One of the things I am studying in class this quarter is information seeking models and behavior. There are lots and lots of studies and models for things like how various academic scholars and students seek information. There are also lots of studies on how teens or the elderly seek information or how health information is sought. Within the last ten years library scholars have become interested in what is called “everyday life information seeking” (ELIS). Someone got a clue that not everyone is a student and that people need information on a daily basis. It was in the bibliography of an article on ELIS I had to read for class that I found this little gem: “Finding without seeking: the information encounter in the context of reading for pleasure” by Catherine Sheldrick Ross¹. Someone actually did an investigative study on how people who read for pleasure go about finding and choosing books.

I was so surprised–after all, doesn’t everyone who reads a lot know how to find and choose the next book?–and pleased–we were worthy of a study!–that I had to get a copy of the article to see what it was about.

The study was conducted by extensive interviews on self-identified avid readers, those who typically read on average a book a week. People like the kind who might read a book blog. You will not be surprised then by statements like this:

Readers choose books for the pleasure anticipated in the reading itself but then, apparently serendipitously, they encounter material that helps them in the context of their lives. In effect, these avid readers reported finding without seeking.

The study also found that unlike nonreaders who claim they don’t read because they haven’t the time, avid readers build reading time into their day and claim that while their favorite place and time to read is in bed before going to sleep, they can and do read anywhere and everywhere.

How we find and choose books all boils down to five main elements:

  1. Mood
  2. Sources that alert us to books we might want to read like reviews, friends, blogs, etc.
  3. The book itself, for instance, book size, the book’s subject and setting.
  4. Information on the physical book like blurbs, title, cover, author and publisher.
  5. The cost in time, money and energy that it takes to get access to the book.

Seem familiar?

A few other interesting bits of information. The researchers found that “reading occurs within a network of social relations.” In other words, even though reading itself might be a solitary activity, the motivation to read occurs in a social context. Avid readers tend to support and encourage others to read, buying books as gifts and talking to friends and family about their reading. Readers also like to talk to other readers about books. We all know this, but now it’s official.

Another interesting bit is that we avid readers have a lot of information about books in our heads that help us follow a successful experience with another successful experience. We have so much information in our heads that we have accumulated over years and years of successful reading experiences that in comparison to new or infrequent readers we are more likely to have a good experience with books. The good experience acts as a reward and encourages us to read even more. Conversely, a bad experience makes us less likely to want to read more. But avid readers have a wealth of good experiences to draw on to encourage continued reading. New or infrequent readers get discouraged. The author makes an argument regarding the importance of intermediaries (librarians, teachers) to help novice readers make successful reading choices.

As I said, all this isn’t really front page news for readers, but it was fun to see us profiled in a research study.

¹Information Processing and Management 35 (1999) 783-799