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portal: Libraries and the Academy 3.4 (2003) 687-688
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Looking for Information: A Survey of Research on Information Seeking, Needs, and Behavior, Donald O. Case. Amsterdam, NY: Academic Press, 2002. 350 p. $89.95 (ISBN 0-12-150381-X)
The extraordinary technological advances of the last twenty-five years in the field of information have given rise to a plethora of studies on information seeking and use. In Looking for Information, Donald Case, professor of library and information science at the University of Kentucky, provides a thorough, timely, and thoughtful review of this literature. The author rightly points out that prior to this book, there was no single current and comprehensive text that reflected the full breadth of research on information behavior. This work successfully fills that gap.
Case suggests that the literature on information seeking extends to over 10,000 documents from several distinct disciplines, but he concentrates on 700 works he considers of greatest importance. Most of these were published after 1980, with one-third published after 1990. Given the rise to dominance of the Internet and the World Wide Web, this is no surprise. Case persuasively agues that earlier studies are now mostly irrelevant.
The book is organized into five main sections: introduction and examples; concepts relevant to information behavior; models, paradigms, and theories in the study of information behavior; methods for studying information behavior; and research results and reflections. The author also highlights important aspects he believes have received too little attention in the literature: the connection between information and entertainment, passive and accidental information acquisition, and information avoidance.
Case moves quickly from the simple premise that "searching for information is an important part of being human, and it is something that we do on a regular basis" (p. 17) to the complexities of information seeking behavior. He notes the influence of "taste," personal contacts, and the roles of affluence and education in determining search strategies. He also suggests the challenges posed by time pressures, too much information, and the required degree of thoroughness, arguing that information seekers frequently take shortcuts to produce results that, while not optimal, may be satisfactory.
In Section 5, Case presents the historiography of the last quarter century of studies on information seeking. Most investigations focused on occupation, social role, or demographic group, with some including more than one category. Approximately [End Page 687] half of the studies reviewed are occupational; around one-third, social roles; and one-quarter, demographic. In recent years, researchers have paid more attention to contextual, situational, or role variables than demography. Surprisingly, gender has not been a primary focus of many studies, although it appears frequently in analyses of results.
The author provides some interesting conclusions. The way that we conceptualize and study information seeking has changed profoundly over the last quarter century, and more research on information behavior is being conducted than ever before. Research has moved away from institutional sources and searches toward a focus on how individuals encounter and make sense of their environment. Most significant has been the rise of the "sense-making" paradigm, which gives more attention to context and meaning. Investigators now are studying aspects of time, space, and situation that influence the ways people create, perceive, ignore, seek, and use information.
Case also suggests some surprising gaps in the literature. As yet, there is no widely accepted definition for the concept of information. Nor has a comprehensive theory of information behavior emerged. How information influences human behavior also remains controversial. And the old question of "who or what do people consult for information" (p. 279) continues to dominate the discussion of findings. The author also questions the applications of some of the new research: "Information behavior research has become more 'scholarly,' but perhaps also more pointless as well" (p. 287).
As befitting a work on this topic, Looking for Information is easy to navigate. Case provides a roadmap to the book (p. 14-16), helpful chapter summaries, thoughtful review questions, and useful annotated lists of recommended readings. Also included are an...