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The fact that information needs exist is no guarantee that the person who needs the information will take any action to find that information.

We are all so accustomed to seeking and using information that we find the idea of not looking for information when we need it quite difficult to understand.

However, all kinds of barriers to action exist: from simple inertia on the part of the individual to formal organizational barriers to the free flow of information.

We must also recognize that information-seeking can be understood in two senses: it is a continuous activity in a generic sense, in that we make sense of the world around us by gathering information, but, for specific purposes it is, for the typical organizational member, a highly spasmodic, event-driven phenomenon.

Whatever the field, much research demonstrates that informal information sources are likely to be explored first by the person needing information and that formal information sources, such as libraries, come no higher than second or third on the list and, often, a good way further down.

Partly, this is the result of the fact that organizations are information- processing or communication systems and that personal interaction occurs for all kinds of work-related purposes and is therefore a natural course to take when seeking specific information. Information can also be a medium of exchange relationships.

Partly, however, it is also due to the spasmodic nature of information need and the probability in an organization that there is someone known to the information searcher who can be relied upon to advise on the answer – can not only direct a seeker to other sources but also comment on the validity, reliability, authenticity etc., of information from those sources – and, most importantly, which information not to trust.

When it comes to seeking information from formal sources, such as libraries, a number of things follow from what we know about users’ information- seeking behaviour:

  • the crisis-driven nature of much information need, together with the interrupted nature of much organizational work, means that the user will always need the information right now!
  • the same two characteristics mean that the user will always fail to allow enough time to locate the information;
  • because information-seeking is an irregular, spasmodic activity, the user’s knowledge of information sources and his/her recollection of how to use them will always be deficient;
  • because information serves affective as well as cognitive needs, the information seeker may be unwilling to reveal the real reasons for wanting information.

These facts have some fairly obvious consequences for the design and delivery of information services.