published quarterly by the university of borås, sweden

Vol. 23 no. 4, December, 2018

Proceedings of ISIC: The Information Behaviour Conference, Krakow, Poland, 9-11 October, 2018: Part 1.

Perceptions of the information environment by researchers: a qualitative study

Jela Steinerova

Introduction. Information behaviour of researchers is examined based on a qualitative study of 19 Slovak researchers. The aim is to find how researchers engage with information and how they perceive information environment with regard to barriers, publishing, digital and open science and research creativity.
Method. Related information behaviour studies of researchers are reviewed. Research design represents the structure of the information environment The methodology of semi-structured interviews with 19 researchers was applied.
Analysis. Qualitative data analyses and an original concept mapping method were applied. Examples of original concept maps represent the identified discourses.
Results. Two interpretative repertoires of Slovak researchers related to the information environment were identified; namely the critical and the constructive repertoires. The perceived barriers were categorized into the system, social, individual, technological, administrative and financial. Three modes of publishing include sciences, humanities and social sciences, and computer science. New contexts emerged in factors of open science, digital humanities and research creativity.
Conclusion. We proposed the framework of research information interactions, common factors and differences in disciplines were explained. The concept of academic information ecologies is proposed including recommendations for academic libraries.


Understanding research and academic practices represents a challenge for the improvement of information services and information infrastructures. Deeper knowledge on how researchers engage with information can help develop new perspectives and contexts for information behaviour research. In this paper, we would like to contribute to understanding of information behaviour of researchers by a qualitative study of 19 Slovak scholars in different disciplines as part of a broader study. Issues of understanding scholarly information behaviour and the traits of the information environment are widely discussed in Slovakia. We ask the question: What is the perception of the information environment by researchers regarding barriers of information work, publishing strategies, open science and research creativity?

In the following sections we determine the concept of human information behaviour and related studies of information behaviour of researchers. We report on a qualitative study of Slovak researchers based on semi-structured interviews. Findings are presented in contexts of critical and constructive discourses, common factors and disciplinary differences. We also present perceptions of barriers in information infrastructure; publishing strategies; digital and open science; and research creativity by researchers visualized by concept maps. Critical and constructive interpretative repertoires of researchers are outlined. In conclusion, we propose an ecological model of research information interactions, academic information ecologies and recommendations for academic libraries and information infrastructure.

Information behaviour of researchers: related research

The concept of information behaviour is used to explain how people need, manage, seek and use information (Fisher, Erdelez and McKechnie, 2005). It is referred to totality of activities in relation to sources and channels of information, including both active and passive information seeking and information use (Wilson, 2000). One of the latest definition was proposed by Ford (2015) who includes the following activities into the concept of information behaviour: perceiving information-related need, assessing the suitability of information, using information or knowledge, and organizing information. The definition focuses on characteristics of information (nature, medium, source, mode, circumstances of discovery). Information behaviour includes three components, i.e. information-related needs, information behaviour (searching, browsing, monitoring, seeking) and information use (effects of information).

Related concepts of information practices and information interactions are also studied in relation to researchers. Savolainen (2008) determined information practices as a set of socially and culturally established ways to identify, seek, use and share the information available in various sources. Information practices include both social and cultural factors. The conceptualization of information needs by Savolainen (2012) determines the components of situation of action (temporal and spatial factors), task performance and dialogues. The concept of human information interactions (Fidel, 2012) introduces broader meaning focused on information activities and adaptations to information environments. The dynamic and ecological relationships between people and information can include filtering, avoiding information, organizing and representing information. Case and Given (2016) argue that information behaviour encompasses information seeking as well as the totality of other unintentional or passive behaviours that do not involve seeking, such as actively avoiding information. Following these and other definitions of information behaviour, we will use the term of human information behaviour here as multilevel integrated human activity based on adaptations of people to information environment, composed of cognitive, affective, sensorimotor, neurophysiological and social components.

