Although working together has always been central to work across the natural and social sciences and the arts and humanities, collaborative information behaviour is becoming increasingly common and important. Karunakaran, Reddy and Spence (2013) note that:
… organizations have become information-intensive, but information is also fragmented across multiple actors, artifacts, and systems (Hansen and Järvelin, 2000, 2005). Therefore, collaboratively seeking, retrieving, and using workrelated information have become common practices within organizations (Reddy and Dourish, 2002).
Yet Reddy and Jansen in their 2008 review of research concluded that relatively little attention had been paid to collaborative as opposed to individual aspects of information behaviour. Most models of information behaviour have related to the individual. Also, many information systems designed to support information seeking have operated on the model of the individual user, and are not well suited to supporting collaborative activity in organizations.
The sharing of information is by definition an act of collaboration. However, the degree to which ‘sender’ and ‘receiver’ of shared information actually engage in collaboration over and above sending and receiving the information may vary greatly. In one sense information is shared if it is published and other people can access it. However, ‘information sharing’ is used in this chapter to indicate sharing within an actual collaboration as defined below.
Before we go on to explore collaborative information behaviour in more detail, it is worth noting that as an increasing number of research studies focus on information behaviour as a collaborative social activity, it is important to acknowledge the complementary nature of both individual and social aspects and perspectives. Ultimately, as noted by Bawden and Robinson (2011, 128), ‘information behaviour is, by definition, individual’. This is not to deny the usefulness of studying the effects on information behaviour of social forces and influences, and seeking knowledge of the characteristics of shared information behaviour insofar as it might differ from individual information behaviour. Bawden and Robinson later asserted that:
What we emphasize is the uniqueness and individuality of each person, which should not be minimized, even in view of the pragmatic advantages of studying information behavior primarily in group and social terms, and a recognition of the importance on many occasions of social context and collaboration. This is not at all inconsistent with a desire to identify and study interesting emergent information behaviors that are not predicable from individual cases.