Cognitive models

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Cognitive Models






Cognitive - "of, relating to, being, or involving conscious intellectual activity (as thinking, reasoning, or remembering). Based on or capable of being reduced to empirical factual knowledge." (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary)


Cognitive Modeling - in computer science it is an area that involves simulating human behavior, problem solving skills and mental processes through the creation of a computer model. Cognitive psychology is an area of psychology where mental processes like language, memory and problem solving are examined. The use of such a model is to help decide the appropriate actions and actions that ensure a given goal is secured.


Point of Reference


In order to put cognitive models in the proper context, it is helpful to first define what reference service is.


"Reference service in libraries is most often defined as direct, personal assistance to readers seeking information. If the three common functions of libraries are the acquisition, organization, and dissemination of information, then the reference service is directed primarily toward the lst of these, the dissemination function. The character of reference service differs markedly among libraries, both individually and in terms of type and size. It may range from a minimal level of aid to users in locating their own information, on the one hand, to the actual delivery of information to clients, on the other. Both philosophically and in practice, libraries and librarians at present reflect wide variations in the extent and character of the assistance they render to those in search of information." ("Encyclopedia", 1978, p. 128)



Cognitive Models of Reference


Cognitive modeling, along with affective and behavioral modeling, are approaches librarians can use when assisting customers with reference transactions.


Why are these three approaches important? Because finding the right information for the customer is not easy. It requires knowing what information resources are available and which of these might be useful. It requires knowledge about the classification system (like Dewey Decimal). And often the question is unclear or the customer himself is not clear what he is looking for. "In information facilities such as libraries, finding documents that are relevant to a user query is difficult because of the indeterminism involved in the process by which documents are indexed, and the latitude users have in choosing terms to express a query on a particular topic. Reference librarians play an important support role in coping with this indeterminism, focusing user queries through an interactive dialog." (Chen, Dahr, 2004, p. 2)


As outlined by Robert S. Taylor, the reference librarian uses five filters that questions must go through to assist in the search for relevant answers. It is within each of these filters where the cognitive model is implemented by the librarian. The five filters a librarian must account for are: (1) determination of the subject, (2) objective and motivation, (3) the personal characteristics of the customer, (4) the relationship of the inquiry to file organization and (5) anticipated or acceptable answers. Saxton and Richardson point out that “the second filter is the most important because it reduces search times substantially and determines what constitutes an appropriate response.” (Saxton, Richardson, 2002, p. 24)


Cognitive Modeling is an approach to reference service that emphasizes the mind and understanding human mental processes in helping customers find information they are looking for. It would do well for a reference librarian to be skilled in formulating and asking questions framed around this approach. Richardson (2002) wrote that "The role of question negotiation in getting to the 'real question' is studied for the first time. For the first time, a theoretical perspective, that of psychology, is put forward by a researcher to help understand the process. And, what kind of knowledge is required to answer questions is also examined for the first time" (p. 186). A well conceived cognitive model should also consider the information seeker's cognitive space (thoughts, memories, ideas); their social, educational, cultural and organizational environment. The way a person organizes a problem-solving or learning experience and receives and responds to information, especially whether the individual prefers content already structured or prefers impose his/her own structure on the material is one aspect of this approach. Differences in learning style of the customer have important implications for the delivery of reference services and need to be considered as well.


Lastly, cognitive modeling is not the definitive solution to effective reference services. Just as the definition of reference services is illustrative so to are the approaches, methods and skills. And there seems to be much research and work needed in this area particularly with the prominence of digital resources and information commons.


Research in Cognitive Modeling and Related Fields



Related Information



See Also






Chen, H., & Dhar, V. (2004). Reducing indeterminism in consultation: A cognitive model of User/Librarian interactions. (Working Paper Series New York University No. AAAI-97). Seattle: Proceedings of the American Association for Artificial Intelligence. Retrieved November 17, 2006, from


Definition of cognitive - merriam-webster online dictionary. (2006) Retrieved November 17, 2006, from


Encyclopedia of library and information science(1978). In Kent A., Lancour H. and Daily J. E. (Eds.), . New York: Marcel Dekker, Inc.


Richardson, J. V. Jr. (2002). The Current State of Research on Reference Transactions. In F. C. Lynden (Ed.), Advances in Librarianship, (Vol. 26, pp. 175-230). San Diego: Academic Press.


Saxton, M. L. & Richardson Jr., J. V. (2002). Understanding Reference Transactions: Transforming an Art into a Science. New York: Academic Press.


David Lee