Competency J - Statement and Evidence

  Portfolio of Cathleen Elizabeth Ash

describe the fundamental concepts of information-seeking behaviors;

Cats are well known for their curiosity; they've even been given nine lives because of it. Humans, alas, have only one. This has not daunted their curiosity though, and it is this curiosity that drives a need for information. Whether it is simply a desire to know more about a particular topic, or an actual need for information to succeed or survive, most users approach information seeking in a similar manner.

A user comes to the task with some type of background information, a set of experiences or already understood concepts that have shown a gap in understanding, or a need for more information on a particular subject. In seeking to fill this gap, the user can apply a number of strategies. Some go immediately to the Internet, searching major search engines for a clear-cut answer to the question or need for information. Sometimes, this is even enough, and the user walks away with enough information to placate the need. Often, however, this is only the first step.

One of the largest problems a user faces when undertaking a search for information is in establishing a question, understanding clearly what it is they are seeking to know. Sometimes, a user is unclear about what they need to know - there is an intuitive feeling that something is missing, but there is also an inability to articulate what exactly it is they are seeking. This is where a reference librarian helps the most.

A reference interview can assist in establishing what information is needed to fill the knowledge gap the user is experiencing. The questions asked should be open-ended, and any definitive responses from the user should be quoted back to the user to clarify understanding on the part of the reference librarian. Once a clear picture of the needed information is understood, the librarian can assist the user by directing him or her to sources that cover the topic, and include some search strategies to enable the user to find the information on his or her own.

These search strategies come in a variety of forms, from keyword strategies (combinations, pluralism, boolean search methods, and limiters) to reading strategies (use of indexes and tables of content, skimming and scanning, and close-reading of pertinent text). Armed with a clear question, a user is more likely to find the specific information he or she needs.

As a high school librarian, I have prepared many tools and procedures to assist students in their information queries. These include database access steps (how to log on to the local library information services) and also tips on how to search databases, especially if you've tried a few times and become blocked. These "tips and tricks" are shared with all students of a particular grade (in 2006-2007 it was the Freshman and Senior classes) as they begin their year-long benchmark projects. These projects span a variety of information resources (from primary sources to print to non-print, even interviews) and require a lot of resources be quoted for the final papers.

Encouraging a user to try various methods is the best recipe for success in information-seeking. It is also important for the user to know that some steps will not work, and that it is okay to try and not succeed, as long as you are willing to try again. To that end, I've also included in my training a "research movie" that indicates various steps users can try, and where they may have problems. Armed with the knowledge that research is a process, and as such, it has corners that can be cut, or sections that can be done over and over again, users are more able to gain positive experiences from their information-seeking. In the end, it is all about whether or not they have filled the knowledge gap they had when they began. For us, the librarians, it's all about whether or not they now own the steps involved in the research process. Once users own the research process steps, they are more likely to not only try again when confronted with a knowledge gap, but they are alsomore likely to succeed in filling it.

List of Evidence for Competency J:
SRC & SRC Steps Two papers presenting users with steps to access databases and the information they contain.
Database Strategy A paper showing simple search strategies and how to change them when not succeeding with search queries.
Research Movie A movie depicting the research process and some steps an information-seeking user might take to find information. (Note: this movie is somewhat large, if it does not open, please download {save as...} and run on the desktop; you will need Adobe FlashPlayer to view)
Information Strategies An outline addressing pre- and post-class knowledge concerning information science services. Of note is section 5 dealing specifically with information theories.
Point & Shoot A paper detailing current theories on user-interface and information-seeking strategies.
Website Analysis A look at my home page for students with pros/cons.
Reference Observation A look at reference services via an individual experience.