Discovered by chance: the role of incidental information acquisition in an ecological model of information use

Kirsty Williamson

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241 Citations (Scopus)


The role of information which is incidentally or accidentally acquired has been neglected in the study of information-seeking behavior. The study reported in this article focused on "incidental information acquisition" as a key concept and investigated the information-seeking behavior of 202 older adults, aged 60 and over, from both metropolitan Melbourne and rural areas in the Australian state of Victoria. The approach to the study was ecological in the sense that a picture was built up of information seeking in the context of the lives of the people in the sample, both individually and collectively. A particular and unusual focus of the study was the role of telecommunications, especially the telephone, in information seeking. The implications for society's systems of information provision are discussed, together with ramifications of the finding that older people will be slower than other groups to accept computer-based sources of information for everyday life. Everyone has some set of habits or routines for keeping his internal model of the world up to date.... We have friends, relatives, work associates, and acquaintances to whom we talk regularly and with whom we exchange news and views. We have habits of reading and watching and listening to public vehicles of communication - newspapers, television, radio, magazines and books. These are not random, but patterned activities.... [I]nformation is in part acquired because it is deliberately sought.... It is also found where it is not specifically sought, as an accidental concomitant of routine activities with other purposes or as pure accident.... [I]t is clear that we could describe individual patterns of information-gathering activity, both where the search for information was the primary motive and where it was incidental....(Wilson, 1977, pp. 36-37).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)23-40
Number of pages18
JournalLibrary and Information Science Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1998
Externally publishedYes

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