Human Information Behavior

Spring 2006

Course syllabus    

Tefko Saracevic

Room 316 SCILS bldg.
Work: (732)932-7500/Ext 8222; Fax: (732)932-2644

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Critical examination of the research in human information behavior, that is in interactions between people, the various forms of information, and the situations or contexts in which they interact. Theories, models, and methods used. Seminal authors and works. Relation between such behavior and information system design and relevant technologies. 

Goals and Objectives

The goals are to provide the students with:

    1. an understanding of the evolution, directions, and interdisciplinary nature of scholarship in human information behavior;
    2. an ability for critical analysis of works and trends in human information behavior research; and
    3. a basis for developing their own research.

The objectives are to:

    1. provide a perspective on the wide range of processes involved in human information behavior;
    2. undertake an overview of diverse theories and models related to human information behavior, and the context of their evolution;
    3. outline the problems and issues addressed over time and contemporarily in empirical research, stressing the approaches and methods used;
    4. discern the contemporary directions, and identify disciplinary and interdisciplinary relationships and practical applications of such research, particularly in design of information systems; and
    5. prepare to undertake research in this area.


    1. 16:194:601 Information and Communication Processes.
    2. 16:194:610 Seminar in information studies

Approach and Requirements

The course consists of:

  1. Lectures: by course instructors or guest lecturers. The topics of lectures are provided in the course outline and schedule. A detailed description of topics covered in each lecture can be found in the syllabus, or a description and handouts will be provided at the lecture.

  2. Discussion: each student is expected to participate in discussions and critical observations either during the lectures or during set discussion periods that particularly relate to analysis or readings.

  3. Required and selected readings and summaries: for each topic there will be assigned several required readings. In addition, for each topic students shall select one additional reading of their own choice either from the Bibliography or from the literature in general - references in the textbook can be guide. For each reading (required and selected) the student will prepare a short summary and critical review. The summaries will be submitted according to a schedule provided at the beginning of the semester. Assigned readings from the textbook do not have to be summarized, but integrated in other summaries.
    The goal of the summaries is not only for a student to reinforce learning the content of the reading by writing, but even more so to critically evaluate and/or relate the content (or part thereof) to own context, experiences, other readings, or practical applications, and possibly to their own plans for future research . Summaries are not intended to be mere abstracts. In other words, think about the reading, assess the major theme(s), and provide your own interpretations and thoughts beyond a mere abstract. Analyze, don't just plain rehash! The more you incorporate your own remarks the higher the grade! Thus, the emphasis is not on the summary by and for itself but on critical evaluation and/or drawing of relations. Higher grades in summaries relate to the extent to which contents are critically evaluated or to which relations are drawn, and not to mere repetitions of contents.
    The summaries must follow the prescribed format (see instructions below). Reading summaries should be handed in on a weekly basis as indicated in the schedule.

  4. Semester project: Each student shall select a research topic or issue covered in the course for an in-depth study of related works and produce a critical, scholarly review, AND on this basis propose own research in this area - the proposed research could be a theoretical or empirical study. Thus, the final report must be in two related parts: critical summary of a topic and a proposal for a specific research study on that topic. The report should be in a form of a preliminary dissertation proposal, as if it is prepared for a submission to the dissertation committee. Thus, by definition, the report shall involve a thorough literature search and critical analysis (i.e. it must NOT be relegated to a simple bibliographic essay of literature review/rehash - who said what) and on the basis of that a proposal for conducting an own study. The study could be an original undertaking, tests of a theory, further theoretical extension, or a replication of an existing study for further validation. The report should elaborate on:
    1. critical examination of major points in contents of selected topics, organized according to some common problem areas addressed, and/or theories or models employed including relationships between different studies, approaches, or research areas and/ or between underlying theories or models, if applicable;
    2. general relationships between studies in the selected topic and broader studies in other fields (for instance in: cognitive science, psychology, artificial intelligence, computer science, management, sociology, history, gender studies, and other fields or research areas where human information behavior is considered);
    3. on the basis of the review, identification and formulation of a research problem to be addressed, followed by specific research objectives, questions, or hypotheses;
    4. for each research objective, question, or hypothesis suggestions for methods to be used; preliminary experiments or observations could be conducted, but do not have to be;
    5. possible and expected findings and their significance.

