The information needs of contemporary academic researchers
This thesis looks at the information component of the research endeavour at a particularly interesting point in time, when strikingly new developments in both the scholarly world and its information environs cast doubt on the validity of anything and everything we have traditionally been holding true as to academic researchers' information needs and practices. Indeed, the host of societal demands driven transformations in the organisation, values and practices of scholarly knowledge production of recent years, coupled with the technology-enabled, rapidly evolving opportunities for creating, accessing and communicating information suggest that neither researchers' information needs, nor their attempts at meeting these needs could conceivably remain untouched. This state of affairs has been the impetus for undertaking the re-examination reported here of our long-established notions concerning scholarly information needs and practices. The study sets out, therefore, to investigate, analyse and systematically describe the information work of researchers in academe of the knowledge society. This, with the express aim of achieving a comprehensive, state-of-the-art portrayal of the generic, as well as the disciplinary and/or age specific information needs and corresponding information behaviour of today's university-based researchers. Towards this purpose, the thesis integrates three inter-related elements: a user-centred theoretical perspective, proposed by Nicholas (1996,2000), which views an information need as having eleven different dimensions; a state-of-the-art review, based on the literature; and a hybrid, field research project, conducted at the University of Haifa, Israel, comprising two consecutive stages, a two-phase qualitative stage of interviews, and a quantitative stage of a questionnaire survey. Thus, the theoretical perspective and the insights offered by the published literature in the field combine with the data collected for the present undertaking to inform the research questions. Unravelling the complex picture of contemporary academic researchers' information needs has proven to be an undertaking of exceptionally wide scope. Not only does it look at an entire information community, but also, utilising as it does the eleven-pronged analytical framework for assessing information needs, developed by Nicholas (1996, 2000) on the basis of his conceptual approach, it also took a far more comprehensive view of the concept of research-related information need than other field-based investigations. Endeavouring to draw an overarching portrayal of the information needs characterising today's academic researchers, the thesis opens, therefore, with the rationale for the investigation, its aims, scope and setting. Then it proceeds to recap our traditionally held notions concerning scholarly work and its information component by reviewing the literature depicting the socio-cultural context of the scientific enterprise. Next the theoretical foundations of the investigation are delineated, followed by a detailed account of the field-work based insights gleaned into the information component of academic research work. Then all of the information presented is interpreted in the light of the research questions, for a comprehensive portrayal of contemporary researchers' information needs and practices to materialise. As surmised, many elements of the present-day, research-associated in formation work, as they emerge from the findings of this investigation, comprise changed or changing features. Nevertheless, the overall picture bears testimony to the continued existence and relevance of those core scholarly information needs, which are dictated by the basic professional values of academics and their discipline-specific research work conventions. Thus, today's researchers may define their information needs in terms of the changing realities of conducting research in academe of the knowledge society, may more or less happily embrace information work practices,w hich involve novel responses to the new challenges posed to them, but their fundamental information needs seem to have remained by and large unaffected by the recent upheavals in the scholarly world and its information environs. Indeed, the present study re-affirms yet again that the inter-disciplinary differences in analytic processes and research work-habits, stemming as they do from the very nature of the way knowledge grows in each of the knowledge domains, entail discretionary information needs and uses both on the inter-individual and the intra-individual level. These needs, summarised here as a generalised profile of scientists, socials scientists, and humanists, whilst clearly indicative of changing elements in contemporary research-associated in formation work, nevertheless bear testimony to the ongoing vital importance of heeding the research-work conventions rooted specific information needs of the different communities comprising the academic population.