week 13: Science & technology information behavior

13.1 Anderson, C., Glassman, M., McAfee, R., & Pinelli, T. (2001). An investigation of factors affecting how engineers and scientists seek information. Journal of Engineering and Technology Management, 18, 131-155.

13.2 Brown, C.M. (1999). Information seeking behavior of scientists in the electronic information age: Astronomers, chemists, mathematicians, and physicists. Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 50, 929-943.

Week 14:  Hand in Final paper

Begin presentation and discussion of final projects

Week 15: Final papers and grades will be distributed

Completion of presentations and discussion of final projects

15.1 Sawyer, S. & Rosenbaum, H. (2000). Social Informatics in the Information Sciences: Current Activities and Emerging Directions. Informing Science, 3, 89-96.