Human information behaviour studies encompass a variety of models and empirical studies. Many studies pay special attention to professional environment and information behaviour of researchers. Case and Given (2016) summarised that information behaviour models have spread from scientific information to everyday information. First studies were targeted on scientists and engineers; later studies focused on researchers in social sciences and humanities. Paisley developed a framework of information use (1968) describing a scientist in an interconnected set of systems, including his personality, work team, formal organization, formal information systems, reference group, membership group, invisible college, political, legal/economic systems (Byström, Ruthven and Heinström, 2017). Palmer, Teffeau and Pirmann (2009) described information practices of scholars as searching, collecting, reading, writing, and collaborating, and basic common activities (cross-cutting primitives) as monitoring, notetaking, translating and data practices. Rowlands and Fieldhouse (2007) identified such information activities as skimming, navigating, power-browsing, squirrelling, cross-checking, chaining, and bouncing.

Some prior studies emphasised the role of scholars as gatekeepers who share information informally. Ellis´s studies of scholars lead to his widely recognized model of information behaviour, including starting, chaining, browsing, differentiating, monitoring, extracting (verifying, ending) (Ellis, 2005). Based on a study of scholars, Fosters´ (2004) non-linear model of information behaviour of scholars identified processes of opening, orientation, consolidation and cognitive and external factors. Main factors which influence information behaviour of researchers are their recent projects, stages of projects, and needs to monitor a topic. Differences emerge from different contexts of their work, personal information styles, tasks and situations. Consideration of digital environment and collaboration lead to further interesting theories and models, e.g. the theory of remote scientific collaboration by Olson and Olson (2016), which identified factors of success in distance collaboration, e.g. common ground, readiness, management and planning. Recent trends identified by Greifeneder (2014) point to implicit knowledge in information use environments of researchers and restrained attitudes to social networks (Greifeneder et al., 2018). A number of disciplinary approaches identified differences in information use patterns in disciplines (Talja, 2005; Palmer and Cragin, 2008; Talja, Savolainen and Maula, 2005). Findings of these studies and studies of communication in the sciences identified patterns of online publishing, citation and semantic linking and scientific discovery which are different in disciplines based on weak problem solving (humanities, social sciences) and disciplines with strong problem solving (high level of domain knowledge, sciences, engineering) (Brown, 2010; Palmer et al., 2009; Fry, 2013). Talja (2005) and Erdelez and Means (2005) found that patterns of information behaviour are dependent on research communities and traditions of disciplines. New patterns were identified with regard to reading, using electronic resources and data management with the emphasis on data sharing (Tenopir, King, Christian and Volentine, 2015). Implications for digital scholarship and data management were summarised by Borgman (2015) and MacKenzie and Martin (2016).

In this context we found interesting studies of information environment and information infrastructures of researchers (Bowker, Timmermans, Clarke, and Balka, 2015). Information environment can be regarded as a complex system of information interactions that support the information process, namely the lifecycle of creation, processing, communication and use of information (e.g. Roos, Kumpulainen, Järvelin and Hedlund, 2008). It is a framework for information processing and use. The term information infrastructure is referred to networks of people, objects, integrated sources and services and institutions, including values, social interactions and knowledge (Bowker et al., 2015, Borgman, 2015). Information / knowledge infrastructures provide information, resources and services for scientific communication. Selected characteristics of information infrastructures are invisibility of information practices, dynamics, fluidity, and interoperability.

Savolainen (2016) determined the multidimensional conceptual space of information seeking composed of the active directed mode (location, access), the active undirected mode (browsing, scanning), passive monitoring and incidental acquisition of information. The activity theory (Wilson, 2016) emphasised the use of tools, such as artefacts, mental constructs and norms in the information behaviour.

A number of authors explained the factors which influence information behaviour, e.g. relationships between task complexity and information behaviour (Byström, 2005), integration of communication and information access and use (Robson and Robinson, 2013), evolutionary and social frameworks of information behaviour (Spink, 2010), and holistic ecological approaches to information interactions (Fidel, 2012; Nardi and O´Day, 1999).

