LIS5203 – Paper 1

LIS 5203 – Assessing Information Needs

Instructor: Dr. Michelle Kazmer


Paper 1: Analyzing My Own Information Behavior

Joanna June

Submitted 10/24/12



Part 1: A Search for Vegetarian Food in Florence, Italy

The Situation

It was the first day of classes for the study abroad students, my 6th day in Italy, and I hadn’t been able to leave the library where I am the new librarian all day because my student assistants have yet to be hired. I was hungry and I was craving something good for me. I wanted vegetables. Since my Italian was still extremely rudimentary, I wanted to go somewhere I didn’t have to think and translate too much. A Vegetarian Restaurant was needed. Vegan would be even better since I am trying to stick to that diet as much as possible. Do they even have such a thing in Florence? Surely they must.

The Search Begins

First stop: the list that the previous librarian left me of good places to eat. None are listed as vegetarian places. I know he was a vegetarian (most of the time) and I seemed to remember that he sent me at least one recommendation. I tried a search of my Gmail account. “Justin vegetarian” and “Justin vegan” both didn’t pop with the right result. I tried a few other search terms (“food” and “recommendations”) and didn’t find anything that returned the right info. A little frustrated I decided to just try my old standby.

A very generic Google Maps search of “vegan” centered on Florence returned a few promising results. The third one listed was a name I recognized and I thought it was the one that Justin recommended. I clicked on the name “Caffellatte” and it pulled the review. It wasn’t too far but the review was far from glowing and no website was listed, only a phone number. With my little Italian I was worried about calling to find anything as simple as hours. I plugged “Caffellatte Florence” into a google search and it similarly didn’t come up with any specific website. A TripAdvisor link of reviews came up and when clicked it was in Italian. Still no hours or info and 3 out of 5 dots didn’t look so great. I noticed the word “Ingiustificabile” as the headline of the first review and so I hit my handy Google Translate button. It immediately changed to: “inexcusable.” While I normally am willing to try things for myself, the combo screamed: “No, not tonight.”

Potential Solution

I went back to the google map and saw two well rated results as #1 and #2 listings that are located close together on the map — much more promising. Dolce Vegan had 4 reviews and the first blurb I was able to read thanks to Google’s system started “The most amazing vegan food I think I’ve ever had.” Well that looks good. I clicked on the website link and there on the front was an “info/contatti” tab. I clicked through and saw something that looked like hours. Again I hit Google Translate and voila: “Open daily (including Sunday) from 10 to 15 and from 17 to 23 Tuesday closed.” It’s Monday right? Yes. Ok, great. I clicked back on “Confectionary” and read “Pastry no milk, no eggs, and sugar-free? Unbelievable but true.Dolce Vegan is the first organic and vegan pastry shop in Italy.”

Winner! Well yes, I’ll have something good for me and then a treat…

I decided to check the second link just to be sure I wasn’t missing out. Il Vegetariano looked good but a few clicks and translations in, I read, “Monday: Closed.” That’s not going to work tonight but it looks yummy and so I’ll save that one for the future. Back to Dolce Vegan for a map… I got directions from my location and then wrote them down as well as pulled the map up on my phone before I left the library as I didn’t have Internet access on my phone yet.

Search on Foot

With a grumbling tummy I set out along darkening Florentine streets.  I had to back track once and then when I thought I was on the right street I was very carefully looking at every lighted window. I didn’t find Dolce Vegan. I pulled out my phone again and thankfully because of the cache I was able to see my little blue dot self tracking up the street. The flag for Dolce Vegan was behind me though. I turned back around and very carefully went back down looking at the street numbers. I knew from recent experience that red numbers and black numbers (residential versus business) can hop around a little but as I got closer to the correct address I didn’t see anything that looked right. And then I hit 92 (red) and closed metal garage-style grating. Above it was a sign that said “Dolce Vegan” and plastered on the glass behind was a little handwritten sign that said something about “Chiuso” and “25 agosto – 4 sett.” Closed. I had a good place for the future but Dolce Vegan was not going to solve my problem tonight.


I walked towards home and found an open Tattoria to duck into. The menu was posted outside and luckily printed in English too so I was able to order a delicious “bread tomato soup” and a “large platter of grilled vegetables” which were quite good. When I went back to the Dolce Vegan website I did notice that on the front page, below the landing height of my browser, was an indication that they are indeed closed for vacation until the 4th of September (still posted as of the 9th).

My search was successful and my problem for the night was solved, though not as quickly or efficiently as I might like. It was a good reminder that not all things can be achieved through a simple Internet search. My general knowledge about vegetarian options and the city itself was increased, however, and my appetite satiated.


Part 2: Elements of My Information Seeking

Information Need

For my search, I had a very specific information need: a vegetarian restaurant within walkable proximity to where I was. It can very much be classified as a need (as opposed to a want or desire) as finding an answer satisfied a basic human need (to eat) and my information seeking was “instrumental: it involve[d] reaching a desired goal” (Case, 69).

