Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Economics and Information Systems - Faculty of Commerce


The evolution of information and communication technologies have heightened our awareness of information in our lives and emphasised the significance of our information seeking activities. This study proposes that the conceptualisation of information seeking, is and has been, metaphorically based in its many manifestations. The study approaches this topic by examining the understandings that active information seekers (and information professionals and educators) have of the activity of information seeking. The study also examines their understandings of the related terms information and information technology. Thus this study establishes the nature of these understandings through an examination of choices that the participants make in expressing their understandings. These are brought together through the use of metaphor into emergent categories. These ways of seeing are used as conceptual lenses to explore information seeking activity. The first part of this research establishes how information-seeking adults conceptualise information and information seeking in the early stages of their educational development. To accomplish this it examines literature on metaphor and pays attention to how participants describe their experience of information and information seeking. It goes on to determine if the metaphors or descriptions differ among various groups of information seekers and establishes if particular metaphors or descriptions are associated with particular perceptions. To accomplish this it is deemed essential to establish the particular understandings that information seekers use to explain their conceptualisations of information, information technology and information seeking. The expressed understandings are reviewed as they relate to the formation of meanings. The findings of this research are that most people see Information Seeking as a learning activity. This is significant, as the view of Information Seeking as Learning gives it a depth that could never be achieved by the traditional “bucket and brick”metaphor. Learning is much closer to the “gap filling” metaphor, but it is still something more. The statements on which participants placed most importance in the Q-sort show that Information Seeking as a learning activity is challenging, satisfying curiosity and ultimately individual. Thus designing technological tools to support Information Seeking Activity should take heed of the different perceptions of what this may mean as determined in this research. This is achieved initially by a review of relevant literature and subsequently through the use of a research methodology that allows information seekers to state how they understand information, information technology and information seeking. Q Methodology is used as the primary form of study. Activity Theory is also used to frame the analysis and discussion of the results. The integrated application of concepts and techniques of metaphor, Q-method and Activity Theory make the methodology used in this research as innovative and meaningful as the findings themselves.

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Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.