Information Overload and Adult Library Services
Information overload is the prognosis where and when a user is engulfed in so much information that they do not have the ability to process and decipher it. Educators and information professionals are tasked with addressing these symptoms by presenting methods and tools that users can use to minimize, curtail or prevent these feelings. Those suffering from information overload experience frustration, disorientation and confusion.
Information overload can affect anyone, but can be even more difficult for adult learners. In many instances, adult learners have limited access, if any, to current devices and applications. Searching an Internet browser can appear as daunting to an adult learner as asking someone to give the square root of pi. Information professionals have to be prepared to handle these symptoms and work to resolve the problems. When left to their own devices, patrons and, more specifically, adult learners will find ways to quickly remedy the affliction, using mechanisms that sometimes are counterproductive to their needs.
Bawden and Robinson (2009) identify three prominent mechanisms for coping with information overload. Such mechanisms can be seen in any type of learner, but can be particularly damaging to the adult learner. The mechanisms are termed information anxiety, infobesity, and satisficing. Information anxiety (originally coined by Wurman) leads to information avoidance and appears as a stress-induced state attributed by an information environment that is ambiguous or made difficult to identify (Wurman, 1989; Bawden and Robinson, 2009). This is caused by either disorganized- or misrepresented information. Infobesity expresses the user’s over consumption of so much information that they ignore the information they are seeking or limit the number of resources they analyze (Bawden and Robinson, 2009). Satisficing refers to the user’s desire to only take in a suitable, minimal amount of information that would address their inquiry (Bawden and Robinson, 2009; Savolainen, 2007; Winter, 2000). These acts of information avoidance or information withdrawal are due to an overwhelming amount information from various sources that the user is either unable to examine properly or refuses to process given vast amount of possible resources.
Information professionals can curtail information overload symptoms in a positive way. Information literacy sessions that specifically instruct on digital literacy can help, as well as other methods (Bawden and Robinson, 2009). Providing Socratic guidance for patrons through constructivist pedagogy allows the patrons to receive the help they need in finding information but in such a way that the information professional only helps in guiding the patron through the information seeking process. Patrons are able to build confidence while finding the information on their own. Through this process of enlightenment, the fear, confusion and frustration associated with information overload diminishes and patrons begin to feel relief.
In many instances, information overload is an infliction not based on too much information, but a misunderstanding of what the patron is truly seeking. Applying the constructivist pedagogy can help the patron determine the true question of their inquiry on their own (Ezzo & Perez, 2000). These activities can help promote not only the services of the library or institution, but build a relationship between the patron and information professional that will drive them to seek help in the future if needed. The correlation between Information Overload, Constructivist Pedagogy, and Digital Literacy is brought together in the next and final section of this series. LINK TO: DIGITAL LITERACY.
Bawden, D., & Robinson, L. (2009). The dark side of information: overload, anxiety and other paradoxes and pathologies. Journal of information science, 35(2), 180-191.
Ezzo, A., & Perez, J. (2000). The information explosion: continuing implications for reference services to adult learners in academia. The reference librarian, 33(69-70), 5-17, DOI: 10.1300/J120v33n69_02
Savolainen, R. (2007). Filtering and withdrawing: strategies for coping with information overload in everyday contexts. Journal of Information Science, 33(5), 611-621.
Winter, S. G. (2000). The satisficing principle in capability learning. Strategic Management Journal, 21(10-11), 981-996.
Wurman, R. S. (1989) Information anxiety, New York, Doubleday