“Taking a Drink from a Fire Hydrant”: How Do We Find Information? (Part 3 of 4)

Do you have a Flowchart?

There are many models, paradigms, and theories discussed in the field of library and information science that are used to interpret and define the information behavior of the everyday user. The results from these analyses provide information that has the potential to make libraries in general and information retrieval systems more specifically much more efficient and successful at getting people the information they need when they need it. I have selected two of these models with which I will analyze the information behavior I displayed after my rejection from the UW ISchool. These analyses reveal the strengths and weaknesses of these respective theories as well as serve to show how two different models geared towards the same topic (information behavior) can yield two different results, despite the fact that the problems put to them are identical.

The first model I am going to use to interpret my information behavior is Wilson’s First Model. This model is the first in a series of models created by T.D. Wilson, published between 1981 and 1999, whose differences are said to reflect “trends in the theory and practice of information seeking research” (Case 123). I have selected this model because it is relatively general in nature, having been developed not to explain the information behavior of a certain segment of society (engineers, office workers, etc.) but instead created with the intention to “provide a map of the area [of information behavior] and draw attention to gaps in research” (Case 124).


Wilson’s First Model starts with an information user. In the example I am working through, I was this user. This information user then develops a need for some kind of information. In my case, I developed several information needs almost at once; and each time a need was satisfied, I was lead to another need. To begin with my first need, which was to decide whether or not I was going to attempt to get into and complete an MLIS program, I then began demonstrating various “information seeking behaviors”. Wilson’s First Model splits these “information seeking behaviors” into two types: information behavior that puts “demands on information systems” and information behavior that puts “demands on other information sources” (Case 123). When searching for information to fill my first information need, I relied mostly on “other information sources”, mainly my friends, family, and academic support group. For my second main information need, which was to find online MLIS programs that I could and would apply to, I began placing “demands on information systems”, such as websites and magazine articles.

Each of these types of “information seeking behaviors” then lead to one of two boxes in Wilson’s model: “Success” or “Failure” (Case 123). Both of my information needs led to “success”, but it is important to note that if they had not been successful, Wilson’s First Model would have left me with a dead-end. After “Failure” there are no additional steps to go through. Once reached, “Failure” is the end of an information search for Wilson’s First Model, which in no way feeds back into the information search, even though it is more than likely that even though an information search does not result in any positive findings, the need still exists, unfulfilled.

Crumpled Frustration

Once a successful search result has occurred, the information user moves on to “information use”, in which the information received is put to the test. I entered into this step when I used the information from my internal sources and from other people in my life to come to a decision about graduate school and an MLIS degree. I also entered into this step when I used the information gained from the ALA websites to decide to which programs I was going to apply. It is at this point that Wilson’s First Model splits in two different directions. The first leads to information user “satisfaction or non-satisfaction” and then back into “need”. In both of my information searches I eventually gathered enough information to satisfy my information needs; but until that point was reached, I continued in the Wilson cycle.

The second direction leads to “information transfer” and then to “other people”, into which “information exchange” also feeds. These final steps highlight an aspect of information seeking that was very important to Wilson, namely that “information is exchanged with other people (in a process he calls information transfer) in the course of information use and seeking behaviors” (Case 124). In my case, it means that every time I got a piece of information, I communicated in some way with another human being, even if I was accessing an information system at the time, and they in turn were exchanging information that they had discovered. For example, when I accessed information about east coast MLIS program deadlines, in using the information I communicated it to my mother. My mother in turn communicated something about her experiences with east coast schools, the different time-table they are on, and even sometimes something as simple as ‘good’ or ‘neat’. In this way Wilson sought to emphasize a somewhat neglected segment of information behavior research, namely the informal transfer of information from person to person.


The second model I am going to use to interpret my information behavior is the Leckie Model. This model was created by Leckie, Pettigrew, and Sylvain in 1996. Unlike Wilson’s First Model, the Leckie model was developed with a specific type of person in mind, namely “professionals”, whom they define as people similar to “doctors, lawyers, and engineers” (Case 127). I have selected this model because it maintains a graphic simplicity much like Wilson’s First Model, but directly contrasts in its limitation of information users to one group, which will give interesting results when applied to a search for information that is not related to a professional need.


In the Leckie model, needs are created first by “work roles” and then next by “tasks” created by those work roles (Case 128). If we interpret my information needs example somewhat differently, it could be said that I am occupying a “work role” of applicant. Looking at my situation this way, the tasks that are created by the work role of applicant are various information needs relating to applying by the deadline, preparing appropriate application materials, and selecting programs to which to apply. These do sum up my main information needs rather well, if we exclude the first information need I refer to, which was to decide whether or not I was going to still attempt to get into and complete an MLIS program. This task is too much of an emotional need to be processed by the Leckie model – one could hardly call it a ‘task’ of my work role as ‘applicant’, and it largely has no place here. So that need is ignored by this model.

Once my information needs have been shaped by my tasks, my needs then force me to become aware of “information sources and/or content, and thus motivate a person to examine those”. This is represented by a bubble labeled “characteristics of information needs”. It is here that I am meant to look for information sources with characteristics like “familiarity and prior success with the source along with trustworthiness, packaging, timeliness, cost, quality and accessibility of the source” (Case 128). When I was looking for information about MLIS programs, I did indeed consider my sources before using them to search. I picked the ALA website as a starting point because it has a reputation of being reliable, a high quality product (meaning it is very trustworthy and timely), and even though I had never used it before, my mother had experienced high success with it.

ALA - The American Library Association, of which I am now a member.
ALA – The American Library Association, of which I am now a member.

The Leckie model then enters into a series of feedback loops. A two-way arrow with a label of “Information is sought” moves information between the characteristics of information needs step and the ‘final’ step “outcomes”. Also feeding back into the “Information is sought” step are two areas called “sources of information” and “awareness of information” which are also both fed by outcomes (Case 128). This is meant to represent the way information sources are constantly re-evaluated and, based on that re-evaluation, discarded or added to the search process, based on the outcomes from each information search. For example, there were several program websites which ended up being very difficult to navigate. Because of the unsatisfactory outcomes with these sources I either discarded them and settled instead for emailing the program advisors, or in some cases completely marked the school off my list, which, in turn, helped me fulfill my information need.

Kawazu loop bridge / 河津七滝ループ橋(かわづななだるループきょう)

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Works Cited

Case, Donald Owen. “The Concept of Information.” Looking for Information: A Survey of Research on Information Seeking, Needs, and Behavior. London, U.K.: Academic, 2007. 39-67. Print.

Case, Donald Owen. “Information Needs and Information Seeking.” Looking for Information: A Survey of Research on Information Seeking, Needs, and Behavior. London, U.K.: Academic, 2007. 68-83. Print.

Case, Donald Owen. “Models of Information Behavior.” Looking for Information: A Survey of Research on Information Seeking, Needs, and Behavior. London, U.K.: Academic, 2007. 119-140. Print.

Published by rsjeffrey

Robin Jeffrey was born in Cheyenne, Wyoming to a psychologist and a librarian, giving her a love of literature and a consuming interest in the inner workings of people’s minds.

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