Recently, several studies reflected new trends of digital and open science and focus on perception of open science factors. Xiang (2015) found certain gaps in the use of open access sources. Humanities scholars´ studies identified barriers in the adoption of new technologies, limited use of social media, collaboration and use of both print and electronic sources (Bulger et al., 2011). Other studies indicated different use of digital tools and translations between disciplines (Given and Willson, 2015, Palmer and Neumann, 2002). For example, deep in-context studies of historians suggested new perspectives for design of systems and tools (Heuwing, Mandl and Womser-Hacker, 2016). Scanlon (2014) interviewed 22 U.K. scholars and found pragmatic information behaviour of scholars in digital environment appreciating citations and visibility. Most changes of information behaviour relate to blurring formal and informal communication, new forms of peer-reviews and digital publishing. Similar studies found barriers between information needs of scholars and information infrastructures (e.g. Vilar, Juznic and Bartol, 2015, Mc Guiness, 2006). Contexts of information literacy and science 2.0 were explored following innovative approaches to promotion of science in society (Koltay, Špiranec and Karvalics, 2016; Vrana, 2013; Karvalics, 2013; Schneider, 2013). Researcher Development Framework (Vitae Researcher Development Framework, 2011) determined the position of a scholar in four components of his career, including intellectual abilities, personal efficiency, organization of research and impact. Based on these approaches we developed the research design of a qualitative study of information behaviour of researchers as part of a broader research project.

Information behaviour of researchers: research design

The objectives of this qualitative study were to determine information behaviour and perceptions of researchers regarding selected aspects of the information environment in Slovakia. The research was designed in a structure composed of four components, i.e. the research process, the information process, the information infrastructure and factors of influence. (Fig. 1). Based on this structure the semi-structured interviews with 19 selected scholars were conducted using 25 questions. Participants were selected from sciences, social sciences, humanities, and computer science based on their expertise, international and national contacts and publishing. We asked the questions on how scholars engaged with information, which barriers are most significant for their work, how they perceived and experienced publishing, open science, and research creativity. The complete analysis is published in a separate publication.

Figure 1: Methodological design of the study (conceptual structure)

Figure 1: Methodological design of the study (conceptual structure)

The 19 participants included 13 males (68,4 %) and 6 females (31,6 %), the average age was 54,4 and the number of years of professional experience was 30 years. The representation of disciplines was composed of humanities (39%), sciences and medicine (28 %), social sciences (22 %) and technical sciences (11 %). An average duration of an interview was 72 minutes. The interviews were carried out since October to December 2015 and since January to May 2016. Data were coded, main categories were identified and interpreted by the qualitative data analysis. Deeper semantic analyses were applied with the use of concept mapping for representation of different discourses of the researchers. The characteristics of participants are outlined in Table 1.

Table 1: Disciplines other than information science dealing with information behaviour - 1970-1979
GroupDiscipline [17]Research subjectsGender
Humanities (8)Archaeology; Archival Studies; Comparative Religionistics; Literary Studies; Sinology; Slovak Language – Linguistics; Systematic Philosophy (2) [7]Aeneolith, Bronze Age; Written Culture History in Slovakia; Maya Culture; Slovak Literature; History of China; Slavic languages, Dialectology; Logics; PragmaticismF (0)
M (8)
Social Sciences (4)Ethnology; Economics, Statistics; Politology; Sociology [4]Folk traditions, social anthropology; Megatrends, prognostics; Comparative politology, European integration; Social policyF (4)
M (0)
Sciences (5)Astronomy, Astrophysics; Macromolecular Chemistry; Molecular Biology; Neurophysiology; Nuclear Physics [5]Observational astronomy; Polymers; Genetics; Autism; Space SciencesF (1)
M (4)
Technical Sciences (2)Computer Science (2) [1]Information Systems; Software engineeringF (1)
M (1)

