Human Information Behavior

17:610:510:01 Spring 2004
Nicholas J. Belkin

Meeting: Thursdays, 3:20-6pm, SCILS 201
Office hours: Tuesdays
4-6pm, Thursdays 6-8pm, but make an appointment during these times

Course Objectives and Organization

In this course, students learn, read original research, discuss and write about the practice, study and theory of human information behavior. Human information behavior is the study of the interactions between people, the various forms of data, information, knowledge and wisdom that fall under the rubric of "information" and the situations (contexts) in which they interact. This course provides students an introduction to the human aspects of the world of library and information services, feedback on how to interact with the literature in our field, a greater awareness of the human information behavior around us and an opportunity to work with peers to analyze and present additional relevant research.

The structure of the course is a medium-sized seminar with lectures, break-out groups, general discussion, student presentations, in-class exercises and occasional guest lectures. Readings listed at each week will be discussed during the first half of the next week; there will be a lecture introducing the topics/readings for each week in the second half of the previous week. This student-centered learning approach relies upon the student's role in preparing for class with questions and issues for discussion. The instructor's role is to guide the student through the literature, integrate the topics raised in class, and provide feedback to the students on their performance on learning objectives. The course will proceed as follows:

Course Materials

The course packet contains assigned readings for class preparation. Some additional readings and materials are available on web pages. University Copy (telephone 732-220-1211) will sell packets directly to the class on the first or second day of the class meeting. They accept credit cards, checks and cash.

Additional readings required to complete the group presentation and the user group paper are available from Alexander Library, next door to the SCILS building. Inquire at the library information desk about tours and classes in how to use the electronic and print materials. Term paper instruction will not be covered in this class. The Kreeger Learning Resource Center next to the Parking Deck and Brower Commons may provide or refer you to additional resources. Finally, citation format should follow APA Style (5th Edition). A variety of online style manuals are available through the Rutgers Library Web Site including for citing electronic sources.

Course Requirements

The instructor assesses student performance through assignments that enable students to engage in the course in a scholarly way, to demonstrate understanding of key ideas and their interrelationships, and to actively participate in the learning process. In order for this form of instruction to be successful, all students must complete the assigned readings and prepare questions and notes before each class meeting. Please note the following grading policies: Late assignments will earn a 0/Not pass. Points will be deducted if assignments are incomplete, include spelling errors, poor grammar, lack of organization, or incorrect citation and reference format. Please consult with the instructor prior to the due date if there are questions.

This course requires keeping a journal of brief writing assignments each week on the assigned readings that will be evaluated twice during the semester. There is also a group presentation, a user group paper and brief individual presentation. Each writing assignment must include:

  1. The Journal consists of a 1-3 page essay each week. The essay must include one APA-style citation and reference list of each of the week's readings. You may adopt an informal or academic style of writing, but the journal must demonstrate your engagement with the topics and your evolving understanding of human information behavior. The journal can include informal musings, factual questions you may have, recording of classroom exercises, responses to classroom experiences, planning ideas for term paper and group project, reflections on your own information behavior. Ideas for journal writing are included with each assignment but these topics are optional. You may compose your journal in any way that is most comfortable for you, but must be somewhat legible for evaluation feedback. You must turn in your journal on the following dates:
    • February 26 (Week 6), and
    • April 22 (Week 13).

Prior to or after these dates, students can meet with the instructor or teaching assistant informally to review the journal to facilitate learning and develop ideas for meaningful reflection and preparation for writing the user group paper. Students may omit journal entries for the readings of the week they are giving a group presentation.

  1. A. User Group Paper to select an identifiable group, apply models, principles and concepts from the course, analyze their information behavior and draw conclusions for professional practice. Choose a group for which a body of published research is available. There is no restriction about two students who wish to pursue a similar topic but they must work independently. Students have written on many groups, including, for instance the following: elders/seniors, doctors, high school students, genealogists, journalists.

Students who do well on the user group paper spend a few hours finding several refereed research papers on potential topics even before they settle on a topic. Students typically start by looking up references from class assignments, bibliographic databases and indexes such as Library Literature and Library and Information Science Abstracts (LISA) available via Rutgers University Libraries (RUL), browsing refereed journals such as JASIST and Library Quarterly and checking for survey articles in the Annual Review of Information Science and Technology (ARIST) in Alexander reference. You should not expect to be able to complete the assignment without consulting print sources, even though many materials are available electronically.