Early in selection of the topic the student shall obtain consent and advice from the instructor, to insure appropriateness and fruitfulness of the chosen topic, and to avoid unnecessary grief afterwards. At scheduled times during the semester students shall present: (1) a short description of the preliminary selection of the topic to be covered in the term paper, (2) a preliminary bibliography of literature covered, a preliminary design for the study and (3) a final presentation of the topic as if prepared for a committee and public presentation.

By the way, the same critical review approach is required for successful completion in answering a question in the qualifying exam, or in preparation for the dissertation proposal. This is a general approach to any scholarly review and any preparation for research. For suggestions on the content and organization of a proposal see "Thesis proposal questions" on class web site.   


The narrative style of the summary is left to the student. However, each summary MUST have as a heading (i.e. on top or the cover page):

    1. studentís name,
    2. course number,
    3. assignment number from the schedule, and
    4. for each reading a full citation of the reading.

Summaries should be handed in per assigned schedule. Summaries that do not have headings and citation form as prescribed will have five points deducted.

The summaries and term paper should follow the standardized format as suggested by:

American Psychological Association (APA) (2001). Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. 5th ed. Washington, D.C.: APA. See:

It is strongly suggested that all students purchase this book. The Manual can be obtained from Rutgers and other bookstores or ordered online. It serves as a manual for other Ph.D. courses and the dissertation, thus it is a valuable tool above and beyond this course. In addition to providing standards for formats, references and citations, the Manual also provides useful suggestions for writing and organizing of reports and articles.  


Graduate School and SCILS Ph.D. program has the following grades (see SCILS Catalog at
A (95), B+ (90), B (85), C+ (80), C (75), F (70). In addition, there are provisional grades for Incomplete (IN) or Temporary (T).
We will use the numerical equivalents for grades - easier to add up and average.
The final grade will be derived as follows:
Summaries, exercises, discussion - 60% of grade. Term paper - 40% of grade.  


The Rutgers Policy on Academic Integrity is spelled out in detail at In this course we will strictly adhere to this policy. Please consult it. If you have any questions please bring them up. You may also wish to consult Student Responsibility at and Faculty Responsibility at

Plagiarism? Just don't. Turnitin, a site for prevention of plagiarism is at It is informative and useful.


Part I. PERSPECTIVES ON HUMAN INFORMATION BEHAVIOR 1. Basic phenomena and processes under study. The concept of information, the relationships between information and human behavior, and the notion of human information behavior.

2. Problems addressed over time. Disciplinary and interdisciplinary relationships through problems. Role and impact of technology on development of this area and relationship to information system design.

Part II. THEORETICAL STRUCTURES 3. Key theoretical concepts in library and information science research as applied to studies of human information behavior. Notion of cognitive authority.

4. Theories on why people seek information - cognitively based; Anomalous State of Knowledge; sense making; classification of information needs; information poverty

5. Theories involving broader constructs: social construction; communicative action; diffusion of innovations; ecological theory

Part III. INFORMATION SEEKING AND SEARCHING 6. Information seeking models; empirical studies on how people seek information.

7. Models and empirical studies on how people search for information in the context of information retrieval, digital libraries, and the web.

8. Studies in human-computer interaction. Relevance related studies.


9. Human information behavior in science and technology, medicine and health

10. Human information behavior in professions and government.

11. Human information behavior in arts, humanities, and education.


12. Use of information resources and information in variety of social contexts. Theory of life in the round. Information behavior of workers. Information and poverty.

13. Characteristics and requirements of information society; global aspects and information. Emergence of social informatics and role in studies of human information behavior.

Bibliography for the course is provided separately.
Schedule for the course, also provided separately, lists readings required for each topic.
Materials for this course have been borrowed from Nick Belkin, Lilia Pavlovski, Ross Todd, and Lisa Covi.
last update 9 January 2006 Tefko Saracevic