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Lecture 5

INST 352 Lecture 5: INST352 Lecture 5: Information in a library

Information Studies
Course Code
INST 352

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INST352 Lecture 5: Information in a library
In the widespread literature that could be included under the rubric of information behavior, there is a
genre of empirical work that is larger than any other: studies of people finding information in libraries.
Many of the publications in this genre focus on “information as a thing” (Buckland, 1991a), that is,
use of books, journals, and other “packages” of information. Over the past 30 years, however, more
and more studies focus on searching for, evaluating and applying digital texts. Today, research on
digital resources and ways of interacting with libraries online even without ever setting foot in a
library are common. However, people’s use of physical materials and of the library as a physical
space remain important areas of information behavior research.
So let us imagine another information seeker, this one called Leslie. Leslie is writing a paper for her
undergraduate history class on the 1898 war between Spain and the United States. Like most
undergraduate students, she begins with a quick search on Google, but is quickly overwhelmed by
the amount of information she finds. She then has coffee with two of her friends to discuss the
assignment and see how they plan to tackle it. They spend most of their time talking about another
class and the struggle to do all the necessary reading across so many subject areas. Leslie decides
that her next stop will be the campus library to gather background data on the role of the United
States president, William McKinley, in the decision to declare war on Cuba. Among her questions
are these: Had McKinley favored war from the beginning of his presidential campaign in 1896? Was
McKinley reasonably well informed of the facts regarding unrest in Cuba and Spanish military
weakness there and on the high seas? Who were McKinleys closest advisors and what was their
advice to him regarding intervention? So Leslie has gone to a university library to find answers to
these questions. The particular library she has chosen contains roughly 3 million books, subscribes
to more than 4000 printed journals, and has access to more than 150 databases providing access to
thousands of additional online journals.
Before we begin following Leslies search, let us consider some tendencies of libraries and their
users. First, it is important to recognize that all but the smallest libraries can be complex and
intimidating. Although libraries make every attempt to place materials on similar topics in close
approximation, this goal is elusive. For one thing, it is hard to decide what any one document is
about; for another, library materials are divided into a multitude of forms books, journals,
computer files (typically through a link from the online catalog), video recordings (on DVDs), and
loose materials (in file cabinets or archival boxes) to name some major categories. Also, many
libraries now rely on sharing materials with other libraries (where users request items through
interlibrary loan, as needed) rather than trying to collect all relevant material. This has helped to
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