Information problem-solving in personal, high-stakes situations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Information Transfer


Barbara Kwasnik


Parents, Children, Disabilities, Information problem-solving

Subject Categories

Behavior and Behavior Mechanisms | Library and Information Science | Sociology


This study focuses on Information Problem-Solving (IPS), a type of information behavior extended over time and aiming at finding and processing the information necessary to cope with a specific situation or problem. It considers the particular case of situations such that the information seeker feels a high level of personal investment in the search, and the main outcome of the process is not an externally-imposed deliverable.

The study concentrated on a case likely to trigger such high-stakes, personal IPS: raising a child with a disability. Eleven respondents were interviewed at two points in the IPS process. Data from these in-depth, loosely structured interviews were analyzed in a manner derived from the constant comparative method.

The IPS experience of the respondents varied in many respects depending on the type of information problem they dealt with (complex vs. procedural). The respondents refied heavily on formal IPS resources with whom they originally had weak ties. They made high use of first-hand information getting. They were in general highly proactive in their information seeking. The seeker's knowledge of various kinds, the effectiveness and responsiveness of the IPS resources, and the information quantity and applicability were the attributes of IPS situations that had the widest perceived effect on IPS activity, mental states and results.

A major outcome of this research is the development of typologies of IPS tasks, IPS resource functions, IPS action types, and IPS key events. They form the basis of an analysis framework for a comprehensive description of IPS activity. Moreover, the study findings confirm and extend our knowledge of the IPS process, in particular with respect to (1) patterns of evolution of problem definition; (2) the importance of redundancy for information processing tasks; and (3) patterns of information "berrypicking." They also suggest that IPS for complex, unique, high-stakes problems may display similar characteristics across different settings. Finally, the study identifies as directions for further research: (1) patterns of IPS behavior for shared problems; (2) possible existence of information behavior styles and their potential effect on IPS activity; and (3) patterns in the use of key resources.


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