Factors that Influence Users to Keep and Leave Information Items: A Case Study of College Students' Personal Information Management Behavior

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Information Science and Technology


Elizabeth D. Liddy


Personal information management, Information organization, Digital clutter

Subject Categories

Library and Information Science


This dissertation research investigates personal information management (PIM), specifically keeping and leaving behavior, in the context of information being accessible 24/7 from the Web and users being constantly connected via wireless devices.

A multiple-embedded case study investigates student PIM behavior within the context of a large project, a college course. The theoretical framework introduces the hoarding literature, and associated affective factors, into the PIM domain to conceptualize users' keeping and leaving behavior. Multiple sources of evidence for the three courses and sixteen student cases were collected - interviews, students' physical artifacts, direct observation, and course documents. Data reduction and analysis techniques included matrices, thematic coding, and metaphor analysis.

Two recurring factors across the keeping and leaving phenomena were the complexity of the work and the form of the material (digital or paper). The work complexity and form influenced acquisition, non-acquisition, discard, and retention behavior. Paper affordances were a major factor in students' acquisition of items. Positive and negative affect influenced retention and discard, respectively. Acquisition factors were mostly unique, while non-acquisition, retention, and discard shared twelve factors. These factors are presented within a refined conceptual framework to provide the basis for future studies and instrument development.

The multiple case study design enabled the identification of course contextual factors that influence acquisition and retention. The type of content, type of assessment, in-class experience, out-of-class communication, and level of the student all influenced students' keeping and leaving behavior. This finding demonstrates the importance of including context when studying PIM behavior.

This study contributes methodologically to the PIM and user behavior fields, conceptually to the PIM and hoarding literatures, and practically to college students, instructors, and higher education institutions. Future research in the field of PIM, specifically related to "digital clutter", and on technology issues around learning for college students are proposed.


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