vol. 26 no. 2, June, 2021

Book Reviews

Wilson, T.D. Exploring information behaviour: an introduction Sheffield, UK: T.D. Wilson, 2021. 111pp. (Varies with reading device). Free, open access.

Tom Wilson is a leading figure in research on information behaviour and one of the most widely cited scholars in the field of information studies. His pioneering models for information-seeking behaviour (Wilson, 1981) and information behaviour (Wilson, 1997) have become classic contributions to information science. In 2017, as a well-deserved recognition, he was awarded the ASIS&T (Association for Information Science & Technology) Award of Merit, the Association's highest award, which recognizes sustained contributions to the field of information science.

Wilson's book synthetizes many of his contributions presented in numerous articles and conference papers since the 1970s. As an early point of departure, there are empirical observations made during the INISS (Information Needs in Local Authority Social Services Departments) project conducted in the UK in the late 1970s. The book demonstrates how the ideas obtained from empirical studies such as these were used as a basis for developing models for information behaviour. Later on, these models were further elaborated into a general theory of information behaviour. In fact, the red thread of the book is indicative of the unfolding of this process. As Wilson puts it in the Foreword, the book presents “very much a personal account, based to a significant extent on my own research and my own theoretical frameworks”.

The book contains eight chapters and an extensive list of references. The first chapter characterizes the nature of information from an evolutionary perspective, highlighting the fundamental changes in which our relation to information has changed over time. Thereafter, the concepts of behaviour and information behaviour are introduced by presenting illuminating examples about how they appear in daily life. Wilson also depicts the features of information need from a fresh perspective, that is, evolutionary psychology. Mainly drawing on Wilson's (1981) classic study on information needs and uses, Chapter 3 clarifies what is meant by models and how information behaviour can be modelled.

Chapter 4 delves deeper into the above issues by making use of the rich experience obtained from the development of the general model of information behaviour (Wilson, 1997). This section forms one of the best parts of the book. Wilson elaborates the above framework by introducing the construct of information discovery. In the new version of the model of information behaviour, information discovery replaces the concept of information seeking behaviour because the latter is mainly indicative of purposive information seeking. Information discovery is regarded a more appropriate term because it captures both the active and passive dimensions of information seeking and searching. The active dimension refers to intentional discovery, while the passive dimension indicates accidental discovery. Wilson has further clarified the terminology by developing the typology of information discovery (p. 41). It is a well-thought contribution to information behaviour research. The typology also provides an interesting point of departure for comparative studies examining the phenomena of information encountering, for example (Erdelez and Makri, 2020).

The long-time elaboration of Wilson's general model of information behaviour leads to the question of whether it can be regarded as a genuine scientific theory. Chapter 5 offers a well-founded positive answer to this question by demonstrating how models can evolve into theories. In the Information Behaviour Conference (ISIC 2016) held in Zadar, Croatia, Wilson demonstrated in a compelling way how the various models he had proposed over the past forty years constitute a general theory of information behaviour (Wilson, 2016). The ISIC paper is used in the book to exemplify that models for information behaviour have to meet a set of rigorous criteria in order to gain the status of a scientific theory. In information science, the lack of theories is a chronic problem. Wilson's long time research project provides an encouraging example about how such problems can be resolved by means of systematic development of models.

The last chapters of the book focus on methodological issues of information behaviour research and the ways in which the findings of research conducted in this domain are used. Chapter 7 provides useful guidance for the planning and execution of data gathering by means of direct and indirect observation, participatory research and action research. Chapter 8 mainly draws on Wilson's paper presented in ISIC 2018 and the findings of a follow-up investigation. Wilson examined how the studies of Brenda Dervin, Carol C. Kuhlthau, Tom Wilson and Reijo Savolainen have influenced fields outside information science, more specifically, computer science and information systems, health related disciplines, education, and management and business. It appeared that Wilson and Kuhlthau were cited most frequently in the above domains and that in all four fields, the majority of authors were importers of ideas from information behaviour research.

The concluding chapter reflects the future perspectives of information behaviour research. Wilson devotes attention to a few key factors which are likely to affect the ways in which people seek, access and process information. The examples include quantum computers and machine learning. There are also other formative factors such as the role of social media in the distribution of factual, as well as mis- and disinformation in times of global pandemics such as COVID-19. Even though the future is characterized by many uncertainties, Wilson ends his book with an optimistic conclusion: “information behaviour research will continue to have relevance into the future: it is now too firmly embedded in a number of disciplines, which are all subject to change, to disappear from the research world” (p. 101).

Wilson offers a thoughtful, compact and lucidly written introduction to research on information behaviour. Similar to Nigel Ford's (2015) Introduction to information behaviour, Wilson's book complements the magnum opus of Looking for information. A survey of information seeking, needs and behaviour written by Donald Case and Lisa Given (2016). Wilson's work represents a novel approach to e-book publishing in that the text can be substantiated on the basis of readers' comments, criticisms and suggestions. The book is available as a PDF or EPUB version. Wilson's book is highly recommendable for students as a textbook. For scholars of all ages, it offers an inspiring source for the examination of the perennial issues of information behaviour research.


Professor Reijo Savolainen
Tampere University, Finland
April, 2021

How to cite this review

Savolainen, R. (2021). Review of: Wilson, T.D. Exploring information behaviour: an introduction Sheffield, UK: T.D. Wilson, 2021 Information Research, 26(2), review no. R714. http://www.informationr.net/ir/reviews/revs714.html

Information Research is published four times a year by the University of Borås, Allégatan 1, 501 90 Borås, Sweden.