A study of information seeking behavior of graduate students in continuing education program by utilizing of information horizon concept



This study using the concept of information horizon explored graduate students' information seeking behavior during the processes of inquiry and scholarly activities. Information horizon was coined in 1999 by Diane Sonnenwald. Key ideas include the role of social networks and contexts in information behavior, the importance of understanding information behavior as a process, and constrains and enables which caused by “information horizon” in information seeking behavior. The information seeking behavior of graduate students is rich during the processes of learning and writing their theses. The study which tries to ask when and why graduate student accesses and do not access information resources has received relatively little research attention. And, academic libraries address the changing information needs and information seeking channels of its students, they need to know more about their information seeking behavior. This need for more research shaped this study. This is also the reason of using the concept of information horizon in this study. More specifically this study was designed to explore the following questions:

  • 1.What context and situation of do shape graduate students' information seeking behavior?
  • 2.What information resources do graduate students value, and where do they find them?
  • 3.What are the collaborative relationship between graduate students and information resources?
  • 4.What factors shape graduate students' information seeking behavior?


“Information horizon” was not only used as theoretical framework in this study, it also provided methodological guides during data collection and analyzing. Semi-structured qualitative interviews were utilized to explore graduate students' information seeking behavior from July to December 2007. Totally, there were 10 participants. All of them live in Taipei, Taiwan. Each interviewee was asked to describe the information resources and explain their importance and role in the information seeking process and drew his/her graph of information horizon. The study adopted social network and graph theory to data analysis.


During learning process, work experience and subject environment are two main factors which influence the context. Graduate students choose the subject and research interests based on work experience; Subject environment influence their information needs and preference. Table 1 shows that graduate students accessed the followings information resources: electronic resources; social networks; institutional resources; learning materials in classes and print materials. Eight of the 12 students had more than one first choice for information. Other first choice include university subscribed database(3), discipline related websites(3), library website(2),colleague(2),Yahoo(2),classmate(1), senior fellow students (1), friends(1),family(1), university library,(1) “personal collection(1).This indicates electronic resources are most important resources to these students. And although Google is the most popular information resource, only six of 12 thought that as their first choice because of it's accuracy. Unlike Google, discipline related websites and database are highly focused on academic information, some students use these two electronic resources instead of Google.

Table 1. Students' preference order of information resources
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Because of pre-occupied full-time job and limited time retain in campus, students do not regard social network and institutional resources as priority choice. As shown in Table 1, many social network resources are the third, fourth or fifth choice for information, and half of students mentioned university library as their information resource. Professors, classmate, university library, local library, are the four most mentioned information resource in social networks and institutional resources.

Table 2. Links between nodes as representing node types
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Figure 1.2 and Table 2 are another two representations of the results. These information resources are considered as network nodes. The graph in Figure 1 and data in table2 can be used to identify types of nodes. According to the number of incoming links and outgoing links, Sonnenwald identified five types of nodes: starting, recommending, focusing, balanced, ending. In Table 2, Most of electronic resources are recommending nodes; they are starting point and recommend other resources. Besides, Yahoo, professors and university library are three most linked focusing nodes, which illustrate the variety in these students focusing strategy during information seeking process. Because Google is inaccurate, some students often search yahoo after using Google; Professors' advice and the collection of university library are both very helpful in narrowing the information seeking process.

Table 3. Relationships among information resources and incoming and outgoing connections
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Table 3 shows the relationship among information resources. In this table, there is no outgoing connection between university library and on-line databases subscribed by the university. Interview data indicates very few students learn how to use database

through library instruction. Students do not familiar with library services. Some students only use circulation service. Most of them know nothing about reference service. In addition, although libraries are very important physical information resources, there are no connections one another in Table 3. It is obvious that, as a kind of information resource, libraries are not well integrated each other.


Based on the results, librarians in public services department could expand its services to target students of graduate students in continuing program as to promote their information resources; further to that, the development of Web2.0 has advanced information service quality. According to these, researcher has three suggestions for improving library service. First, librarians should promote reference service more actively than before.Due to the importance of context factor, librarians have to pay more attention to students' work experience and subject environment when conducting reference interview. Second, librarian should gather information about other libraries, which can provide another resources to students timely. Third, librarians can utilize the advantages of information technology to enhance the information services, such as initiate, establish, and manage virtual community, provide platform for information exchange.