Methodology, qualitative data analyses and concept mapping

In line with qualitative methodology of information behaviour studies (Given, 2008; Cisek, 2014) we aimed at understanding contexts and experience of researchers. The frameworks of social practices of information behaviour (Olsson and Lloyd, 2017), phenomenography (Bruce, 2013; Limberg, 2017), and socio-cultural approaches in information science (Limberg, Sundin and Talja, 2012) were considered. Following the phenomenographic studies we focused on variations of experience and perceptions of the information environment with researchers (Whitworth, 2014). Based on developed methodological guidelines the data were coded, analysed and categorized with the use of qualitative data analysis. We applied open coding, axial coding and selective coding as part of constant comparative analyses (Pickard, 2013). The analyses were iterated and processed by several researchers. We followed the validity of qualitative studies which usually apply such factors as the worthy topic, rich rigour, methodological transparency (Walby and Luscombe, 2016). Qualitative data analysis was followed by the method of concept mapping resulting in 23 concept maps. We used concept mapping to extract key concepts and semantic relations in order to visualise contexts of the collective discourse of 19 researchers. In line with similar methodologies (Novak and Cañas, 2006; Kinchin, Streatfield and Hay, 2010; Whitworth, Torras i Calvo, Moss, Kifle and Blasternes, 2015), we visualised perceptions of information infrastructures by researchers in concept maps. Special methodology of concept mapping was described elsewhere. We represented especially semantic relations of definition, hierarchy, and associations. Limitations of the study are connected with the applied qualitative methodology, especially subjective interpretations. However, we applied multiple iterative independent analyses of at least 2 researchers and validation of data by reviewers and participants of the study.


Qualitative data analyses point to common patterns and disciplinary differences in perceptions of information infrastructures by 19 researchers. Common patterns revealed common critical analytical information practices based on professional experience (information fluency). Practical experience and expertise are manifested by reliance on authoritative information sources, personal international expert networks and the long-term domain expertise. Research statements are interdisciplinary, embedded in sociotechnical complexity of current research practices; such as the use of electronic sources, web systems and services. Data management and digital literacy are an integral part of the research process, including monitoring news and peer interactions. The domain expertise is integrated with enthusiasm, deep motivation and interest. As one researcher put it: ‘we enjoy our work’ (R3).

Main differences emerged from domain-specific research objects, research statements, methodologies, procedures, data types and data management. These differences are reflected in publishing activities, communication, information use patterns and culture. We represented differences by concept maps of research statements, research methods, types of data and practices, and publishing.

We also identified three methodological modes of social sciences, humanities, sciences and engineering. In the mode of humanities, the focus is on human beings, products and cultures with the use of interpretations, description, heuristics and reconstruction; sometimes supported by emotions and experience. Researchers publish especially in conference proceedings, monographs and journals. In the mode of sciences, the problem solving and practical expertise dominated. Main methods of observation, experiment and measuring emerged. Main information use strategy is monitoring of selected information sources (journals). We found strong traditions of digital repositories and university networks in sciences (arXiv.org, PubMedCentral). Publishing is focused on top professional journals registered in WoS. In the mode of social sciences, we confirmed surveys, analyses, deep categorization and interpretation. Electronic sources and monographs are used, e.g. social data archives and international social and economic databases. The focus is on human and social interactions, social communities and societal development. In publishing strategies, social researchers prefer journals and proceedings. In the mode of technical sciences, simulations, systems design and experiments prevailed, including development of new methods and systems. Researchers use electronic sources and digital libraries; they publish mainly in conference proceedings and journals. Needs for building knowledge infrastructures for digital humanities and social sciences were confirmed.