Information Behaviors

My search to satisfy that need – my information seeking behavior – followed Taylor’s model for the origins of the need and the start of the query almost exactly. First, I had the visceral need: I was hungry. Second, I had the conscious mental description: I defined my need, given the hour of the day as wanting dinner, maybe where I could get a healthy does of vegetables or a large salad… perhaps at a vegetarian restaurant… Next, I formalized the need: I wanted to find a vegetarian, preferably even vegan restaurant to have dinner. Lastly, to begin my actual search, I compromised the need to just “vegan” and “vegetarian” (Case, p72-73).

Information Seeking

Throughout the process of my information seeking I then had to ‘negotiate’ questions and answers to suit my unexpressed qualifications (the restaurant be open that particular evening for instance) to narrow my results to an acceptable solution (Case, p72-73). I also had to translate – quite literally – information results. While not through a librarian or other third party, this process made me think critically and more fully about my search terms and what qualified as “acceptable” results.

I thought that my information decision making and seeking was conclusive, my need satisfied, when I had the name and address of a Vegan Restaurant and a map to get there. Despite my targeted, specific requirement, however, my information seeking behavior continued past the one outcome because the physical reality didn’t match the virtual information.

It was at this point that I did a more randomized search of available options (those that I walked past) using ‘serendipity’ to potentially find a solution to my problem. As Case notes, this happenstance or fortuitous discovery “operates more often than we might expect” (32). Indeed in this instance it is through serendipity that I last found a solution to my query.

Information Sources

Almost all of my information seeking was done via the Internet until I went looking for the restaurant in person, but at that point I believed my search was complete. My information seeking, as in this instance, is typically quite targeted and my choice of sources reflect that. As Case quotes Johnson: “purposive acquisition of information from selected information carriers” (Case, p80).

The pattern of information sources in this instance reflects how I generally choose and use information. In similar situations, I tend to rely on the recommendations or information of social contacts first. Then turn to Internet resources, particularly those that are crowd-sourced or otherwise provide opinion or detail that I can accept or reject.

My initial information carriers were Digital resources: the notes of an acquaintance, google maps (and resultant hyperlinks), trip advisor, and I relied on these formal sources — websites – for objective information (location and hours of operation) as much as informal sources for subjective information (first the previous librarian and then the opinions of others in the form of restaurant reviews). I think this is quite reflective of the types of information sources that I use generally: I utilize online/web resources heavily and turn to in-person communication as a secondary source.

Finally, I vet that information in real life with my own observations and conclusions. As this situation demonstrates, the real world information usually proves more valuable than what is gleamed online or from other sources.

Part 3: Methodology and Model

Methodology: Sense-making

In her original theory/methodology/findings/proposal on Sense-making and in a 1998 paper on knowledge seeking, Dervin encourages “looking at the gap” — both in knowledge and the gaps between information seeking and decision making (38). “Sense making is described as attending to sense making and sense unmaking” (Dervin, 40). That is to say, the theory looks at and tries to encompass how we add to our knowledge by accepting or rejecting information and finding place for it in our larger construct. On a practical level, Devin writes: “The central foundational concepts of the Sense-making methodology are, thus, time, space, movement, gap; step-taking, situation, bridge, outcome” (39).

“One of the premises of Sense making is that there is an inherent intertwined connection between how you look at a situation and what sense of it you are able to construct of it” (Dervin, 39). Throughout my search for a vegetarian/vegan restaurant in Florence, Italy, I certainly utilized this connection so Dervin’s Sense making theory for information seeking is a usable construct to analyze my behavior.

Applying the Methodology

As Case explains, “sense-making sees information as something that is constructed internally in order to address discontinuities in life” (Case, 158). The problem I faced was finding a place to have dinner on a particular night with the obstacles of my dietary restrictions and my limited knowledge of the area.

I went through a number of steps to both seek new information, weigh it against my existing knowledge, incorporate it or reject it as a possible answer or solution to my search, and then make a decision to act upon the information. For example, I started my search by using a question: “where is there a vegetarian restraint close by?” My first step was to look into the knowledge imparted by another individual. I searched his written records, looking for key words that answered my question, yet that did not yield any results that I deemed satisfactory.

I then transitioned into searching (via Google and other Internet websites) the general knowledge of my society. At various points in this phase of the process, I filled in gaps in my knowledge by making inferences and insights — connections between what I knew and new information. This learning process followed a similar pattern: I would find a restaurant that seemed to be the answer to my question but then would ask more questions (for instance: “is it well rated by other individuals?” then “what are it’s operating hours?”) that would either mark it in my mind as a potential solution or not. I followed this strategy until I found the name and location of a restaurant that I thought suited my needs. I then took the new action-step of walking to that location only to find that it was closed.

Facing the new problem of being out and away from my previous information resources, I then adopted a new question and strategy. I used a different body of knowledge (food I can eat as a vegetarian) to assess the information present as I walked. Or as Dervin puts it: “Knowledge creating, seeking and use change as… situational focuses change as the sense-maker moves through time-space.” My question had changed from “Where is a vegetarian restaurant?” to “Can I eat here?” I used some of the knowledge I had gained (where I was in the city and what might be close by) but mostly new inputs as I walked along to eventually solve my problem. Throughout, I created information that added to my knowledge and understanding and then acted upon that information.


