The 16th Annual Research Symposium for Special Interest Group/Information Needs, Seeking and Use (SIG/USE) was held in Copenhagen, Denmark. The focus of the symposium was information behavior and information practices as applicable to workplaces. As technology grows and shifts on a constant basis, so too must workplaces adapt how information is used and accessed. Newer generations in the workforce are expected to be able to learn many new skills, change careers several times and balance work life from home life with boundaries that are less clear than they used to be. Two presentations given by the 2014 and 2015 winners of the Elfreda A. Chatman Research Proposal Award started off the symposium. The 2016 winners of this award were announced by the awards committee chair, Wade Bishop, and included Karen Fisher of the University of Kentucky and Devon Greyson of the University of British Columbia, Canada.


information technology
information behavior
information needs


Information Behavior in Workplaces

by Katriina Byström

Special Interest Group/Information Needs, Seeking and Use (SIG/USE) held its 16th Annual Research Symposium at the 2016 ASIS&T Annual Meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark. As an international community, SIG/USE focuses on information-related activities from different research perspectives and explores the significance of information seeking and use on people’s lives.

This year’s SIG/USE symposium focused on information issues at work. It acknowledged social, individual and technological perspectives on the roles and flows that information takes as part of physical and digital work. The broad approach related to the theme of the Annual Meeting, Creating Knowledge, Enhancing Lives Through Information & Technology, with focus on information behavior (IB) or on information practices (IP) in connection to workplaces.

Today’s workplaces are affected by numerous and constant technological developments and social changes. Whereas earlier generations were accustomed to stable and localized work, now work activities and contexts have been and are radically changing. During their work life, people may experience several career changes, are expected to learn new skills and adapt to new ideas as well as manage the increasingly fluid boundaries between work and leisure. Much of previous manual labor is automated, and new professions and work tasks are emerging. Moreover, much of information and data are internetworked and accessible simultaneously by multiple mobile devices supporting networked communities anyplace, anywhere, anytime. This accessibility challenges both the creation and consumption of information used for work – or at work. Moreover, it also affects how, when and where people work, as well as their productivity, collegiality and innovativeness.

Despite, or perhaps due to, the advances in technology, workplaces remain challenged by how to create, discover, share, value and enhance information and knowledge at and for work and how to design and manage the systems that support these functions that are so critical to organizationally effective and individually rewarding work. The essential understanding increasingly lies with how people in- and outside a workplace interact with information and each other, in activities that are facilitated, constrained and augmented by workplace practices, including technological and social structures.

The issues are many, from the consequences of new devices that are stretching the ways that an organization works, to the efficacy dynamics (such as stress, motivation, collaboration, productivity and age) and to the new skills and expertise required to work in such changing and changeable environments. Information is indispensable in many, if not all, workplace activities: as a resource for getting work done, as well as for learning, managing change, developing and maintaining processes and creating professional networks. The symposium addressed a number of related topics in the talks, posters and discussions during the half-day event.

The symposium gathered close to 60 participants, and the program consisted of a keynote address by Hazel Hall, University of Napier, UK; three short papers by Diane Pennington, University of Strathclyde, UK; Morten Hertzum, University of Copenhagen, Denmark; and Helena Vallo Hult, University West, Sweden; as well as 16 posters, a roundtable discussion session and the presentation of the SIG/USE awards. The 2016 SIG/USE symposium was co-chaired by Katriina Byström, Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences, Norway; Luanne Freund, University of British Columbia, Canada; Nicole A. Cooke, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign; and David Allen, Leeds University, UK. The committee worked with SIG/USE chair, Gary Burnett, Florida State University, as well as Howard Rosenbaum and Pnina Fichman, both of Indiana University, for SIG/SI (Social Informatics) in co-planning the event. 

Keynote Address

Hazel Hall is a professor of social informatics, the Centre for Social Informatics (CIS), Edinburgh Napier University, UK. Her talk, “Watching the Workers: Researching Information Behaviors in, and for, Workplaces,” highlighted research on information behavior and technological development conducted by her and her research team at CIS. Among other things, she discussed the current development of automation in modern workplaces and its consequences to work. Her major conclusion was that research ought to focus on integration between humans and machines, where it is not about “humans or robots” or “humans versus robots,” but about “humans with robots,” and that by “following the information,” information behavior researchers can make contributions to both economic and societal priorities.

Short Papers

The three talks explored the possibilities of supporting work in different contexts and out of different preconditions. How information technology can assist (or hamper) people with disabilities is an important topic, not only as a concern of people’s wellbeing at work but also since people want/are expected to have long working lives. This topic was addressed by Diane Pennington, who is a senior lecturer in information science, Department of Computer and Information Sciences at University of Strathclyde, UK, in her talk, “Supporting Workplace Information Needs of People with Dementia.”

Work that is performed in temporary teams with requirements on both accuracy and promptness requires high levels of trust on information-related practices as was demonstrated by professor Morten Hertzum, Royal School of Library and Information Science, University of Copenhagen, in his talk “Information Behavior and Workplace Procedures: The Case of Emergency Department Triage.”

The last short talk was given by Helena Vallo Hult, a doctoral student at University West, Sweden. Her talk, “The Emergence of Sharing and Gaining Knowledge: Towards Digital Collaboration in Everyday Work,” also concerned the health sector, and she identified tensions and conflicting perspectives depending on individual characteristics as well as work roles and tasks: personal vs professional; medical vs administrative; flexibility vs institutionalization.