Barriers in information infrastructures

Qualitative data analyses regarding barriers in information infrastructures identified two types of discourses; the critical and the constructive discourse. We asked the question: Which barriers are most frequently getting in your way in your scientific work? (e.g. administrative overload). The critical discourse is represented by several categories of barriers; namely the individual, social, environmental, technological, administrative and financial barriers. This discourse is visualised in the conceptual map (Fig. 2). Most frequently perceived barriers were administrative overload and lack of funding / access to grants. As one researcher put it: ‘We would need financing of that infrastructure. I do not ask for salaries, but for this’ (R19). The identified barriers pointed to gaps between information needs of scholars and access to information and funding. In the category of societal environment, researchers perceived lack of interest in the quality research. Further barriers included lack of coordination and scientific strategies, too much emphasis on quantitative scientometric factors and disintegration of scholarly communication.  For example: “…disintegration of research communities, fragmentation…weak collaboration and coordination (R15)”. The constructive discourse articulated several proposals for the improvement of access to information; namely integrated information services, support of data analyses, management of the research process, digital libraries and repositories, information sharing, interdisciplinary networking. Special attention should be devoted to young scholars who need visible supportive system of rewards and prospects of the profession of a scholar. As one subject put it: “…it would be good if we had here a visible system…which would provide a prospective future for research work…for young people (R16)”. Researchers also need advanced digital technologies, especially in humanities, and active value-added services of information professionals. Most frequent needs of scientific strategic support were quality control, funding of infrastructures, setting priorities, support of academic culture. Researchers require common strategies for universities, research institutions, information institutions, media, grant agencies and industry.

Figure 2: Barriers in information infrastructure

Figure 2: Barriers in information infrastructure

Perceptions of publishing

Most significant differences in the discourse of researchers were noted with respect to perceptions of publishing strategies. We asked the question: Where do you publish most frequently in your discipline (types of resources, rules, reviews)? Discourse regarding publishing is represented by the concept map on Fig. 3. Three characteristic modes of publishing in three groups of scientific disciplines were noted (sciences, technical sciences, social sciences and humanities). Humanities and social sciences emphasised monographs and extended scholarly studies and articles; both in international and national quality journals. Special types of publications were noted in humanities, e.g. tractates, essays, translations. Information behaviour is focused on deep interpretations, reinterpretation, reconstruction, assembling, organizing, re-writing. The commercial model was perceived as less appropriate for publishing in humanities. For example: “In our discipline there were no CC journals for a long time, at least in Europe. (R12).” In social sciences, publishing patterns depend on the mode of inquiry; the qualitative mode is similar to humanities, the quantitative mode is similar to sciences (data statistics). The mode of publishing in sciences is focused on journals and articles. Typical answer was: “In our discipline we have typical 10 quality journals. We publish in CC journals with high impact factor.” (R15).  Researchers in sciences apply problem solving, testing assumptions, focused searching in databases. Collaboration and high level of co-authorship is typical for researchers in sciences; the typical resources are digital reports and digital archives. In computer sciences researchers emphasised such publications as conference proceedings and journal articles. Information behaviour of computer science researchers is connected with computer networks, information infrastructures and data sharing. We noted a thin line between electronic sources, databases, academic networks, datasets, digital software tools and websites. Many researchers emphasised interdisciplinary information practices based on translations between disciplines (terminologies, practices, re-use of data). They also perceived gaps between quality and quantity in scholarly publishing.

Figure 3: Perceptions of publishing

Figure 3: Perceptions of publishing

Perceptions of open access and open science

In line with international trends of digital information use we were also interested in the perceptions and use of OA resources and open science by researchers. The question was articulated as follows: Do you know the principles of OA sources, open science, do you use OA journals in your disciplines (e.g. electronic journals, data archives)? The discourse was divided into two types; the supportive and the critical discourse. Researchers considered advantages of open access (increase of citations, speed of publishing) and expressed concerns (commercial influences, evaluation of digital publications). Some researchers agreed with the European OA policies; others were afraid of lower quality of digital publishing. For example: “OA has also a philosophical, conceptual problem, it is not only finances…From public sources we support the private companies…I support the green model of OA…we should get rid of commercial barriers…”(R5).