Model: Savolainen Everyday Life Information Seeking

The Everyday-Life Information-Seeking (ELIS) model by Savolainen, nicely conceptualizes my information seeking behavior. Starting with the fact that my information need was “non-work” related and an “everyday life” event I also demonstrated the effect of social and cultural factors on my preferences for choice and use of sources as well as a optimistic-cognitive attitude towards my search (Case p130-131). Particularly because, in the end, the information I gathered through my direct seeking did not solve my current problem but did add to my knowledge and “mastery of life,” I think the Savolainen Model is an interesting one to use.

Applying the Model (overarching “Mastery of Life”):

First, I approach my information seeking generally (and in this particular case) with what the ELIS model would characterize as an “Optimistic-cognitive” attitude – I believed that through detailed analysis I can find an optimal solution to my problem (Savolainen, 265). I have confidence in my ability to navigate various information sources and that the environment around me is structured in such a way that I can logically solve any problems. My “mastery of life” category, therefore is “optimistic-cognitive” and this approach guided my search (264-265).

My information seeking was explicit but took on a larger context, which makes the ELIS model appropriate, as the process of my search was determined by my values, attitudes, and interests — characteristics of my way of life (Savolainen, 267). I utilized the gathered information to solve my problem but also incorporated it into my larger knowledge base (Case, 131).

Specific Application of the Savolainen Model:

I believed I somewhat unconsciously skipped the first step in the ELIS Problem Solving Behavior portion of the model – I was hungry and that took precedent over any other problems or quandaries I might have been facing. The importance of finding food affirmed I moved on to the next steps.

As Savolainen explains, “different information sources and channels are perceived as familiar or unfamiliar in the context of way of life, their use becomes natural or even self-evident in certain problem situations” (267). In my problem situation, Internet searching was and is familiar; specifically through different Google sites and So I turned to these sources first and repeatedly throughout my information seeking.

Throughout, I engaged in problem solving behavior in terms of selecting information sources and channels and seeking practical information to solve that need (Case, 131). For instance, I searched Google Maps for “vegan,” (selection) and then read through the results to find the practical information I wanted (location and hours). I evaluated the information and and chose to delve deeper into certain resources (the website for a particular restaurant) or not. I continued in this cycle of selection and seeking until I had a desired result.

Once I made my ultimate selection via Internet search, I sought out the restaurant in question. The reality did not meet my expectations, however, but with my optimistic-cognitive attitude, I found a satisfactory result through another search method with which I am comfortable and familiar (walking and observing). My particular quandary reached a conclusion for the night yet all of the information I gathered will help me to “keep things in order” – ie know where vegetarian or vegetarian-friendly establishments are – and that information should prove useful in future instances (Savolainen, 268).


Part 4: Sense Making and ELIS Implications

Interpretation: Compare and Contrast

It was interesting to diagnose my own behavior using the ELIS Model and the Sense Making Methodology and think critically about how I engage in a search process. I was particularly drawn to the ELIS model because it engaged more social and life-long-learning constructs. Sense Making, by contrast, at least in the way that I applied it to my situation, was much more targeted. They both have interplay, however, as once I made sense of the new information, I incorporated it into my life mastery database of information (knowledge) for future use.

Both the ELIS model and the Sense making methodology speak to steps we – or I in this case – go through to find a solution to life’s problems and issues (when we choose to engage in information seeking to do so). It is always helpful and useful to gain the language and terms to better describe our choices, actions and behaviors. It is unfortunate that in the literature I found regarding each, neither specifically addresses what eventually solved my search: serendipity.


I particularly found the insights gained by applying the ELIS model – the resources and methods with which I am most familiar and value most – to be the most interesting. While I always considered myself optimistic and resourceful, it was affirming to have that codified and deemed “optimistic-cognitive” as my pattern of behavior in this instance attests. Previous to applying the model I also somewhat saw this instance as just one incident, whereas after I can see and interpret my search as part of a larger life pattern.

From Dervin’s methodology I was able to better see and understand each action and cognition step that I took. Applying it in this way helped me some errors or missteps in my information seeking that I otherwise would not have noticed. To dissect my behavior in this way helps me think more critically about how I make choices in search but also how I could help others find acceptable solutions to their problems.




Cited Sources

Case, D. O. (2012). Looking for Information: A survey of research on information seeking, needs and behavior. Bingley, UK: Emerald Group Pub. Ltd.

Dervin, Brenda. (1998). “Sense-making theory and practice: an overview of user interests in knowledge seeking and use.” Journal of Knowledge Management, Vol. 2 Iss: 2, pp.36 – 46

Savolainen, Reijo. (1995). “Everyday life information seeking: Approaching information seeking in the context of ‘way of life.’” Library & Information Science Research, Volume 17, Issue 3, Summer 1995, Pages 259-294. Retrieved from: