Friday, May 30, 2008

Information Behavior vs. Information Practice

Recently I read an article that discusses the theoretical meaning and the ways in which information specialists use the terms "information behavior" and "information practice." The author contends that information experts have not thought about these phrases in a reflective manner, rather they bandy them around like a tennis ball. An understanding of the usage of words and phrases can yield insightful discoveries. In this article the author tries to discover how these phrases have influenced discourses in the information realm. Here's the full citation:

Savolainen, Reijo. "Information Behavior and Information Practice: Reviewing the 'Umbrella Concepts' of Information-Seeking Studies." Library Quarterly 77.2 (2007): 109-32.

Savolainen looks at the historical uses of these terms, pointing out that "information behavior" has been around since the 1960s among information specialists. He notes that it has various forms: "The concept of information behavior may appear as a part of a longer phrase, for example, 'information-seeking behavior' or 'human information behavior.' In general, information behavior may be conceptualized as including 'how people need, seek, manage, give and use information in different contexts'" (112). If someone has a question and needs more information to answer that question, how do they go about finding that information? How do individuals keep track of that information once they have found it? Will they share it with others, and in which contexts will they do so?

Information practice refers more to the information habits individuals have established in their everyday lives. Reading the morning newspaper, listening to the radio on the drive to work, talking with co-workers, or watching the local evening news could all be construed as "information practice." Both of the phrases in question interest information professionals. For librarians, knowing the practices of an individual may offer recognizable avenues for helping a patron with an information need, thus influencing their behavior. Information-literacy instruction sessions endeavor to offer students strategies for improving their information behavior, particularly when they face a research project.

Toward the end of Savolainen's article a succinct definition and comparison of the two phrases appears: "Ultimately, the major concepts of behavior and practice seem to denote the same phenomena: they deal with the ways in which people 'do things.' The concepts of information behavior and information practice both seem to refer to the ways in which people 'deal with information.' the major difference is that within the discourse on information behavior, the 'dealing with information' is primarily seen to be triggered by needs and motives, while the discourse on information practice accentuates the continuity and habitualization of activities affected and shaped by social and cultural factors" (126).

Why is this important? I tried to address this earlier, but Savolainen cuts to the core of the matter better than I do as s/he defends this exercise as something useful and important--not just "academic hairsplitting." (How many angels can fit on the head of pin? = true discussion in the medieval universities.) Savolainen writes: "However, as the present study suggests, the preference for umbrella terms is not a self-evident or innocent choice of terminology that can be justified solely by stylistic reasons. On the contrary, there is a genuine need to generate a self-reflexive and critical attitude among researchers toward their familiar concepts in order to avoid being 'trapped' in their own discursive formations" (127).

Following are more citations that can point you to sources of the quotation marks within the quotation marks in the first and second quotations above:

Fisher, Karen; Erdelez, Sanda; and McKechnie, Lynne (E.F.) eds. Theories of Information Behavior. Medford, NJ: Information Today, 2005. [See pg. xix of the "Preface."]

Tuominen, Kimmo; Savolainen, Reijo; and Talja, Sanna. "Information Literacy as a Sociotechnical Practice." Library Quarterly 75.3 (2005): 329-45.

Essentially, this article qualifies as a review of the literature as it analyzes how scholars and experts have used and reflected on the terms of "information behavior" and "information practice." A study of all 84 of the articles and books could be useful for those wanting to steep themselves in the ideas of information literacy.

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