Poster Session

During registration and lunch, the following 16 posters were displayed around the conference room:

  • David Allen, A. Norman, Carly Lightowlers, Fiona McLaughlin & Nicolas Malleson, Leeds University, UK: Collaboration, Information Behavior, Information Systems and Activity Theory: Building a Data Clearing House
  • Katriina Byström, Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences, Norway: Work in Progress: The Notion of Peopleless Offices or Digital Work
  • Emma Forsgren, Leeds University, UK: Finding a Place for Social Media at Work
  • Isto Huvila, Uppsala University, Sweden: Informational Metagames and Their Implications in Workplace
  • Anna Sigridur Islind, Livia Norström & Helena Vallo Hult, University West, Sweden: From Digital Fight to Digital Pride in Public Sector
  • Aleksandra Irnazarow, Leeds University, UK: Application of Activity Theory to Study Information Behavior and Decision Making in Development of Complex Engineering Systems
  • Wade Kelly, Charles Sturt University, Australia: Information Behavior of Community-Engaged Scholars in Academia
  • Anita Nordsteien, Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences, Norway: Workplace Learning: Transition of Nursing Practices
  • Natalie Pang Nanyang, Technological University, Singapore, and Stan Karanasios, RMIT University, Australia: Helping the Left Behind: Understanding Information Practices and ICT Use of the Elderly from the Eyes of First Responders During Crises
  • Sarah Polkinghorne and Thane Chambers, Charles Sturt University, Australia: Embodied Information in Workplace Contexts
  • Diane H. Sonnenwald, University College Dublin, Ireland: A Darker Side of Human Information Behavior in the Workplace: A Call for Research on Workplace Bullying Information Behavior
  • Ella Schwab, Ben Heuwing, Christa Womser-Hacker and Thomas Mandl, University of Hildesheim, Germany: Challenges of Digital Workplaces in Practice: A Focus Group with Middle Mangers
  • Eric Thivant, University of Lyon, France: Diversity of Information Workplace: The Cross-Cultural Question in Information Behavior: The Case Study of French ITES Rural Firms
  • Åse Kristine Tveit, Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences, Norway: The Impact of Digital Information and Online Discussion Fora on Translators’ Work
  • Gunilla Widén and Jannica Heinström, Åbo Akademi University, Finland; and Thomas Mandl and Christa Womser-Hacker, University of Hildesheim, Germany: Exploring Intergenerational Information Practices and Knowledge Sharing
  • Barbara Wildemuth, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: Social Dimensions of Information Practices in an Academic Workplace
Roundtable Discussions

Following the talks and the poster session, the floor was given to the symposium participants in roundtable discussions. The discussions were given a goal to identify challenges in relation to five themes: technology (facilitated by Stan Karanasios, RMIT University, Australia); changing work practices (facilitated by Gunilla Widén, Åbo Akademi University, Finland); methods (facilitated by Barbara Wildemuth, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill); workplace learning (facilitated by Annemaree Lloyd, University of Borås, Sweden); theory (facilitated by Diane Sonnenwald, University College Dublin, Ireland); and play and social issues (facilitated by Isto Huvila, Uppsala University, Sweden). Among the challenges identified were:

  • Current theories are inadequate to account for advances in technology. Information studies have not kept pace with other fields which are concerned with technology. How to we adapt and bridge this gap?
  • Technology and agency: Do technologies have agency? It seems increasingly that technologies can think and act for themselves. What does this mean for our field?
  • Diversity issues such as several generations present at the workplace with different abilities (especially concerning ICT), global workplaces with several languages. This has implications for information flows. The concept of expertise is also changing, who is teaching whom in the workplace (novices vs experts)?
  • Where does workplace learning research fit in the national agendas? How do we make sure that research makes an impact? How do we articulate the impact and benefits of our research to the workplace community and to workplace educators?
  • Is playful working really play or work? Capturing play at work can be difficult in empirical research.
SIG/USE Research and Travel Awards

The session began with presentations by the 2014 and 2015 Elfreda A. Chatman Research Proposal Award winners. Diane Sonnenwald, University College Dublin, Ireland, presented her research, “Visioning a New Future for Rare Historic Books and Manuscripts,” which was a result of the 2014 Award, while 2015 winner Debbie Rabina, Pratt University, followed with a presentation on “Information Needs of People in Prisons and Jails: A Discourse Analytic Approach.”

Finally, the awards committee chair Wade Bishop, University of Kentucky, presented this year’s winning submissions:

  • Outstanding Contribution to Information Behavior Research Award: Karen Fisher, University of Washington
  • Best Information Behavior Paper: Devon Greyson, University of British Columbia, Canada: “Evolution of Information Practices Over Time”
  • Best Information Behavior Poster: Saguna Shankar, Heather O’Brien, Elissa How, Wendy Lu, Millicent Mabi and Cecilia Rose, University of British Columbia, Canada: “The Role of Information in the Settlement Experiences of Refugee Students”
  • Elfreda A. Chatman Research Proposal Award: Heather O’Brien, Saguna Shankar, Elissa How and Peter Wanyenya, University of British Columbia, Canada: “The Information Worlds of Student Refugees in Canada”
  • Innovation Award: Tim Gorichanaz, Drexel University: “A Gardener’s Experience of Document Work at a Historic Landscape Site”
  • Student Travel Awards: Yiwei Wang, Rutgers University, Manasa Rath, Rutgers University, and Saguna Shankar, University of British Columbia, Canada
  • Interdisciplinary Conference Travel Award: Devon Greyson, University of British Columbia, Canada
    More information about the SIG/USE awards is located at http://siguse.wordpress.com/awards/.

Katriina Byström is a professor in the Department of Archivistics, Library and Information Science at Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences, Norway. She can be reached at katriina.bystrom<at>hioa.no.