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Associations and InstitutionsAnnual 

64th IFLA Conference Logo

   64th IFLA General Conference
   August 16 - August 21, 1998


Code Number: 041-112-E
Division Number: I.
Professional Group: University Libraries and other General Research Libraries
Joint Meeting with: User Education
Meeting Number: 112.
Simultaneous Interpretation:   No

Information need and information seeking behavior of scholars at a Turkish university

Nazan Ozenc Ucak


S.Serap Kurbanoglu

Department of Library Science
Hacettepe University
Ankara, Turkey


Knowledge generated by user studies can help to develop information systems and information services. Information need and information seeking behavior, two of the most important research areas of the user studies, are two complementary concepts which are affected by many factors. Research results in these areas of user studies indicate that the type of information need and information seeking behavior of scholars are dependent on their field of research, and vary from one discipline to another. Understanding such behavior help us to design services and products which would transmit the required information most effectively. Such different needs in turn may necessitate to offer services (e.g. user education) in academic libraries depending on the academic discipline users come from.

In this paper we report the result of our research conducted at Hacettepe University, Ankara, Turkey on the effects of occupational factor in library usage by the scholars in science, engineering, social sciences and humanities. We also compare these findings to those reported in scholarly literature. Based on these findings we make several recommendations to improve the interaction between library staff and the scholarly community



Knowledge generated by user studies can help to develop information systems and information services. Information need and information seeking behavior, two of the most important research areas of the user studies, are two complementary concepts which are affected by many factors. Research results in these areas of user studies indicate that information need and information seeking behavior of scholars vary from one discipline to another. Such different needs and behaviors necessitate to offer different services in academic libraries depending on the academic disciplines scholars come from.

In this paper we report the results of our research conducted at Hacettepe University, at Ankara, Turkey, on the effects of occupational factors in information need, information seeking behavior and library usage of the scholars in science, engineering, social sciences and humanities.

In a questionnaire our subject group were asked to respond to questions such as their choices of information sources and information channels; the periods during which such information is most valuable (e.g. during writing a thesis or preparing a paper for publication), whether the type of information they seek is current or old; familiarity with electronic library sources and services; and the reasons and frequency of using information centers. Based on our analysis of the completed questionnaires we were able to make several recommendations for improved library services.


These topics are approached from such a variety of perspectives that there are no generally accepted definitions. A review of related literature proves that not only different words used to describe the same concept but also identical terms used to mean different things.

The terms information, information need and information seeking behavior are all used in different ways. Within the context of user studies, information has been used ''to denote factual data or advice or opinion, a physical object, such as a book or journal, or the channel through which a message is conveyed, for example, oral or written communication'' (Rohde, 1986, p. 50-51). Within library and information science, information has been defined as ''any stimulus that reduces uncertainty'' (Krikelas, 1983, p.6).

The term information need has also been used in a variety of ways. Information need is a subjective, relative concept only in the mind of the experiencing individual (Wilson and Streatfield, 1981). It has been defined as the ''recognition of the existence of uncertainty'' (Krikelas, 1983, p.6).

Information seeking behavior which results from the recognition of some need (Wilson, 1981) is defined by Krikelas (1983, p. 6-7) ''as any activity of an individual that is undertaken to identify a message that satisfies a perceived need. In other words, information seeking begins when someone perceives that the current state of possessed knowledge is less than that needed to deal with some issue (or problem)''.


Our results indicate that there are major differences of the need and information seeking behavior among the members of major disciplines and within each discipline there are strong similarities. The similarities were most notable between engineers and scientist followed by social scientists and humanities scholars. The greatest differences which we observed were between engineers and humanities scholars.

All the respondents have indicated that although they acquire the needed information through both informal and formal channels; however, given the choice they prefer the formal to the informal. Scientific conferences and meetings provide the major platform for the acquisition of informal information through discussions with colleagues encountered at such gatherings.

When the respondents were asked as to why they attend scientific meetings all have indicated that such meetings were very beneficial not only knowledge gained from listening to presentations and discussions but also develop social contacts and relationships. However, the main reason for attending a conference seems to be different for scientists and humanities scholars. While the scientists are most interested in presenting papers the humanities scholars are content to obtain the copies of papers delivered at the meetings.

The most important difference between the practitioners of various disciplines is whether the information sought is relatively current or not. While the engineers and scientist's preference is for current information provided by periodicals, opposite is true for the humanities scholars who satisfy their needs mostly through books. Social scientists, on the other hand, prefer books to periodicals, but they also follow periodicals much more so than the humanities scholars. It follows than that data bases, indices and abstracts are used more frequently and intensively by the scientists and engineers. A necessary consequence of this is that scientists and engineers utilize the electronic retrieval systems much more than their colleagues in other disciplines. It is important to point out that although social scientists admit a lack of familiarity with the electronic retrieval systems is an impediment to their finding the information they seek, no such reservations have been voiced by the humanities scholars.

