Genres and situational appropriation of information. Explaining not-seeking of information

Publication Date26 September 2019
AuthorIsto Huvila
SubjectLibrary & information science,Records management & preservation,Document management,Classification & cataloguing,Information behaviour & retrieval,Collection building & management,Scholarly communications/publishing,Information & knowledge management,Information management & governance,Information management,Information & communications technology,Internet
Genres and situational
appropriation of information
Explaining not-seeking of information
Isto Huvila
Department of ALM, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden
Purpose Information science research has begun to broaden its traditional focus on information seeking to
cover other modes of acquiring information. The purpose of this paper is to move forward on this trajectory
and to present a framework for explicating how in addition to being sought, existing information are made
useful and taken into use.
Design/methodology/approach A conceptual enquiry draws on an empirical vignette based on an
observation study of an archaeological teaching excavation. The conceptual perspective builds on Andersens
genre approach and Huvilas notion of situational appropriation.
Findings This paper suggests that information becomes appropriable, and appropriated (i.e. taken into
use), when informational and social genres intertwine with each other. This happens in a continuous process
of (re)appropriation of information where existing information scaffolds new information and the on-going
process of appropriation.
Originality/value The approach is proposed as a potentially powerful conceptualisation for explicating
information interactions when existing information is taken into use rather than sought that have received
little attention in traditional models and theories of human information behaviour.
Keywords Information seeking, Scaffolding, Information behaviour, Information needs, Genre,
Situational appropriation, Information work, Information practices, Not-seeking
Paper type Research paper
The recent decades of information science research have considerably broadened our
understanding of how people seek and acquire information. Whereas much, albeit not all, of
the earlier work has focused primarily on purposeful information searching, since the 1990s
onwards scholars have increasingly acknowledged and emphasised the significance of
serendipitous and accidental discovery (Erdelez and Makri, 2011) and the embeddedness of
information work and information practices in everyday professional and leisurely activities
(Huotari and Chatman, 2001) and duties (Ocepek, 2018). Conceptualisations like information
practices (Cox, 2012) and literacies (Lloyd, 2011), and information in social practices
(e.g. McKenzie, 2009;Cox, 2013) have been useful in widening the focus of enquiry. In spite of
this broadening of focus, much of information research is still premised by the idea of the
primacy of an (explicit or implicit)information need that is leadingpeople to seek information
(Case and Given, 2016). The needs can be implicit and searching accidental (Agarwal, 2015)
and embedded in a certain practice (Lloyd, 2011) but there are only relatively few cases
(e.g. Andersen, 2008; Huvila, 2015; Feinberg, 2017) that have focussed on situations when
information use is not preceeded by satisfying a need by seeking (new) information.
The aim of this paperis to move forward on the trajectoryof challenging the hegemonyof
the long-standing tenet of information science research to focus on diverse forms of
informationseeking and to nuance the picture by presentinga framework for explicating how
in addition to beingsought, existing information is alsomade useful and taken into use in the
course of information work. The aim should not be interpreted as an attempt to deny the
relevance of information seeking perspective or the empirical fact that people seek a lot of
informationbut to stress that not all informationused by people is sought or even encountered
accidentally or to put it differently, thatthese conceptualisations arenot necessarily always
Journal of Documentation
Vol. 75 No. 6, 2019
pp. 1503-1527
© Emerald PublishingLimited
DOI 10.1108/JD-03-2019-0044
Received 5 March 2019
Revised 27 May 2019
Accepted 28 May 2019
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
Genres and
the best way to describehow information ends up being used by people.Alternative framings
of information work could provide new perspectives to how and why people interact with
information, and consequently open up for new practical approaches to help people to cope
with information. Finally, a consideration of alternatives could also pave way for a greater
awareness and explicitness about assumptions that underpin the conceptualisations of the
structures of information interactions in information science research.
The present text draws from Andersens (2008) genre-based approach to explicate
information practices backwardsfrom information genres together with the notion of the
situational appropriation of information proposed by Huvila (2015) as a conceptual starting
point to describe how information is made useful and shows how the taking of available
information into use can play a significant role in information work, even more prominent
than explicit seeking or serendipitous discovery of information. This paper suggests that
these two perspectives complement each other by providing means to explain both premises
(genre) and mechanisms (situational appropriation) of the uptake of information. The
conceptual discussion draws from an empirical vignette of an observation study of a group
of archaeologists working on a week-long excavation in a Nordic country conducted
in Spring 2016. Observations in this highly multi-faceted empirical setting of information
work which is an information seeking and use exercise par excellence where information
is sought, used and managed in numerous ways are used to illustrate how and when people
appropriate information, how information influences its appropriability, and how
appropriation links to accidental and purposeful seeking of information.
Information interactions beyond seeking and retrieval
In spite of its apparent violence to the complexity of everyday life, the predominant
perspectiveto information activities in information science research has been to conceptualise
them as processes or practices comprising or relating to the triad of needs, seeking and use
(e.g. Talja andMcKenzie, 2007; Case and Given, 2016).A classical information seekingprocess
starts with an explicit, or as more recent studies have acknowledged, often rather implicit
(information) need that triggers information seeking, evaluation of sought information (cf.
Case and Given, 2016) and the seldom extensively elaborated process of information use
(Vakkari, 1997; Savolainen, 2009). This process is facilitated by other activities such as
management (Detlor, 2011), searching, retrieval and organisation of information (Hjørland,
2012), and the sometimes mentioned but rather rarely elucidated undertaking of creating
information (Trace, 2007).
In spite of the resilience of the information seeking perspective, especially the newer
information science literature has begun to propose alternative emphases (e.g. Feinberg,
2017), and perspectives to what precedes information use. The contextual emphasis in
information science research has contested the earlier orthodoxy of perceiving information
needs as the primary impetus of information seeking especially from the 1990s onwards
(Savolainen, 2017). The research on incidental information acquisition has demonstrated
further that with information encountering and serendipitous discoveries it can be
impossible, or very difficult, to explicate specific information needs at all (Savolainen, 2017).
Eventual needs are embedded in a situation and similarly to searching, it can be influenced
by the unconscious (cf. Liu and Albright, 2018). Another problem with the notion of
information seeking, as Keilty and Leazer (2018) note, relates to its origins in an era and
contexts where information seeking and searching were typically distinct activities,
whereas at the present, searching and browsing have become close to ubiquitous activities
and a source of cognitive and emotional stimulus (Haider and Sundin, 2019). The ubiquity
and effectiveness of searching reminds of Jevons paradox (Nardi et al., 2018) that more
efficient technologies lead to increasing consumption. In an analogous manner, more
effective information seeking seems to have led to an overflow of information and

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