Social Science: Information Seekers

I’ve traced my grandfather’s side of the family back to the Mayflower, but how do I go back further?
Before traveling to South America, I’d like to know more about the local cultures of central Peru.
What’s the latest brain research related to bipolar disorder?

Social science information seekers come to the library with a wide range of needs and interests. Before providing assistance, it's essential to know the characteristics of library users and the implications for providing information sources and services.

For instance in the social sciences, Catalano (2013) found that many researchers rely on archives and other special sources not available in a digital format.

Kumar, Ajay, Singh S. N., Yaday, Akhilesh K. S. (2011). An investigation of use of information sources by social scientists. Library Philosophy and Practice.

Information Seekers

From a geographer seeking a specialty map to a law professor seeking new cases when updating a course, the audience for social science information is vast and varied. The audience includes professionals, educators, students, hobbyists, and the general public. Each of these user groups has different information needs and distinct approaches to information seeking.


Rupp-Serrano, Karen & Robbins, Sarah (March 2013). Information-seeking habits of education faculty. College & Research Libraries, 74(2), 131-142. Available: http://crl.acrl.org/content/74/2/131.full.pdf+html

In order to help individuals find the information they need, librarians need to understand social science information seekers and their behavior.


The social sciences is at the foundation of many professions. While some professionals need up-to-date information, others rely on ancient texts and other primary sources for their work.

Read Westbrook, Lynn (2009). Social science professional literatures and their users. Encyclopedia of Library and Information Sciences, 3rd Edition. Taylor and Francis.

Educators and Students

Students and educators are heavy users of social science information.

Faculty use information for both course development and scholarly research activities.

Read Robbins, Sarah & Rupp-Serrano, Karen (September 2013). How unique are our users? Part 2: comparing responses regarding the information-seeking habits of education faculty. Colleges & Research Libraries, 74(5), 450-463.


Hobbyists represent a wide range of interests and skill levels from beginners to accomplished information users.

General Public

From children to senior citizens, people of all ages and backgrounds seek social science information.

Information Seekers by Library Type

Different library types are likely to see different types of information seekers.

Academic Libraries

At the community college and university levels, information seekers include students and faculty. While students are likely to be seeking resources related to class assignments, they may also be conducting research related to potential internships, their personal interests, or projects related to their current or future career aspirations.

Faculty may be interested in information related to both course development as well as their research agenda. As researchers, they are often interested in the most up-to-date information on a topic and need a level of depth much deeper than student scholars.

While most institutions of higher education house their discipline collections in the main academic library, some universities have a separate library building.

Read Alexander, David L. (January 2013). American Indian studies, multiculturalism, and the academic library. College & Research Libraries, 74(1), 60-68. Available: http://crl.acrl.org/content/74/1/60.full.pdf+html

kidsSchool Libraries

While a majority of school libraries will be faced with questions from students about classroom assignments, they may also address the after-school needs of youth.

Classroom teachers are also users of the school library. While they may be working on course development activities, many educators also use the library for professional development activities.

Public Libraries

Because the public library caters to a general audience, librarians are faced with a wide range of discipline-specific questions and problems.

Special Libraries

Many large corporations house their own libraries. These libraries often specialize in information sources directly related to the needs of the professionals working within the organization.

Law libraries are also special libraries with information seekers with specific needs.

Read Spiegelman, Barbara & Carlson, Nancy Flury (2009). Corporate information centers. Encyclopedia of Library and Information Sciences, 3rd Edition. Taylor and Francis.

Embedding Librarians

Increasingly, information professionals are moving outside their libraries to meet their clients where they work and play. According to Carlson and Kneale (2011, 167),

"embedded librarianship takes a librarian out of the context of the traditional library and places him or her in an “on-site” setting or situation that enables close coordination and collaboration with researchers or teaching faculty.

The idea behind the embedded librarianship model is to enable librarians to demonstrate their expertise as information specialists and to apply this expertise in ways that will have a direct and deep impact on the research, teaching, or other work being done. Through embedded librarianship, librarians move from a supporting role into partnerships with their clientele, enabling librarians to develop stronger connections and relationships with those they serve."


Carlson, Jake & Kneale, Ruth (March 2011). Embedded librarianship in the research context: navigating new waters. College & Research Libraries News, 72(3), 167-170. Available: http://crln.acrl.org/content/72/3/167.full

Etches, Amanda (Fall 2013). Know thy users: user research techniques to build empathy and improve decision-making. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 53(1), 13-17.

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