You may also use scholarly monographs with permission of the instructor but most students papers draw upon articles recently published in refereed journals. Depending on your topic, you may need to search for articles in refereed research journals in from other disciplines. You can check if a journal is refereed by using (available through RU Libraries' remote access services). When using Ulrich's, note that "reviews" refer to book or software reviews, not "peer-reviewed." Please consult with Alexander reference for additional ideas and resources. Myoung Wilson's Research guide on is helpful.

The following milestone assignments will help you prepare your paper. However, students should not halt their work during the week that the milestone assignments are being graded.

B. User group paper presentation: Each student will give a very brief (5 minutes max) individual presentation highlighting 3 points from their user group paper. You may use one transparency or one screen shot maximum.

  1. Group Presentations for students to work in groups to develop, organize and present additional refereed and professional publications on the week's topic. During the third class meeting, you will form small groups with other class members and choose one of the listed class topics. On the week assigned, the presenting group will submit electronic and print copy of the following: These will be posted to the class web page.
    • Brief outline (1-page) of the entire presentation
    • A list of references to the literature that the group used for the presentation and any additional literature that may have been consulted but not included (please list the latter separately).
    • Names of each group member

In addition, individuals are encouraged to reflect upon their experiences and contribution to the group presentation in their journal. Presentations should last no more than 30 minutes (a grade will be taken off for going over-time), be lively and include some interaction with the audience. Groups can initiate discussions, present panels, conduct skits or lead class exercises. Presentations may include visual aids (posters, overhead transparencies, graphics, electronic presentations) to display citations, brief outlines, figures or charts. Presentations MUST address the following questions

Grading Criteria


User Group Paper submitted April 29, preparation assignments and presentation


Group Presentation submitted on assigned week


Reading and Process Journal submitted February 26 and April 22

Catalog Description

Behavior vis-a-vis information as it bears on problems in library and information services and forms a theoretical and professional base for such services. Diverse contexts of information behavior; processes of information seeking, searching, using, and valuing. Assessment of studies of human information behavior in terms of relevance to library and information services.
Pre- and/or CO-requisites: None

Contact Information

Office Location: 305 SCILS
Office Hours: Tuesdays:
4-6pm, Thursdays 6-8pm (make appointments with Pat Appelbaum,
Tel: 732-932-7500 ext.8271 (best during office hours)
Fax: 732-932-2644 (contact me first - non-approved faxes will not be graded)






Jan 22
Week 1

INTRODUCTION TO THE COURSE. The concept of information, the relationships between information and human behavior, and the notion of human information behavior. Wilson examines how people evaluate information using cognitive tools. Meltzoff provides an overview of how to evaluate social science research that we can apply to the articles we read for class.

  • 1.1 Wilson, P. (1983). Second-hand knowledge: An inquiry into cognitive authority. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. pp.vii-viii, 13-37, 107-112, 120.
  • 1.2 Meltzoff, J. (1998). Critical thinking about Research. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. pp. 3-12.


Jan 29
Week 2

PERSPECTIVES ON INFORMATION BEHAVIOR: This topic orients you to a range of approaches to the study of human information behavior including cognitive, situational and social constructivist. Julien provides a succinct overview of the nature of the literature in this field. Consider comparing Julien & Duggan to Wilson's studies of the field. Wilson focuses on scope to help us identify central concepts of the field.

  • 2.1 Wilson, T. (1994). Information needs and uses: Fifty years of progress? In B.C. Vickery (Ed.), Fifty years of information progress: a Journal of Documentation review (pp. 15-51). London, ASLIB.
  • 2.2 Julien, H. & Duggan, L. (2000). A Longitudinal analysis of the information needs and uses literature. Library and Information Science Research, 22, 291-309. (You may wish to refer to Julien's earlier study available in the library: Julien, H. (1996). Library and Information Science Research, 18, 53-65.

JOURNAL WRITING IDEAS: Record your appraisal of these articles, your personal reflections on the class so far and any questions you might have. New experiences provide an excellent opportunity to record behavioral observations of "the strange" that may later become "the familiar." Discuss what is difficult or easy about using these readings to introduce you to the field. For advanced readers, compare Wilson's study to Julien's.


