Information Needs and Uses: A Review

A review of:

Dervin, B. & Nilan, M. (1986).  Information needs and Uses. Annual Review of Information Science and Technology, 21, 1-26.

Main Points Made in Presentation

Traditional Paradigms & Studies – These studies have been used to explain differences among respondents of information behavior dimensions with common predictors.

  • Demographics
  • Sociological
  • Lifestyle
  • Task Description

Discussion Questions:

  • Are studies based on demographic, sociological, lifestyle, and task description predictors the most effective in assessing information behavior?
  • How do we assess information behaviors through these studies? How it is used?

Traditional Information Needs Assessment Approaches – Approaches that imply knowing how users have or might use systems, it is possible to know what their needs are or might be.

  • Demand on System/Resources Approach
  • Awareness Approach
  • Likes-Dislikes Approach
  • Priorities Approach
  • Community Profile Approach
  • Interests, Activities, and Group Membership Approach

Discussion Questions:

  • Do these approaches define system needs or user needs?
  • How do they assess system needs?
  • How do they assess user needs?

Paradigm Shift Debate
Alternate Paradigms & Studies – Suggested alternative to traditional perspectives of information needs and uses research.

  • Objective vs. Subjective
  • Mechanistic, Passive vs. Constructivist, Active Users
  • Situationality vs. Trans-Situationality
  • Atomistic vs. Wholistic Views of Experience
  • External Behavior vs. Internal Cognitions
  • Systematic vs. Chaotic Individuality
  • Quantitative vs. Qualitative Research

Alternate Information Needs Assessment Approaches

  • User-Values Approach – Perceptions of utility and value.
  • Perceptions of utility and value – How people make sense of their worlds and how they use information and resources in the process.
  • Sense-Making Approach – People in problematic situations with views of the situations that are incomplete or limited in some way.

Discussion Questions:

  • How are these Alternate Approaches similar to each other?
  • How do they differ from Traditional Approaches?
  • How do they assess user needs vs. system needs?


While this article has been one of the more challenging articles to understand, it was important to read due to the explanation of traditional assessment approaches and the suggestion of alternate assessment approaches. Through the class discussion, we were able to establish that traditional assessment measures address system needs and not user needs. The suggested alternate approaches explore different ways of assessing user needs, and challenge information behavior research to go beyond the statistical and become individual. Further study is needed to research user needs that go beyond common predictors and instead investigates actual information behavior using wholistic views of experience.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s