Information behaviour, an interdisciplinary perspective

Chapter 1 Introduction

The project reported here was suggested as a result of reviewing the literature on information-seeking behaviour for the 50th anniversary of the Journal of Documentation (Wilson, 1994). In that review the author drew attention to the fact that information science was only one of the disciplines that dealt with the subject and he gave examples of a number of fields that contained relevant work.

Wilson then suggested to the BLRDD that a more comprehensive review of the literature in fields other than information science could draw attention to useful models, theoretical concepts and research instruments that might be employed in future work from an information science perspective.

Given the four-month time-frame for the Project, and with several hundred papers and books constituting the initial basis for review, it is not possible to provide a detailed account of the treatment of information-seeking behaviour in all of the fields covered: that would require book-length treatment. Thus, this report presents the review in terms of a model of the information-seeking behaviour process evolved by Wilson (1981) and shows how that model may be revised in the light of work in other fields.

The following fields have been explored in preparing this review: the study of personality in psychology; the study of consumer behaviour; innovation research; health communication studies; organizational decision-making; and information requirements in information systems design. The depth to which each was covered has depended upon the total time available for the work, by how fruitful an area proved to be, and by the extent to which the same ideas were found in the different disciplines. This is not, therefore, a comprehensive review of the literature of these fields, but an integrated review on the basis of what may contribute to information science.

Nor, it must be stressed, are these the only fields that could have been included in the review. The field of mass media research includes relevant research, as does communication studies in general. However, time did not allow for coverage of these areas and, in any event, it became evident to us as the review of the literature progressed, that the heart of the subject lies in work in psychology and sociology and a great deal of what is done consists, in essence, of applied psychological and sociological research.

In general, and for obvious reasons, the literature from the field of information science itself is excluded from the review, although occasional exception is made for research that adopts a model from one of the other areas and to draw attention to some similarities between information science approaches and those in other disciplines.