Feb  5
Week 3

ANALYZING INFORMATION BEHAVIOR: WORKING FROM PRACTICE TO THEORY AND FROM THEORY TO PRACTICE: These seminal works in human information behavior introduce two approaches to understanding human information behavior. Taylor's classic article develops a model of information services as a series of question-negotiation filters. Belkin starts with cognitive theory to describe a model of information transfer that was implemented into software for practical information retrieval. Pay particular attention to his diagrams.

  • 3.1 Taylor, R. S. (1968). Question negotiation and information seeking in libraries. College & Research Libraries, 28, 178-194.
  • 3.2 Belkin, N.J. (1980). Anomalous states of knowledge as a basis for information retrieval. Canadian Journal of Information Science,, 133-143.

JOURNAL WRITING IDEAS: Reflect on the relevance and implications of Taylor's practice-based theory on information services today. What are some anomalous states of knowledge that you are experiencing? Describe how you typically go about information-seeking in these cases. How does your need arise? When is it satisfied? What does it mean to understand information behavior from a cognitive viewpoint?


Feb 12
Week 4

METAPHORS FOR UNDERSTANDING INFORMATION BEHAVIOR: "SENSE-MAKING" AND "BERRY-PICKING" Dervin proposes sense-making as a set of methods for understanding how people utilize information. Sense-making views information use as a constructive process of bridging a "gap" or discontinuity between perceived reality and the judgment of that reality. The construction process develops through an interactive communication process and results in an interpretation of perceived reality that helps people move to another step in understanding. Marcia Bates uses the metaphor of "berry-picking" to model the actual information search processes people use.

  • 4.1 Dervin, B., & Nilan, M. (1986). Information needs and uses. In M. E. Williams (Ed.), Annual Review of Information Science and Technology (ARIST) (Vol. 21, pp. 3-33): Knowledge Industry Publs.
  • 4.2 Bates, M. J. (1989). The design of browsing and berrypicking techniques for online search interface. Online Review 13, 407-424.

JOURNAL WRITING IDEAS: How does Dervin's theory-based model compare with Bates'? Consider some of the anomolous states of knowledge you have experienced or "strange" behavior recorded in the first few weeks. What kind of sense-making or berry-picking behaviors have changed those initial understandings? Why do you think that these scholars have such different views of human information behavior? What are their orientations and ways of thinking?


Feb 19
Week 5

TESTING THEORIES IN RESEARCH AND PRACTICE: THE INFORMATION SEEKING PROCESS AND USER-CENTERED INFORMATION SERVICES: Kuhlthau provides an overview of her research program on the information seeking process and describes how she tested her theory in different studies using different research methods. Tuomin & Savolainen describe information behavior as constructive social action.

  • 5.1 Kuhlthau, C.C. (1991). Inside the search process: Information seeking from the user's perspective. Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 42, 361-371.
  • 5.2 Tuominen, D. & Savolainen, R. (1999). A social constructionist approach to the study of information use as discursive action. In P. Vakkari, R. Savolainen, & B. Dervin (Eds.), Information seeking in context (pp. 81-96). London, Taylor-Graham.

Note: Submit 1-3 references and a short statement about the nature of your topic for your user group paper.
JOURNAL WRITING IDEAS: Keep notes on these readings to add to your journal when it is returned this week. Create a chart of Kuhlthau's different studies and their data, methods, and major findings. Review the critical reading selection and consider what kinds of questions and methods you'd like to learn more about. Which of the various theories describe information behaviors you've observed thus far? Chart the proximity of each theory to the practices they purport to explain.




Feb 26
Week 6

INTRODUCTION TO RESEARCH ON INFORMATION SEEKING IN CONTEXT. This session will provide an overview of the key factors established in the research that shape/influence information behavior. The Melzoff selection discusses research questions, hypotheses, strategies and variables. The NTIA report provides data on the gap between Internet haves and have-nots that we've come to know as the digital divide.

  • 6.1 Cool, C. (2001) The concept of situation in information science. ARIST, v. 35: 5-42.
  • 6.2 Pettigrew, K.E., Fidel, R. & Bruce, H. (2001) Conceptual frameworks in information behavior. ARIST, v. 35: 43-78.

Note: Hand in Journal this week.
JOURNAL WRITING IDEAS: Try to interpret parts of the digital divide report using the criteria from the critical thinking chapters. This week, undertake some discreet observations of people encountering a range of information services and systems. See if you can identify some of the factors that shape their interaction or patterns of use. Also, bring to class a list of 5-10 information systems you encounter in the course of your day, week or month. For each information system, list at least two information behaviors you associate with that system. Keep in mind that a system in this context is not just an electronic database or printed catalog.


Mar 4
Week 7

INFORMATION BEHAVIOR IN PERSONAL AND SOCIAL CONTEXTS: This week's readings explore the relationship between information behavior and the social resources accessible by battered women and prisoners serving time. These readings challenge us to consider ways to look beyond our own circumstances in order to meet diverse information needs.

  • 7.1 Harris, R.M. & Dewdney, P. (1994). Barriers to information. How formal help systems fail battered women. Westport, CN: Greenwood. Chapters 4 & 8: pp. 47-60, 121-140
  • 7.2 Chatman, E. A. (1991). A Theory of Life in the Round. Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 50, 207-217.

Note: Submit tentative title and draft of reference list containing at least 10 references for your user group paper.
Group 1 Presentation
JOURNAL WRITING IDEAS: Reflecting on the list you created last week, where do you see parallels between your own personal and social information behavior and the behavior described in these articles? What do you find most interesting about these conceptions of information behavior? How does an understanding of the information needs of people in everday situations shape the work of an Information Professional?


Mar 11
Week 8

INFORMATION BEHAVIOR IN EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS: The readings for this week look at very different behaviors. Brown et al review work about the use (or nonuse) of traditional classroom skills in real-world settings. Covi's study describe scholarly communication behavior in higher education research disciplines.

  • 8.1 Brown, J. S., Collins, A. & Duguid, P. (1989, Jan/Feb). Situated Cognition and the Culture of Learning. Educational Researcher, 32-42.
  • 8.2 Covi, L. M. (1999). Material mastery: Situating digital library use in university research practices. Information Processing & Management, 35, 293-316.

Group 2 Presentation
JOURNAL WRITING IDEAS: Consider how the findings from these studies explain information behavior in the classroom or school library. How do the researchers described in the Material Mastery article resemble the dieters in the Situated Cognition piece? What distinguishes the problem-solving skills dieters in the Situated Cognition piece from children learning in school? With respect to this Library and Information Science masters program, what is the "ideal" human information behavior for successful learning? In reality, how do students use information? In your reading, please be able to address differences between the context of learning and information behavior in a personal context.


Mar 26
Week 9

INFORMATION BEHAVIOR IN ORGANIZATIONS AND WORKING ENVIRONMENTS: One aspect of an "information society" is the economy's dependence upon expertise and intellectual capital for competitive advantage. Kuhlthau provides a case study of the development of expertise and experience and relates it to her information seeking process framework. Davenport's case depicts strategies used in a large accounting firm to manage their intellectual capital.

  • 9.1 Kuhlthau, C. C. (1999). The role of experience in the information search process of an early career information worker: Perceptions of uncertainty, complexity, construction, and sources. Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 50, 399-412.
  • 9.2 Davenport, T. H. (1997). Knowledge Management at Ernst & Young. Retrieved 5 May 2002 from

Group 3 Presentation
Midcourse Evaluation
JOURNAL WRITING IDEAS: How does organization of information relate to uncertainty and other individual emotions? How would you differentiate knowledge managers and information service providers in organizations? This week consider a case concerning yourself or someone you know working in an organization. Describe how that person interacts with their experience, expertise and the management of knowledge during a typical day or week.


Apr 1
Week 10

MEDICAL AND HEALTH INFORMATION BEHAVIOR: These two selections provide two contrasts. Pettigrew explores how people interact with information in a clinical setting (think about the conversations that take place in the waiting room versus the conversations with doctor or nurse practitioners). Todd examines formal drug-education programs and the gaps between learning in the classroom and interpersonal experience.

  • 10.1 Pettigrew, K. E. (1999). Waiting for chiropody: contextual results from an ethnographic study of the information behaviour among attendees at community clinics. Information Processing and Management, 35, 801-817.
  • 10.2 Todd, R. J. (1999). Utilization of heroin information by adolescent girls in Australia: A cognitive analysis. Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 50, 10-23.

