What Are Your Info Habits?

Working as a librarian, I am very aware of how and where people get their information. When you need facts or need to make a decision, where do you turn?

The Socializer connects with people to get info.
Photo credit: benziehomehealthcare.org

SOCIALIZERS ask their friends and relatives what they know and what they would do. This could mean meeting up with them, phoning them, texting them, or asking them on Facebook. Sometimes you just need a real-life story. Let’s say your laptop was stolen and you’re trying to decide whether to claim it through insurance. Your policy says it’s covered. But is it worth it? You ask a friend who had this happen last year. It also makes sense when you are craving connection with a person: the classic example is when a grown-up child calls mom to ask how long to cook a turkey – the answer is readily available elsewhere, but you want to hear it from mom. And of course, you want to get info from a friend who has special expertise: your pharmacist friend or accountant friend or pastry-making friend. Sometimes you want to  give a boost to your friends and make them feel good: “I’m just getting started on planning my wedding; you’re a newlywed; what advice do you have for me?” And finally, we ask for information without really wanting any: “I can’t decide whether to have another child!” We want to explore the topic, or vent – we’re probably not looking for our friend’s sincere opinion.

The Traditionalist uses sources at hand.
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TRADITIONALISTS search the sources at hand, and ones they’ve always used. At home, they might have a cookbook, a dictionary, a phone book, an address book, this week’s community newsletter, a stack of store sales flyers, and a Farmer’s Almanac. Looking for the date of the Multi-Family Yard Sale? You’ll drive past the sign for it later today when you go out to get groceries. Need directions to get to the campground you visited 5 years ago? Look in your address book where you wrote out the directions the first time you went there. Traditionalists also seek out information in person – if a heart condition is suspected, the traditionalist will wait for an appointment with a cardiologist to get information. Got an income tax question? Give up a morning to call Canada Revenue and hear it directly from them (after the phone tree is negotiated and 80 minutes are spent on hold).

The Absorber learns from experience.
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ABSORBERS don’t actively seek out information, but accumulate knowledge through exposure, i.e., Life. They don’t seek or ask: they recall an experience that might apply in a new situation. This can work really well. A friend wants help settling her parents’ estate. You did that 3 years ago, so you can walk her through the process. Maybe some procedures have changed since then, but at least you can get your friend on the right track and they can figure out the rest. The risk with Absorbers is that their knowledge is limited to their own life experiences. A positive is that they are good at finding or creating patterns, and they can be both intuitive and creative: “I made a window box before, therefore I can probably build a shed.” A negative is that bad experiences stay with them: “I was never any good at math, so I’d probably mess it up.”

As you can guess, Socializers, Traditionalists and Absorbers have hung onto pre-Internet Info Habits, sometimes because they are real and they work, but sometimes because they are computer-averse, or don’t have access.

The Fact Checker needs to know Right Now!
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FACT CHECKERS leap to Wikipedia and Google Maps whenever a question arises in conversation. Where is Riga? Let me check! Did the SOPA bill pass? I’ll look it up! Did my cousin go to Cuba or the Dominican last winter? I’ll find out on Facebook! No question is ever discussed or wondered about…it is answered! Fact Checkers can be a help or a hindrance: they can put an end to pointless bickering, OR they can put an end to conversation. Fact Checkers are known for whipping out their iPad during a restaurant meal and sleeping with their smartphone. But sometimes it’s better to know the answer than to accept the crowd-sourced solution! Fact Checkers also build up a huge mental collection of past answers and can become trivia pros.

The Well-Versed want the inside story!
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THE WELL-VERSED are people who read widely from a variety of sources every day and can intelligently discuss a range of topics off-the-cuff. They can expound on public versus private health care, Olympic judging controversies, and who was the greatest Bluesmaster of all time. They want the story behind the story, and they have a talent for summarizing big issues for their listeners. The Well-Versed can go one of two ways: becoming a Know-It-All, or coming across as a Teacher. I suspect a lot of people are also very well-informed for their own reasons, and simply don’t share their insights with anyone. The Well-Versed often can’t remember details or sources, but can give you the big picture.

The Researcher knows a few things inside out.
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Finally, RESEARCHERS have comprehensive knowledge of one or a few subjects. They are the go-to source for their pet topic because not only do they know everything about it, but they can cite the research study on which their facts are based. Researchers have tunnel vision, with huge knowledge gaps in some areas and huge depth of knowledge in others. They might know the name and specs of every part in a transmission system but not know how to make a grilled cheese sandwich without a microwave oven. (Wait, that is just youth!) The term Researcher is only applied to people who obsess about facts or knowledge outside their field of work – otherwise, it is “merely” job expertise! And Facts or Knowledge is really the key distinction. Some people respect Researchers for how much they know, while others believe they are repositories for useless data.

Which are you?

Another time I will post an alternate theory of Info Seeking!


  1. This is wonderful! May I use as supplemental reading for a course I’m putting together?

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