Open science factors were identified by researchers in contexts of promotion of results, transparency and open access. Other factors included participation, collaboration, peer networking, and information sharing. Technological determination was found mainly in big data sciences, e.g. astrophysics, physics, genetics, archaeology, social sciences (economics, sociology). In humanities, development of digital libraries and archives in cultural heritage was noted (e.g. archival system PamMap, Maya culture website, Slavic languages atlas, archaeological digital collections). Examples of digital objects included digital photographs, websites, songs, lectures, language corpuses.

Further mentioned open science factors were policies, evaluation of results, access to data and publishing. Researchers' social networks are used for sharing of data, information and publications. Open science was perceived as an advantage, namely the use of OA sources (green and golden ways), interdisciplinary cooperation and publicity. Researchers perceived gaps in coordination of open science and access to publications and data. As one subject puts it: ‘With us, the awareness that one of the components of the work of researchers should be promotion, is very low’. (R14). They also considered commercial influences and expressed concerns regarding fair competition in small disciplines and small countries. “It is too early for a final conclusion; experiences are mixed…” (R6). Further concerns related to lack of funding for basic research, ways of collaborating with industry and quality of digital publications.

Research creativity

With regard to research creativity, we asked our participants the question: What is the most frequent result of research creativity in your discipline? How is research creativity manifested in your discipline? Findings point to the common discourse (all disciplines) and the discourse of differences among disciplines. In the common discourse, researchers identified such characteristics of research creativity as innovations, bird´s-eye view, new ideas, and interdisciplinary overlaps. Creative information strategies as part of the research process were confirmed, based on relations to existing knowledge, longitudinal interest, inspirations by data (e.g. Anderson, 2013, Bawden and Robinson, 2012). Differences among humanities, social sciences and sciences were noted. In humanities, creative work is focused on interpretations; in sciences we identified the problem solving and discovery. The common discourse is represented by the concept map (Fig. 4).

Figure 4: Research creativity

Figure 4: Research creativity

The map represents main components of research creativity; namely the creative personality, creative process, creative results (products) and contextual factors. Main contextual factors include tools, techniques of research and impact of information environment. Characteristics of research creativity are determined as open-mindedness, newness, originality and innovations. Creative personality and internal motivation guide the creative process. Researchers emphasised experience, emotions, participation and collaboration, community, constructs, practice. Values of research creativity were perceived at individual and social levels. Values are embedded in everyday information practices and expertise, deep motivation, discovery of new perspectives, and problem solving. Creativity was perceived in relation to curiosity, fascination by knowledge and service to society, including ideal moral values of a learned scholar and learned society. In sciences researchers emphasised practical problem solving and understanding of life. In humanities and social sciences, creativity means bridging the gap in knowledge, new perspectives, interpretations, intellectual pleasure. For example: “We have to come from facts. One has to follow the facts and then link what is already known with the new. And from this create a new knowledge.” (R19). Research creativity is embedded in the cultures of disciplines, types of research questions and personality of researchers. Information environment can add value, but also inhibit research creativity. Research creativity can be inspired by data and lead to discoveries, practical products or patents. Digital environment tools can open space for research creativity, e.g. digital publishing, open peer-review, participation in academic networks, and research data management. Creative information ecologies emerge as a result of conceptual infrastructures, pattern recognition, knowledge discovery, analogies, associations, metaphors, or visualizations.

