Mark's Reviews > Seeking Meaning: A Process Approach to Library and Information Services

Seeking Meaning by Carol Collier Kuhlthau
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really liked it
bookshelves: 12-books-12-months, professional-reading, philosophy

From my blog:

This is my 4th book review for the 12 Books, 12 Months Challenge.

I mostly enjoyed this book, which I read from 10 October to 26 November. It is written fairly straightforwardly, is reasonably well edited, and has a better than average physical layout.

The last couple of chapters do seem fairly repetitive. The last chapter seems particularly so. Well that it should, as it is the wrap-up and conclusion; but somehow it doesn’t seem like it is seriously serving that purpose, only that it is repetitive. All in all, this is a small gripe.

The ideas in this book, centering around the Information Search Process (ISP), are important ones. Keep in mind, the ISP is for more complex tasks, such as researching and writing a term paper or preparing a case for trial, for example, and not for simple fact-finding questions.

* Ch. 1 The Constructive Process in Library and Information Science Theory
* Ch. 2 Learning as a Process
* Ch. 3 The Information Search Process
* Ch. 4 Verification of the Model of the Information Search Process
* Ch. 5 Longitudinal Confirmation of the Information Search Process
* Ch. 6 Uncertainty Principle
* Ch. 7 Roles of Mediators in the Process of Information Seeking
* Ch. 8 Zones of Intervention in the Process of Information Seeking
* Ch. 9 Implementing the Process Approach
* Ch. 10 Information Search Process in the Workplace
* Ch. 11 Process-Oriented Library and Information Services

The “book is about library and information services for intellectual access to information and ideas, and the process of seeking meaning” (xv).

It proposes a process approach, the ISP, based on: Constructivist theory of learning – John Dewey (provides historical & philosophical perspective); Personal construct theory – George Kelly (provides psychological perspective); and an Integrated perspective – Jerome Bruner (xvi).

It critiques the bibliographical paradigm and systems approach that remain predominant within library and information science (LIS); at least within the literature. This does seem to be slowly changing, though.

Much of what Kuhlthau writes seems highly integrational to me.

A model of sense-making information seeking should incorporate three realms of activity: physical, affective, cognitive. These form a complex interplay.

“The criteria for making these choices are influenced as much by environmental constraints, such as prior experience, knowledge, interest, information available, requirements of the problem, and time allotted for resolution, as they are by the relevance of the content of the information retrieved” (6).

The ISP is a 6 stage model which associates the feelings (affective), thoughts (cognitive), and actions (physical) that accompany each task and the process of moving along the information search process.

Initiation, when a person becomes aware of a lack of knowledge or understanding so that uncertainty and apprehension are common

Selection, when a general area or topic is identified and initial uncertainty often gives way to a brief sense of optimism and a readiness to begin the search

Exploration, when inconsistent, incompatible information is encountered and uncertainty, confusion, and doubt frequently increase

Formulation, when a focused perspective on the problem is formed and uncertainty diminishes as confidence begins to increase

Collection, when information pertinent to the focused problem is gathered and uncertainty subsides as interest and involvement in the project deepens

Presentation, when the search is completed, with a new understanding of the problem enabling the user to explain his or her learning to others (165-166)

I think these ideas are extremely valuable and that they ought be taught to children in school as early as they begin doing projects of this kind of scope. Kuhlthau reports on some studies where this was done in the book.

All in all, I think the ideas in this book need to be given far more prominence in our schools and our libraries. Students should be educated in this process from a fairly early age.

LIS services and systems should take this model into account when they are designed and implemented. Reference and instruction can certainly benefit from the model; but our systems ought also be designed to assist with the process. The old bibliographic paradigm and systems view that provides one or more “relevant” sources for the user is a failed paradigm. This claim of failure is mine (and others) based on many things external to this book. I believe Kuhlthau would agree that it is a failed paradigm but I do not think she showed that as well as she might have, nor do I believe she used the word “failed.” Although, to be fair, the book is not about the bibliographic paradigm, nor the systems view, so she probably dedicated a reasonable amount of space to her critique.

My concern is the same as with all similar sorts of reform of our services and systems. Where will the time come from? This is not something that can happen in a one off instruction session. Also, it needs to happen at a much earlier age than when students get to college. But so much needs to change in our educational system, and society, before I can see a strong emphasis on teaching something like the ISP, that I have little hope that much progress can be made.

But. If for whatever reason you are still doing information seeking for complex tasks, such as writing long papers (thesis, perhaps) maybe learning a bit about the ISP might help you understand the kinds of feeling and thoughts that go along with the process as well as understanding the proper attitude to take towards your information seeking at each stage.

Recommended for reference librarians, instruction librarians, those who routinely undertake reasonably complex information seeking tasks, and anyone interested.

The following is a link to something I wrote a bit over 6 years ago in one of my early required masters courses regarding an article by Kuhlthau: Kuhlthau’s ISP Model

Looks like I finally got around to reading Seeking Meaning, and I stand by what I wrote way back when.


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Reading Progress

August 24, 2010 – Shelved
October 3, 2010 – Shelved as: 12-books-12-months
October 10, 2010 – Started Reading
October 10, 2010 – Shelved as: professional-reading
November 26, 2010 – Finished Reading
October 3, 2014 – Shelved as: philosophy

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