Group 4 Presentation
JOURNAL WRITING IDEAS: How has the availability of medical and health information in the media and on the web influenced your own information behavior? What are some special issues that differentiate the use of health information from other types of information? What are some cultural differences in assessing the authority of medical information.


Apr 8
Week 11

LEGAL AND GOVERNMENT INFORMATION BEHAVIOR: This week we explore a seeming irony between information about rules for the benefit of society, namely the law, and the unique aspects of how people interact with this information. Kuhlthau and Tama find that tailor-ability and value-added interpretation are critical information needs in a law firm. Dilevko explores the information behavior on both sides of the reference desk and the unique problems of government and legal repositories.

  • 11.1 Kuhlthau, C. C. & Tama, S. L. (2001). Information search process of lawyers: A call for 'just for me' information services. Journal of Documentation, 57, 1, 25-43. [Available via RUL through IRIS]
  • 11.2 Dilevko, J. (2000). "My mother can't quite understand why I decided to go to library school:" What patrons say about library staff when asking government documents reference questions at depository libraries. Journal of Government Information, 27, 299-323.

Note: Submit title, current reference list, abstract and working outline of your paper.
Group 5 Presentation
JOURNAL WRITING IDEAS: This week, visit a government repository (Alexander Library has one) or law library. Briefly interview a reference librarian and consult reference documentation to determine answers to the following. What is the difference between what is in this collection and what is available online? What kinds of questions are easier and what kind of questions are harder to answer? What differentiates the ways lay people use the collection versus experts in the field?


Apr 15

Week 12

ARTS & LETTERS (HUMANITIES) INFORMATION BEHAVIOR: These two studies examine two aspects of humanities information behavior in universities. de Tiratel explores differences between humanists and social scientists in terms of how they use materials. Case revisits a previous study about historians and how they interact with information. Humanities scholars are very interested in "texts." Consider how texts and information differ for this user group.

  • 12.1 de Tiratel, S. R. (2000). Accessing information use by humanists and social scientists: A study at the Universidad de Buenos Aires, Argentina. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 26, 346-354.
  • 12.2 Case, D. O. (1990). Conceptual organization and retrieval of text by historians: The role of memory an metaphor. Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 42, 672-689.

Group 6 Presentation
JOURNAL WRITING IDEAS: Consider what distinguishes the interactions of humanists, social scientists and historians from other types of researchers or knowledge workers. During the course of the week, consider the typical kinds of encounters you have with visual art or music other than popular (symphonic, jazz, concert, cabaret, etc.). How would you categorize these sources? What authoritative sources are available to you?


Apr 22
Week 13

SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY INFORMATION BEHAVIOR: Anderson et al tests the hypothesis that aerospace scientists and engineers use the principle of least effort and perceived relevance to guide their human information behavior. Brown compares scientists in different disciplines and found a mismatch between preference for print and desire to use electronic materials. How does her explanation resolve her dilemma? How would her research support or undermine Anderson et al's work?

  • 13.1 Anderson, C., Glassman, M., McAfee, R., & Pinelli, T. (2001). An investigation of factors affecting how engineers and scientists seek information. Journal of Engineering and Technology Management, 18, 131-155.
  • 13.2 Brown, C.M. (1999). Information seeking behavior of scientists in the electronic information age: Astronomers, chemists, mathematicians, and physicists. Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 50, 929-943.

Note: Hand in journal this week. Group 7 Presentation
Course Evaluation
JOURNAL WRITING IDEAS: How do you interact with science and technology during your week? How does that differ from the information behavior of scientists and engineers in these readings? From a situated cognition perspective, how does that affect how they work with information? From a sense-making perspective, what are they doing when the engineers search for information?


Apr 29
Week 14

Note: Hand in User Group Paper this week


May 6
Week 15


  • 15.1 Sawyer, S. & Rosenbaum, H. (2000). Social Informatics in the Information Sciences: Current Activities and Emerging Directions. Informing Science, 3, 89-96. Retrieved September 1, 2001 from

Course Review
We will discuss the emergence of Social Informatics in Information Science.

Materials for this course have been borrowed from Lisa Covi, Ross Todd, Tefko Saracevic and Carol Kuhlthau.

Last Updated: 1/19/04