Monday, October 10, 2005

Information Search Process: A Search for Meaning Rather Than Answers

Information Search Process: A Search for Meaning Rather Than Answers. This article is by the great Carol C. Kuhlthau. It is a primer on the challenges to creating effective assignments. It also includes a PowerPoint presentation.

From the site:

People using libraries and information systems to learn about a particular subject or to investigate a problem often have difficulty in the early phases of information seeking. Even when they begin with great enthusiasm and initial success, many become confused and uncertain as to how to proceed after a short period of time. This is particularly noticable with students who have been assigned a research paper, but is not exclusively characteristic of students alone. An initial hesitation, confusion, and uncertainty is reported by people in all types of libraries, particularly those with complex information seeking assignments and tasks. In fact, we have no way of knowing just how many people give up after initiating a search because they become uncertain and feel incompetent to continue, but I suspect the number is substantial.

This research into the user's process of information seeking began with my own experience in with students as a secondary school librarian. I noticed a recurring problem. No matter how well students were oriented to the library and its resources, there was a common pattern of behavior when they came to the library for the first few days of their research. They were confused and disoriented, often expressing annoyance at the assignment, the library, and themselves. I have come to understand that this point, when librarians frequently first encountered students and other library users as well, is the most difficult stage of the search process. Rather than a steady increase in confidence from the beginning of a search to the conclusion, as might be expected, a dip in confidence is commonly experienced once an individual has initiated a search and begins to encounter conflicting and inconsistent information. A person "in the dip" is increasingly uncertain and confused until a focus is formed to provide a path for seeking meaning and criteria for judging relevance.

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