DLIS faculty member Dr. Amanda Spink has received the ALA 2004 Carroll Preston Baber Research Grant.

photo of Amanda SpinkDepartment of Library Information Science faculty member Dr. Amanda Spink has received the ALA 2004 Carroll Preston Baber Research Grant. The Project title is "Multitasking Information Behavior By Public Library Users".

Project Abstract

Multitasking is the human ability to handle the demands of multiple tasks concurrently. Preliminary studies by the P.I. Dr. Amanda Spink show that library users: (1) often engage in multitasking behavior related to seeking information on two or more information tasks concurrently, (2) batch their information tasks into a library visit, (3) begin with one information task and develop further information tasks during library use, and (4) engage in information task switching behavior when using libraries, including accessing electronic information resources (Spink, Ozmultu & Ozmutlu, 2002; Spink, in press). However, multitasking information behaviors in libraries in general and public libraries in particular, are little understood and an important area of research into library use. Our proposed study will investigate and model the information behaviors of 100 public library users seeking information at the Brentwood and Wilkinsburg Public Libraries in Pittsburgh through interviews and library use diaries. These results of this timely and innovative project will be used to model public library users’ multitasking information behavior. A critical need exists for studies that enhance library use models to include common multitasking information behavior. Our findings will enhance public library services to support multitasking information behavior. In the broader context our research has implications for reference services and bibliographic instruction in all libraries, and the education of librarians.

Problem Statement

Multitasking is an important human behavior, particularly in home and work environments that includes multiple concurrent processes that are increasingly supported by information systems (MacIntyre, et al., 2001). The growing complexity of everyday life and work environments often requires people to engage in multitasking behaviors. For example, common multitasking behaviors include talking on the telephone when driving a car or using multiple information systems concurrently (Slaney, et al., 2003).

Information tasks form part of everyday life human information behaviors and library use. In four recent studies, Spink, Ozmutlu and Ozmutlu (2002) and Spink (in press) identified aspects of human multitasking information behavior conducted within different library environments, including database searching, Web searching, academic and public library use. They found that people often use libraries, and search electronic information resources, to find information on more than one information task over a single or multiple library use or electronic search episodes. Library users often batch their information tasks, develop new information tasks during library use, and often think and work on multiple information problems/tasks concurrently when they use a library. For example, a user may search the public library for gardening information as they also search for health information.

Previous studies are beginning to identify different levels of complexity in relation to information seeking and searching processes in libraries, from single information tasks to more complex multitasking and successive seeking processes (Spink, Ozmultu & Ozmutlu, 2002). However, this form of more complex multitasking information behavior in public libraries is currently little understood.

In addition, the human information behavior and library use models that underpin the education of library users and librarians, and the design of bibliographic and library services, have included limited consideration of multitasking information behaviors. Models of human information behavior developed by Bates (1989), Dervin, et al., (1985), Ellis, et al., (1993); Kuhlthau (1991), and Vakkari (2001) are limited to information processes related to single information tasks. Models and studies of information seeking and library use are also limited to single information task use of libraries (D’elia, 1980; Emery, 1993; Given & Leckie, 2003; Lee, 2003; Low, 1972; Mellon, 1984; Sone, 1988; Van House, 1983). In addition, recent digital libraries use models at the social and organizational level are also based on single information task approach (Covi & Kling, 1996).

Our proposed study will extend previous studies by the Project Investigator Dr. Amanda Spink to investigate and model multitasking information behaviors by public library users. The study is strongly based on findings in previous empirical studies in library and information science, and cognitive psychology.