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  • Print publication year: 2012
  • Online publication date: June 2018

9 - Information behaviour


One thing we know now … is that underlying human propensities with regard to information emerge again and again, as each new technology becomes familiar and its use second nature.

Marcia Bates (2010, 2385)

All people are individuals and will seek and use information in different ways … [information gathering] is an integral part of our personalities, and we all do it differently. There is no such thing as a homogenous body of information users.

Maurice Line (1998, 223)


Information behaviour, the ways in which it is studied, and the significance for practice of the results of such studies, are central topics within information science. Without reliable knowledge of the way in which people find and use information, provision of effective services can be based only on guesswork and prejudice.

This has been a very popular area of information research, and one of the richest for the creation of models and frameworks to explain the complex data produced.

As Case (2006, 295) writes, the information behaviour literature presents a ‘bewildering array of topics, populations, samples, sites, theories and methods. Readers wishing to investigate this topic in depth are well served by numerous thorough and detailed overviews, including books (Case, 2007; 2012), review articles (Wilson, 2000; Pettigrew, Fidel and Bruce, 2001; Case, 2006; Savolainen, 2007; Fisher and Julien, 2009; Julien, Pecoskie and Reed, 2011) and encyclopaedia articles (Bates, 2010). Urquhart (2011) even provides a review of recent reviews, while Case (2006) identifies sources reviewing older material. Faced with this plethora of material, this chapter will try only to draw out the main issues and findings, and provide some examples.

We will first consider the question of what information behaviour is, and how it relates to similar ideas, and then briefly outline the historical development of the subject, emphasizing the different ways it has been regarded and studied. A section of theories and models takes a very select look at the wide variety which have been proposed, followed by a summary of research methods used. We then look at some examples of studies of the information behaviour of different groups, and at the idea of individual styles of information behaviour. The summary section looks at what general lessons have been learned about information behaviour.

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