Selection of critical and constructive interpretative repertoires

Interpretative repertoires are methodological tools for discourse analysis. We refer to interpretative repertoires as constructed building blocks for representations of topics and concepts (McKenzie, 2005; Savolainen, 2008; Tuominen, Talja and Savolainen, 2005). In our study we found the critical and the constructive interpretative repertoires; the repertoires of common factors and differences among disciplines. In the critical repertoire, researchers perceived gaps in information infrastructures which are manifested by individual, social, organizational, administrative and financial barriers. They expressed critical perceptions of science policy, quality control and commercialization of scientific communication. In the constructive repertoire researchers perceived needs of integrating data, sources, systems and services in information infrastructures. The proposals included categories of the improvement of the research process (organization of work), and the environment (a system supporting young researchers) with regard to academic cultures. Libraries should be more active and interactive with value-added services in digital environment, namely (big) research data management.

The repertoire of common factors includes practical experience, domain expertise, methodologies, values and open science factors. It is manifested by researchers´ reliance on authoritative information sources and personal international expert networks. For example: “Face to face discussions should be more supported, I still think there is not much space for it…” (R16). Scientific electronic communication forms the background of information seeking, information sharing and use. Interdisciplinary research statements reflect the sociotechnical complexity of research practices, such as the use of electronic sources, web systems and services, participation, promotion. Researchers apply mainly monitoring of news, peer networking, extracting, reading, writing, browsing.

Main differences emerged from cultures of disciplines, represented by domain-specific research statements, methodologies, types of data, publications, collaboration. Cultures of social sciences, humanities, sciences and technical sciences were identified. The interpretative repertoire of differences was represented by several concept maps (research statements, methods, types of data, publishing, collaboration). In humanities, the focus is on human beings and human cultures using interpretations, heuristics and reconstruction, cultural data. Researchers publish in conference proceedings, monographs and journals. In sciences, marked by the culture of problem solving and practical expertise, methods of observation, experiments, measuring, and data analysis are applied. Researchers publish in high-quality professional journals. In social sciences, surveys and interpretations were confirmed focused on social interactions, communities and society. Electronic sources include social data archives and international economic databases; researchers publish in journals and proceedings. In computer sciences, researchers prefer digital libraries, journals and proceedings. Methodologies include mainly systems design, experiments, and simulations. One researcher expressed this by characteristics of research problems: “We need to be oriented toward practice and seek the research problems there…bring some new know-how, share and distribute…” (R7).

Research information interactions

Information behaviour of Slovak researchers is similar to researchers in other countries with strong international networking and collaboration and use of electronic sources. The specific traits are represented by perceived gaps in information infrastructure, less intensive use of OA sources or paid publishing. Based on findings of this study, we determined research information interactions as adaptations of researchers to information environment in the research process. The model of research information interactions of Slovak researchers is composed of the three interconnected sets of common factors of information behaviour of researchers; namely the open science factors; the domain expertise; and methodological factors. (1) The factors of open science include transparency, promotion, open access, and participation. Open science framework is represented by open data, open access, open methods and processes, open software, open review and open education (Watson, 2015). We found that awareness of OA potential and promotion of research results should be strengthened. (2) Factors of domain expertise are connected with domain-specific analyses, data management, interpretations, and publishing. We found that these factors are embedded in cultures of disciplines. (3) Methodological factors represent connected methodologies based on understanding, description, exploration, explanation, prediction, and collaboration integrated by expert strategies and research management. We found that these factors are based on research experience. As these three sets of factors are intertwined, we use the concept of information ecology for explanation of researchers´ information behaviour in line with studies of science and information infrastructures (Bowker et al., 2015; Nardi and O´Day, 1999). Ecological qualities of the model of research information interactions are the inclusion of information into the research process, participation in digital spaces, use of social networks, and new ways of peer-review. Ecological factors of the model of research information interactions are represented by information access and adaptations, re-use of data, information, methodologies, and the research creativity. These intertwined common factors were extracted from the discourses of researchers.

We also determined concepts of academic information ecologies and creative information ecologies as part of research information interactions. These concepts represent our contribution to theory development of information behaviour. Academic information ecologies are determined as adaptations between researchers and information environment, including people, information resources, and tools. Most important activities are creative exploration, knowledge structuring and development of creative products and methods. These academic information ecologies are based on understanding, critical thinking and sense making encapsulated in domain expertise.

