I read a post
on Scientific American’s blogs about the myths of organic farming versus
conventional agriculture. It’s a pretty hot-button topic, and as expected,
there were many comments, though of a more elevated nature than those I
typically see after articles in a daily paper.
It struck me, not for the first time, that the
debate that took place in the comments would muddy the waters for anyone not
particularly versed in this topic, and embroil them in an ever-spiraling
pursuit of yet more articles, yet more data, yet more pros and cons. How would a
newbie know when she could stop information-gathering?
I read a
2011 article by Jill Newby (heh) of University of Arizona, on
information-seeking strategies of graduate students in interdisciplinary
programs. Its relevance has to do with these students’ need to familiarize
themselves with fields that are not their major disciplines, and their
difficulties in knowing when enough is enough.
Newby describes a model for a course to prepare grad
students for interdisciplinary info-seeking, that mentions the importance of
“chaining,” (“following references from one source to other relevant
information sources,” p.225) but glosses over the “when to stop” problem. However,
chaining from her bibliography led me to skim a
2007 article on “satisficing” information needs. Satisficing is defined as
“an information competency whereby individuals assess how much information is
good enough to satisfy their information need,” (p.75) which means that
individual had best be good at determining the nature and extent of information
needed, IL Standard #1.
But satisficing turns out to be more about a
cost-benefit calculation than being actually satisfied that one has what one
needs. It’s more of a due-diligence situation. Prabha et al. list three
stopping rules (p.77): satiated searcher, disgusted searcher, and combination
searcher (Kraft, D.H. and Lee, T. 1979. Stopping rules and their effect on
expected search length. Information
Processing & Management 15(1): 47-58.)
We all have encountered students who have satisficed
at a stage where we would say need to look at more and more appropriate
information. Prabha et al. were involved in focus groups of students and
faculty, and identified quantitative and qualitative criteria for stopping
searching. I was particularly struck by the qualitative criterion of the same
info being confirmed in several consulted sources, cited by both students and
faculty, and the qualitative criterion of “representative sample of research
was identified,” cited by faculty only. It seems to me that students would be
less likely to confidently identify a representative sample of research.
For discussion: why searchers stop searching, when
searchers don’t/can’t stop searching, searchers’ question-definition skills
Because most searchers don’t want to read another book!
Newby, Jill. 2011. Entering
unfamiliar territory : building an information literacy course for graduate
students in interdisciplinary areas. Reference
& User Services Quarterly 50(3): 224-229.
Prabha, Chandra, Lynn S. Connaway, LawrenceOlszewski & Lillie R. Jenkins. 2007. What is enough? Satisficing
information needs. Journal of
Documentation 63(1): 74-89.