Modeling the interplay of information seeking and information sharing. A conceptual analysis

Publication Date15 July 2019
Date15 July 2019
AuthorReijo Savolainen
SubjectLibrary & information science,Information behaviour & retrieval,Information & knowledge management,Information management & governance,Information management
Modeling the interplay of
information seeking and
information sharing
A conceptual analysis
Reijo Savolainen
Department of Information Technology and Communication Sciences,
Tampere University, Tampere, Finland
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to contribute to the creation of a holistic picture of information
behavior by examining the connections between information seeking and sharing.
Design/methodology/approach Conceptual analysisis used to focus on theways in which the researchers
have modeled the interplay of information seeking and sharing. The study draws on conceptual analysis of 27
key studiesexaminingthe above issue, witha focus on the scrutinyof six major modelsfor informationbehavior.
Findings Researchers have employedthree main approachesto model the relationships betweeninformation
seeking and sharing. The indirect approach conceptualizes information seeking and sharing as discrete activities
connected by an intermediating factor, for example, information need. The sequential approach assumes that
informationseeking precedes information sharing. From theviewpoint of the interactive approach, information
seeking and sharing appear as mutually related activities shaping each other iteratively or in a cyclical manner.
The interactive approach provides the most sophisticated research perspective on the relationships of
information seeking and sharing and contributes to holistic understanding of human information behavior.
Research limitations/implications As the study focuses on information seeking and sharing, no
attention is devoted to other activities constitutive of information behavior, for example, information use.
Originality/value The study pioneers by providing an in-depth analysisof the connections of information
seeking and information sharing.
Keywords Human Information Behaviour, Information sharing, Information seeking,
Models for information behaviour, Conceptual analysis,
Connection of information seeking and information sharing
Paper type Conceptual paper
Human information behavior (HIB)is a complex phenomenon constituted by activitiessuch as
information seeking, information use and information sharing (Wilson, 2000). Most HIB
models developedso far focus on information seeking, whilethere is a paucity of frameworks
conceptualizing the issues of information sharing (Wilson, 2010b). On the other hand, the
conceptual growth in HIB research is hampered by the fact that researchers tend to focus on
the development of separate models depicting diverse aspects of information behavior
(Case and Given, 2016, pp. 141-175). Less attention has been devoted to the construction of
integrative models specifying the relationships of components constitutive of HIB, for
example, information seeking and sharing.
The present study contributes to information behavior research by scrutinizing how HIB
models developed so far have conceptualized the interplay of information seeking and
sharing. Moreover, an attempt will be made to assess the strengths and weaknesses of such
Aslib Journal of Information
Vol. 71 No. 4, 2019
pp. 518-534
Emerald Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/AJIM-10-2018-0266
Received 7 November 2018
Revised 5 February 2019
22 March 2019
Accepted 9 April 2019
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
© Reijo Savolainen. Published by Emerald Publishing Limited. This article is published under the
Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY 4.0) licence. Anyone may reproduce, distribute, translate and
create derivative works of this article (for both commercial & non-commercial purposes), subject to full
attribution to the original publication and authors. The full terms of this licence may be seen at http://
models from the perspective of the increasing significance of the networked information
environments in HIB. Particularly social media platforms such as Q&A sites and online
discussion forums provide new opportunities for the combination of information seeking
and sharing because an individual can act in double roles as a seeker and provider of
information. Therefore, one of the tasks of the present study is to reflect the extent to which
the HIB models developed so far would be relevant for the conceptualization of the interplay
of information seeking and sharing occurring in interactive online forums.
Information seeking is a multi-faceted phenomenon that has been modeled in diverse
contexts ranging from work task (WT) performance (Leckie et al., 1996) and learning
(Kuhlthau, 2004) to health (McKenzie, 2003) and leisure (Hartel, 2006). The analysis of HIB
models is complicated due to various terms used in studies on information seeking. For
example, terms such as information acquisition and information search are often used
interchangeably with information seeking. The terminology can be clarified by making use
of Wilsons (2000, pp. 49-50) nested model of information behavior. In this model, HIB is
posited as an umbrella category covering all aspects of human information interactions with
various forms of information. A subset is information seeking behavior, which encompasses
the range of ways employed in discovering and accessing information resources (both
humans and systems) in response to goals and intentions. Information searching behavior is
a subset of information seeking a micro-level behavior referring to the purposive actions
involved in interacting with an information search system, including information retrieval
(IR) systems and the Word Wide Web (WWW). The present study uses the term information
seeking in the above sense. For the sake of simplicity, the terms information seeking and its
subset, i.e. information search will be used interchangeably. Similarly, for the sake of
terminological simplification, the term information acquisition is understood as a synonym
with information seeking.
There is also terminological variation in studies on information sharing. The term
information sharing is preferred in library and information science in particular, while
researchers coming from fields such as management science, strategic management and
humancomputer interaction favor the term knowledge sharing (Savolainen, 2017b). The
present investigation prefers the term information sharing because it is a natural
counterpart of information seeking. Moreover, the HIB models examined in the present
investigation conceptualize the phenomena of information seeking, not knowledge
seeking.Information sharing is approached a set of activities by which information is
provided to others, either proactively or upon request (Sonnenwald, 2006). There are two
major perspectives on the study of information sharing. On the one hand, it can be
understood as a one-way communication process in which information is transferred or
disseminated from a sender to recipients (Haythornthwaite, 2010). On the other hand,
information sharing can be conceptualized as a two-way communication process in terms
of mutual information exchange occurring within small groups or online communities
(Burnett, 2000; Pettigrew, 1999).
In HIB research so far, information seeking and information sharing have mainly been
examined as separate activities. On the other hand, there are empirical studies reviewing
both information seeking and information sharing but leaving open the question about their
relationships (e.g. Chatman, 1992; Fleming-May and Miller, 2010; Khoir et al., 2015;
Murgatroyd and Calvert, 2013). The present study fills gaps in HIB research by conducting
a conceptual analysis of the ways in which researchers have modeled the connections of
information seeking and sharing. In the study of the above issues, the analysis of HIB
models is particularly important because they explicate most clearly the relationships
between information seeking and sharing.
To give background, the paper first characterizes the nature of HIB models, followed by the
specification of research questions and methodology. The findings section reviews three major
seeking and

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