Information needs

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A basic definition of Information Needs can be described as a situation in which an individual’s internal sense has “run-out” requiring the individual to create a new sense (Dervin, 1986, p. 21).


A more through approach to Information Needs has been developed by Brenda Dervin and colleagues and their development of the Situation-Gap-Use Model. The model consists of three scenarios that are listed below:


  1. The sense-maker is stopped in a situation.
  2. Movement is prevented by some kind of gap.

  3. The sense-maker is seen as potentially making some kind of use of whatever bridge is built across the “gap” the user faces.


The gap mentioned above creates a stoppage in the individual’s thought process causing them to bridge the gap by seeking information. The gap or stoppage generates an information need.


Information needs can develop in any situation from any individual. Individuals can go anywhere to fulfill their need but they will typically turn to library services or materials which were created with the intent to satisfy these needs.


Relationship to Reference Service


Information needs are vital to libraries and reference service because these needs ultimately motivate information seeking and drive research. Acknowledging these needs allows for reference librarians to better serve clientele and can help determine the success and effectiveness of libraries.


Acknowledgement of an individuals information needs by librarians is extremely important. Brenda Dervin comments that, “traditional studies of information needs and uses have posited the user as a passive recipient of objective information, with the task of information delivery being to get the information package into the user’s hands (Dervin, 1986, p.13).” To avoid this librarians and information service providers must be careful to address the information need of information seekers. They must avoid generalizing the need and attempting to fulfill it by providing the information seeker with basic information contained within their library as, “…it becomes increasingly clear that the success of information services is more likely to be achieved through adjusting the services to met the specific needs of an individual rather than trying to adapt the individual user to match wholesale output of an information system (Garvey et al., p. 256).


Libraries are essential in bridging the gaps that information seekers from various backgrounds may have. They are seen as the gatekeepers of access to knowledge and are liable for disseminating it to fulfill information needs. This may be helpful as, “Many of the scientist’s difficulties in finding information through the formal communication system stem from the fact that he is often seeking information about areas with which he himself is relatively unfamiliar. Since the scientist can utilize information both from within his own research area and from many others as well, he is unlikely ever to have access to all the information that he could potentially use (Crane, 1971, p. 33).” Libraries can provide the necessary access to all of the information from both within and outside an information seeker’s field. Information needs and the necessity to have them adequately fulfilled are prevalent among individuals from all walks of life and each are equally important.




Dervin, Brenda., & Nilan, M. Information needs and uses. In: Williams, Martha E.; ed. Annual review of information science and technology, vol. 21. Knowledge Industry Publications, Inc., New York, 1986, 3-33.


Garvey, William D.; Tomita, Kazuo; Woolf, Patricia. 1979. The Dynamic Scientific-Information User. In: Garvey, William D. Communication: The Essence of Science. Elmsford, NY: Pergamon Press; 1979. 256-279.


Crane, Diana. Information needs and uses. In: Cuadra, Carols A.; ed. Annual review of information science and technology, vol. 6. Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., Chicago, 1971, 3-39.



Catherine Bueno