Sense-Making the Information Confluence:
The Whys and Hows of College and University User Satisficing of Information Needs

This activity is now closed. The information on this page is provided for historical purposes only.

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This project is funded by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and in-kind contributions from Ohio State University and OCLC.


This project will

  1. Provide useful findings about
    • why and how people use electronic information
    • how system design features affect how well systems meet the needs of users
    • how system design features affect the actual use of systems.
  2. Apply diverse user-research interpretations to the inquiry, in order to
    • focus on both commonalities and diversities in findings and interpretations
    • develop boundary-bridging concepts that enable more effective application and collaboration in both system design and user research.

The findings from this research will be relevant to

  1. Practicing librarians
    • for developing user-centered services, resources, and systems based on findings from a fresh approach to user research.
  2. Use and User study researchers
    • by providing breakthrough portraits of user information-seeking behavior in the information confluence from a variety of sources and perspectives
    • by demonstrating methods to attend to the whys and hows of the information seeking and finding process.
  3. Practitioners and researchers collaborating from different disciplines
    • by providing a model of how to address unities and diversities in findings and interpretations. Both the designs for the research (e.g. instruments, analytic frames) and the designs for interpreting the research (e.g. multi-perspective dialogues) will be developed as tools available to other researchers in this area.

Through formal reports and conference presentations investigators will share with the community

  1. empirical findings and implications
  2. examples of approches for bridging diifferences between researchers and practitioners in multiple fields --approaches for identifying unities and for making sense of differences.

Why OCLC is conducting this research and how it helps libraries

This research project

  • is important because, while researchers know a lot about who tends to use electronic resources and what resources they use, we have very few studies that address the process of how users recognize their need for information (the "whys" of information seeking) and the processes they go through to find the information (the "hows").
  • can help answer questions that in the long run will help users of all types of electronic research resources, such as the Internet and e-books.
  • contribute to the scholarly literature in the areas of college and university library users' information-seeking behaviors and information.
  • represents a unique contribution that capitalizes on the collaborative strengths and resources available to OCLC Research and an OCLC cooperative member, the Ohio State University.


  • In Phase I, researchers will review research literatures, charting and accounting for disagreements.
  • In Phases II, III, and IV, researchers will conduct a user study with survey interviews, focus group interviews, and structured observations.

The interviews, focus groups and field observations will aim to find answers for a variety of questions, such as how people viewed their information needs in particular situations, what they were trying to accomplish, and how system features helped and hindered their ability to meet their information needs.


The two-year research period began December 31, 2003.



  • Connaway, Lynn Silipigni, Marie L. Radford, Timothy J. Dickey, Jocelyn De Angelis Williams, and Patrick Confer. 2008. "Sense-making and Synchronicity: Information-seeking Behaviors of Millennials and Baby Boomers." Libri 58,2 (June): 123-135. E-print available online at: (.pdf: 192K/32 pp.).
  • Connaway, Lynn Silipigni. 2007. "Mountains, Valleys, and Pathways: Serials Users’ Needs and Steps to Meet Them. Part I: Identifying Serials Users’ Needs: Preliminary Analysis of Focus Group and Semi-structured Interviews at Colleges and Universities." Serials Librarian, 52,1/2: 223-236. E-print available online at: (.pdf: 49K/14 pp.)
  • Prabha, Chandra, Lynn Silipigni Connaway, Lawrence Olszewski, & Lillie Jenkins. 2007. "What is enough? Satisficing information needs." Journal of Documentation, 63,1(January): 74-89. E-print available online at: (.pdf: 176K/18 pp.).


Project team

  • Brenda Dervin
    Professor of Communication
    Joan N. Huber Fellow in Social & Behavioral Sciences
    Ohio State University
    Principal Investigator
  • Lynn Silipigni Connaway
    Consulting Research Scientist
    OCLC Research
    Co-investigator and OCLC Lead
  • Chandra Prabha
    Senior Research Scientist
    OCLC Research