Furthermore, we also found that engineers and scientists expand their knowledge by following the references given in the bibliographies of journal articles, the major choice for social scientists and humanities scholars is references given in the books. Not surprisingly, library catalogues are used more often by the humanities scholars and social scientists than scientists and engineers.

The relatively well established terminology in scientific and engineering fields make the preparation and the usage of data bases, handbooks, indices and abstracts much easier. Because of ambiguities and uncertainties in terminology one encounter in social sciences and humanities such preparations and usage are much more difficult.

As for choices for reference sources social scientists and humanities scholars prefer encyclopedias and dictionaries to handbooks; and bibliographies to indices and abstracts. Availability seems to be the most important factor for choosing the periodicals in all disciplines and while the scientists seem to prefer to read review journals, engineers prefer peer reviewed journals.

The major complaints of the participants in our survey was that they could not locate the materials they were seeking at their library and all expressed a desire for the continuation of interlibrary loan services.

We have also found that some of the complaints could have been prevented if the libraries had taken the necessary steps to acquaint the researcher about the services they provide.

An interesting finding in our study was that given the choice, scientists and engineers prefer to read the original article (provided, ofcourse, they are well versed in that language), where as social scientists and humanities scholars seem to prefer those texts translated into Turkish even though they can read and understand the paper in its original form.

It was surprising to find out that except for the scientists the scholars at our university prefer to make their literature search without the benefit of a librarian. This could be the result of better communication between the scientist and the librarian resulting from scientific terminology being less ambiguous and more precise than in other disciplines. It is ironic that those who prefer to conduct their own search also complain of the difficulties they encounter, most notably searching indices and abstracts.


To the best of our knowledge this is the first time such a research has been conducted at a Turkish university. Most of our findings are very similar to those obtained at universities abroad (e.g.: Ellis, 1993; Allen, 1990; Skelton, 1973; Styvendaele, 1977; Lindholm-Romantschuk and Warner, 1996) leading us to the conclusion that regardless of nationality, information seeking behavior is largely dependent on the type of scholar's discipline.

As we have pointed out earlier, the insistence of scholars to conduct their own searches despite difficulties encountered can be dealt with through a user education program tailored to the needs of each discipline. This program should involve the usage of secondary sources such as indices, abstracts and data bases. We recommend that such searches should be a cooperative effort between the librarian and the scholar so that both sides can contribute their own expertise to the solution of the problem.

We also recommend that such programs should be tailored to the needs of each discipline; keeping in mind the different channels and sources available to him. It also follows that librarians running such a program should gain the necessary expertise prior to undertaking such a project. Since in our country electronic search devices are of recent origin, a small pilot program prior to launching a full scale user education program is highly recommended.

In conclusion, while rendering their services librarians should keep in mind the varying needs of each discipline and should retain a degree of elasticity to deal with newly arising needs and situations.


Allen, B. (1990) 'The Effects of Academic Background on Statements of Information Need' Library Quarterly 60(2): 120-138.

Ellis, D. (1993) 'Modeling the Information Seeking Patterns of Academic Researchers' Library Quarterly 63(4): 469-486.

Krikelas, J. (1983) 'Information Seeking Behavior: Patterns and Concepts' Drexel Library Quarterly 19: 5-20

Lindholm-Romantschuk, Y. and Warner, J. (1996) 'The Role of Monographs in Scholarly Communication: An Empirical Study of Philosophy, Sociology and Economics' Journal of Documentation 52(4): 389-404.

Rohde, N. F. (1986) 'Information Needs' W. Simonton ed. Advance in Librarianship. Orlando: Academic Press. 14: 49-70.

Skelton, B. (1973) 'Scientists and Social Scientists as Information Users: A Comparison of Results of Science User Studies With The Investigation into Information Requirements of the Social Sciences' Journal of Librarianship 5(2): 138-156.

Styvendaele, B. J. H. (1977) 'University Scientists as Seekers of Information: Sources of References to Periodical Literature' Journal of Librarianship 9(4): 270-277.

Uçak, N. Ö. (1997) Bilim Adamlarinin Bilgi Arama Davranislari ve Bunlari Etkileyen Nedenler. (Unpublished Ph.D Thesis, Hacettepe University Department of Librarianship).

Wilson, T.D. (1981) 'On User Studies and Information Needs' Journal of Documentation. 37: 3-15.

Wilson, T. D. and Streatfield, D. R. (1981) 'Structured Observation in the Investigation of Information Needs' Social Science Information Studies 1: 173-184.