Title: Contextual Influences on the Information-Seeking Behavior of Reference Librarians



    Research in the area of information seeking, needs, and behavior has been conducted in a variety of contexts. Most often the research approaches have focused on the individuals and the nature of their activities in the settings. As a result, the research is most often presented by identifying the individuals by their occupation, demographic background or social role. Still other research has identified information channels or sources used, or information systems such as libraries. However, theories developed from the research make not that information seeking takes place in context. Unfortunately, the term context remains poorly defined. Theoreticians bemoan "context" as meaning anything that is not the phenomenon of interest and therefore as having an immeasurable potential of factors.


    Yet, the importance of understanding contextual factors influence on information seeking does not diminish in light of the size of the task. Although library systems are often used to examine information seeking by users, these studies rarely incorporate an examination of the organizational and environmental elements of the library as "context". Generally, the library as environment or as organization is associated with management issues. Basic research is needed to further understanding of the components of context and the dynamic interplay of contextual components in information seeking behavior.


    This study focuses on two different work environments of academic and public libraries, the information-seeking behaviors of the librarians engaged in reference, and the contextual influences on the behaviors. Using documentation analysis, interviews, and observations, the studies seeks to answer two research questions:

  1. What attributes identify the information-seeking behavior of librarians engaged in face-to-face reference activities in context?
  2. What factors related to the library environment, organization and/or context are associated with the information-seeking behavior of the reference librarians?


    Using Activity Theory (AT) as the conceptual framework, this study seeks to expand knowledge base of information seeking by reference librarians, of the library as work environment and culture, and reference librarians as a community of practice. While AT has been applied to completed study data, this study takes the next step in using AT as the framework from inception. In addition, this study seeks to operationalize the concept of context within the information-seeking behavior literature.


    Library and information science (LIS) curricula are based on the concept of knowing what librarians actually do in practice regardless of context. Yet, difference between the situated, contextual perspective of working librarians as compared to the more generalist, context-free and theoretical perspective of LIS educators has given rise to the academic-practice divide. To bridge the gap, basic research is needed to further understanding on the components of the contextual situation and their influence on librarians' information-seeking behaviors. This study seeks to assist in the building of that bridge.