Academic information ecologies integrate information infrastructures, academic communities and values. Researchers´ information needs in the digital environment are connected with (big) data management, digital tools and digital libraries, digital publishing, repositories, digital culture, digital literacy and digital ethics. Specific traits of information behaviour of Slovak researchers are connected with needs of new models of research assessment, academic publishing, peer-review, sustainable information services, information ethics and research management.


This study connected information behaviour of Slovak researchers with their perceptions of barriers in information infrastructures, publishing, open science and research creativity. It is one of the first qualitative studies of Slovak researchers. Concept maps visualised how scholars from various disciplines engaged with information, including common factors and differences in information use. In response to our research question we can conclude that researchers perceived the information environment by means of the critical and the constructive interpretative repertoires. Researchers identified main barriers in the information infrastructure, such as administrative overload, access to technologies, research strategies and financial support. Open science was perceived both with support (optimism) and concerns. In publishing strategies, we identified different modes of scholarly work in sciences; humanities and social sciences; and computer sciences. Researchers emphasised the advantages of open science; namely the increase of citations, collaboration, speed of publishing. Concerns related to balance between commercial and academic interests. Research creativity was interpreted in terms of creative personality, creative process, creative results (products). In humanities the focus is on interpretations; in sciences it is problem solving and discovery. Our study is connected to similar studies of information behaviour of researchers in small countries (e.g. Vilar et al., 2015).

Following the findings, we developed a framework of differences among disciplines, including problem statements, methodologies, types of data, publishing, information strategies, creativity and collaboration. Although results are limited to a selected group of researchers, they can be transferred into new contexts. Our findings are in line with previous studies of information behaviour of researchers (e.g. Given and Willson, 2015; Scanlon, 2014; Talja et al., 2005; Tenopir et al., 2015). However, new contexts emerge especially with respect to open science and digital humanities.

In these contexts, our findings confirmed needs of value-added services of academic libraries, publishers and information professionals. We recommend that new services can be integrated with centres of excellence for research support (Kirchner et al., 2015; Malpas and Proffitt, 2017). These services should be based on new partnerships among scholars, publishers, and information professionals. Researchers need support of innovative interdisciplinary research groups, networking, collaboration, and research data management. Further recommendations were related to the evaluation of research results and development of altmetrics (Haustein, 2016). That is why we propose a new model of the academic library based on research information interactions. It forms a part of academic information ecologies using dialogue and value-added services; such as data management, digital libraries, support of publishing and creativity.

Implications for academic libraries represent needs to improve information infrastructure and education of information professionals focused on open science and research data management. Based on perceptions of the information environment by researchers we emphasise the concepts and practice of research data literacy and data management. Open science will be a significant factor for innovations and promotion of research. The concept of academic information ecologies can help cultivate the information environment and provide new services for researchers; support creative information ecologies and develop sustainable research information infrastructures.


This work was supported by the project APVV 15-0508 HIBER.

About the author

Jela Steinerová is a Professor in the Comenius University in Bratislava, Department of Library and Information Science, Gondova 2, 814 99 Bratislava, Slovakia. She received her degrees from the Comenius University in Bratislava. Her research interests are human information behaviour and theory and methodology of information science. She has been teaching information science since 1992. She published widely in national and international journals and conferences and has been a member of several international boards and projects (e.g. ENWI, ECIL, ISIC). She can be contacted at jela.steinerova@uniba.sk


How to cite this paper

Steinerová, J. (2018). Perceptions of the information environment by researchers: a qualitative study across disciplines In Proceedings of ISIC, The Information Behaviour Conference, Krakow, Poland, 9-11 October: Part 1. Information Research, 23(4), paper isic1812. Retrieved from http://www.informationr.net /ir/23-4/isic2018/isic1812.html (Archived by WebCite® at http://www.webcitation.org/74FBlS9Sz)

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