Down the superhighway in a single tome: understanding information browsing and how to support it online
AffiliationComputing and Information Systems
Document TypePhD thesis
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© 2018 Dr Dana McKay
The term browsing can refer to a number of different activities, particularly when it comes to information behaviour. It has been used to refer to web browsing; the act of moving from one information source to another assimilating information along the way, or citation chaining, moving through a network of articles that cite each other in the hope of discovering new information. It also refers to what might be termed collection browsing, the act of examining a related group of things and selecting some for further examination later. It is this latter form of browsing I address in this thesis. Browsing is a natural part of the human information seeking process, recognised in all the major models of information seeking behaviour. Browsing is particularly useful when an information need is loosely defined, when an information seeker is assessing an information source, or when they are looking for inspiration or serendipity. One information type that is commonly mentioned when discussing browsing is books, perhaps because the library shelves are so supportive of browsing. It is notable that—in contrast to search—browsing has been the subject of little research, and is largely unsupported online. In an age of increasing information digitsation—90% of the books in Australian university libraries are now ebooks—information seekers’ options for approaching information problems are vastly reduced. While a number of systems to support browsing have been developed in recent years, none of them have seen the wide uptake of search—despite information seekers’ insistence that browsing is important. This low uptake is perhaps because—despite its known importance—we do not really understand what browsing behaviour is. This thesis attempts to address the thorny problem of browsing, focusing particularly on library browsing. The approach taken is three-pronged. First, quantitative analysis of library borrowing records of physical and digital books is used to demonstrate the impact of browsing on borrowing behaviour. It is clear from this analysis the shelf location affects the borrowing of physical books, just as the observational literature has suggested it might; it is also clear that ebooks are not borrowed in the same patterns. Next, an observational study in two libraries is used to understand both the physical actions and the overall strategic behaviours involved in shelf browsing. Based on this a typology of browsing strategies has been developed. Thirdly, using this typology and our understanding of the physical behaviours used in browsing, a set of system design recommendations is presented. These recommendations are compared to existing systems that have been described as supporting browsing, including recommender systems, search result lists, and a number of bespoke browsing systems, demonstrating that no system meets the requirements of browsing as an information behaviour. The contribution of this thesis is a new theory of browsing behaviour, incorporating both the physical actions and overall strategies of browsers. It further describes several new requirements for browsing-supportive information systems, and a new conceptualisation of browsing as a behaviour.
Keywordshuman computer interaction; information systems; information seeking behaviour; information science; books; ebooks; browsing
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