People search information systems for purposes of finding information to be put to use in some purposeful action – for example, in performance of a work task. Therefore, the main reason d’être of an information system is to aid in reaching the goals set for, or implicit in, the underlying task. This aspect is not often explicit in research in information science. This study examines molecular medicine researchers’ information access in the course of their day-to-day work tasks.
Molecular medicine is an information-intensive task domain aimed at providing new approaches to the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of various diseases. We set out to describe the information environment of researchers in molecular medicine and, further, examine the characteristics of their information access during task performance, the barriers they face during their task processes, and how they integrate the various information systems into their work task processes. In addition, we shed light on the matter of which research and analysis methods are appropriate for the context of task based information access.
We collected data initially with a questionnaire, then gathered data from real world information access during work task performance via interviews and shadowing. We selected six researchers, from two separate research groups, as participants. During the shadowing, we collected logs of their interaction and photographic surveillance data.
Our study shows, firstly, that the information environment in molecular medicine comprises numerous, heterogeneous data and information sources integrated in work task performance processes. Secondly, task complexity affected the use of the systems: there were more transitions between systems of various kinds for complex tasks than with simple ones. Also, barriers were seen in various contexts – namely, the organizational, task, integration, and single system contexts, and they were of various types. We found also that the researchers employed patterns of manual integration of information systems, called trails, in their search tasks. Employing different search tactics during the search tasks leads to different types of trails, and the trail types present varied with the tasks’ complexity.
This study contributes to the methods of studying information behavior by taking the real-life work task context into account. We found also that task support might be worth considering as an integral part of information systems. Finally, increased understanding of how various task components may affect information access contributes to the design of assigned laboratory test tasks and the methods of analyzing the search data obtained from search task performance sessions.