Information Needs

Information Needs

The study of information needs and gathering behavior dates back to 1948 when Bernal and others presented a paper on scientific information at the 1948 Royal Society conference (Bernal, 1960). During the past 30 years or so, a considerable body of literature has been produced dealing with information needs and information-seeking behavior of both individuals and groups in a variety of contexts (Anwar, Al-Ansari, and Abdullah, 2004). It is estimated that the number of publications on information-seeking behavior were more than ten thousand in the 1990s alone (Case, 2002). Many studies have been conducted to investigate the information-seeking behavior of library users based on their subject interest, occupation, information environment, and geographical location. Information needs and information-seeking behavior of academics have also been a popular area of research for the information scientists for decades (Majid and Kassim, 2000). Many authors have pointed out that the studies on information-seeking behavior and the needs of social scientists are fewer than those involving the natural sciences, and the studies of humanists’ information needs are fewer still. (Line, 1969; Hopkins,1989; Blazek, 1994; Challener, 1999).

Information needs, seeking and use are areas of fundamental concern to LIS professionals. During the past 30 years or so, a considerable body of literature has been produced dealing with the information needs and seeking behavior of both individuals and groups in a variety of contexts. “It is understood that information needs arise when an individual finds himself in a problem situation when he or she no longer can manage with the knowledge that he or she possesses” (Talja 1992,). It is the information need that triggers information seeking which is caused by “uncertainty due to a lack of understanding, gaping meaning, or a limited construct” (Kuhlthau1993,). We, as individuals and groups, “repeatedly find ourselves in situations where information is needed, gathered, sought, organized, retrieved, processed, evaluated, and used” (Solomon1996,). Earlier studies have found that information seekers use a variety of formal and informal sources with varying emphasis from one discipline to another.

Kennedy (1997) wrote that the concept of information needs is similar to the need for love and the physiological need for food and water. He added, information seeking thus, is dependent upon the problem situation from which they need for information arises. In this view, information need is a situation or task which depends on many factors and changes as the person goes from one stage of task to the next (Kennedy, 1997). Information needs are often understood as evolving from a vague awareness of something used and as culminating in locating the information that contributes to understanding and meaning (Kuhlthau, 1993). Thus, it is seen that there is a need to understand the user’s requirements because the root of any information seeking is believed to be the concept of information needs, which fall into various categories: the need for new information; need to expand or Clarify the information obtained; and need to confirm or validate the information known (Allen, 1996, p. 103) Leug (2002) further, added, that the goal of user’s information seeking activities is to find information that satisfies his or her information needs.

This is understood in information science as stemming from a vague awareness of something missing and as culminating in locating the information that contributes to understanding and meaning (Kuhlthau,1993). It is an anomalous state of knowledge (Belkin, Brooks and Oddy, 1982), or a gap in an individual’s knowledge in sense-making situations (Dervin and Nilan, 1986). For a person to experience an information need, there must be a motive behind it (Wilson, 1997). According to Girja Kumar, the information need may be expressed as the input-process-output model. The basic components of the system are: a) Problem, b) Problem-solving process, and c) Solution.

The problem is analyzed to determine information needs. It is indicative of the uncertainty in knowledge. Solution results in resolving the situation by filling the gap in the knowledge. The model set-forth by him can be illustrated as below:

  Figure: Identification of Information Needs

Information needs can be divided into the following categories:

a. Social or Pragmatic Information Needs: Information required coping with day to day life.

b. Recreation Information Needs: Information satisfying the recreational and cultural interests of an individual.

c. Professional Information Needs: Information required to operate competently within a business or professional environment.

d. Educational Information Needs: Information required to satisfying academic requirements at an institution.

An information need may refer to the:

– need to be expressed by the user; or

– need that a user cannot express; or

– present or immediate need; or

– Future or deferred or potential need.

Further, Childers (1975) has categorized need as ‘kinetic’ and ‘potential’. The kinetic needs are directed towards satisfying a special problem, diagnosed and immediate. Potential needs remain unconscious, hidden under layers of attitude, impulses, and values. Information needs, as Paisley (1978) observed, are affected by a variety of factors, which are as under:

a. The range of information services available.

b. The uses to which information will be put to use.

c. The background, motivation, and professional orientation, and other individual characteristics of the user.

d. The social, political and economic systems surrounding the user.

e. The consequences of information use.

According to him, information need is not a psychological state of mind rather it is an objective need-oriented towards particular tasks, problems, etc.


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