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Library Philosophy and Practice 2010

ISSN 1522-0222

A Snapshot of Information-Seeking Behavior Literature in Health Sciences: a Bibliometric Approach

Professor Dr. Ahmed Bakeri Abubakar
Department of Library and Information Sciences
Kulliyyah of Information and Communication Technology
International Islamic University, Malaysia

Yahya Ibrahim Harande
Department of Library and Information Sciences, Faculty of Education
Bayero University
Kano, Nigeria



Information-seeking behavior is an important LIS concept. It deals with behaviors and actions exhibited by human beings in their search for information to satisfy diverse information needs. Wilson (2008) says that, “Information seeking behavior is the purposive seeking for information as a consequence of a need to satisfy some goal. In the course of seeking the individual may interact with manual information system (such as newspapers or library) or with computer based system (such as the WWW).” It is important to study the information-seeking behavior of particular groups of people, order to serve them better. Bibliometrics is a flexible and growing research methodology that lends itself to many approaches. Author productivity, contextual analysis, citation analysis, data clustering, bibliographic coupling, etc., are some of the multiple approaches of bibliometrics as a research method. Exploring collaboration in research is another fruitful approach. Yazit and Zainab (2007) hold the view that, “collaboration encourages author productivity and enhances the quality of articles.” This study uses a snapshot modality. Wilson (2006) says that, “much information (seeking) behavior research is of a ‘snapshot' character exploring a situation at a particular point in time.”

Information-seeking behavior differs significantly according to background, culture, conditions, needs, and requirements. It is difficult to predict the actual behavior that a person might exhibit in a quest for information. In order to understand the behavior of human beings better, there is a need for multidisciplinary research using multidimensional approaches. Health science is a vast discipline that uses information extensively. Stokes (2008) says that, “Nurses handle information all the time, including processes from patient counseling through recording of care reflection practice, with increasing emphasis on evidence based practice; with the growth of web 2.0, nurses will need to work with fellow professionals and patients in different ways, and nursing students will need to acquire more and more sophisticated information seeking skills to cope with the new roles.” Up-to-date information is very important. Many journal articles, papers, reports, and case studies are written in this area. This paper will explore bibliometrically and create a snapshot of information seeking behavior in the health sciences. The range of the study is the years 2000-2007. In looking at the distribution of the papers and sources of information in this literature, Bradford's law of scattering of information sources is applied to this data.

A lot of bibliometric researches use Bradford's Law to study particular phenomena. Some of these researches include, Brookes (1969), Donohue (1970), Kademani et al (2005) Zabid Ahmad and Anisur Rahman (2008), MacLean, et al., (2007), Lawani (1973), and Afolabi (1991).


National Library of Medicine's MEDLINE was used through the PubMed data base to gather data. Boolean search strategies were employed. The Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) terms “Information seeking behavior ”and “ Health science s” were used for exercise. A total of 801 publications in the 2000-2007 literature of information-seeking behavior in health sciences were found. The publications covered the field of health sciences globally. Four aspects of the data were examined: growth of the literature, authorship patterns, Bradford's distribution, and language of dispersion of the literature. The sampled publications were concentrated in two domains: Nursing and Psychoanalysis .

Results and Discussion

Growth of the literature

Table 1 and figure 1 show the growth and development of the literature on information- seeking behavior in health sciences. The yearly growth could be explored from the table in two perspectives. The growth of the literature was slow at first, but picked up in 2002, and fell back in 2003. Starting in 2004 the growth became exponential. Table 2 shows authorship patterns. About two-thirds of the literature had multiple authors. The highest collaboration co efficient was in 2006. This supports the belief that scientists in pure and allied sciences collaborate in research and publication.

Table 1. Growth and development of the literature

Year Number of articles Cumulative number of articles Percentage
2000 49 49 6.11
2001 49 98 6.11
2002 79 177 9.90
2003 70 247 8.73
2004 102 349 12.73
2005 150 499 18.72
2006 205 704 25.60
2007 97 801 12.10
Total 801    

Figure 1

Table 2. Authorship pattern

Year Single author Multi-author Total Collaboration co-efficient
2000 22 27 49 0.55
2001 21 28 49 0.57
2002 25 54 79 0.68
2003 23 47 70 0.67
2004 33 69 102 0.67
2005 48 102 150 0.68
2006 52 153 205 0.74
2007 41 56 97 0.57
Total 265 536 801 0.66
Domain-wise authorship patterns

Table 3 shows domain-wise distribution. There were 505 publications in the nursing domain within the period of the study, with 296 in psychoanalysis. The trend of authorship in the two domains was towards collaboration. Nearly one-quarter of the papers had two authors, with three authors at 17.72 percent, and four authors at 11.48 percent. Looking closely at the two domains shows a scattered trend of multi-authored papers. There are paper with four, five, and six authors, and some with as many as thirteen or sixteen. This clearly indicates the collaborative nature of research activities in the two domains; however, it should be noted that information-seeking behavior cuts across all subjects in health sciences. Information-seeking behavior is an inter-disciplinary phenomenon that can be studied in many different dimensions, perspectives, techniques, and approaches.

Table 3. Domain-wise authorship pattern

Authorship Domain      
  Nursing Psychoanalysis Total publication Percentage
One 145 120 265 33.08
Two 136 62 198 24.71
Three 95 51 146 18.22
Four 64 28 92 11.48
Five 26 16 42 5.24
Six 13 6 19 2.37
Seven 8 7 15 1.87
Eight 5 3 8 0.99
Nine 9 1 10 1.24
Ten 1 1 2 0.24
Eleven 1 - 1 0.24
Twelve - - - -
Thirteen - 2 2 0.24
Fourteen - - - -
Fifteen - - - -
Sixteen 1 - 1 0.12
Total 504 297 801 100.00
Bradford's distribution

The literature of information seeking behavior in health sciences is highly scattered. Table 4 shows 24 journals that published three or more papers on information-seeking behavior. The journals are arranged and ranked according to decreasing order of productivity.

Figure 2

The ranked journals are plotted on the horizontal axis, while the cumulative sums of journals are plotted on the vertical axis. Then in Figure 3, Bradford-Zipf distribution was plotted for the literature of information-seeking behavior in health sciences. Figure 3 does not have an S-shape or the “gross droop” at the tail end of the graph. The graph is almost a straight line, which indicates that the literature is widely scattered and growing very quickly.

Table 4. Ranking of journals contributing three or more papers

Rank No. of papers Cumul. Papers Journal title
1 59 59 Nurse education today
2 48 107 International journal of psychoanalysis
3 45 152 Journal of nurse education
4 38 190 Nurse Education
5 21 211 Journal of clinical nursing
6 15 226 Nursing education perspectives
7 15 241 Journal of professional nursing
8 14 255 International journal of nursing studies
9 14 269 Psychoanalysis quarterly
10 13 282 Journal of American psychoanalysis association
11 10 292 Psychoanalysis study child
12 8 300 Rech seins inform (French)
13 7 307 Journal of continental education nursing
14 7 314 Nursing stand
15 6 320 American journal of psychoanalysis
16 6 326 Encephale (French)
17 5 331 Journal of personality disorder
18 4 335 Nurse Ethics
19 4 339 Psychoanalysis review
20 4 343 Journal of holistic nursing
21 4 347 BMC public health
22 3 350 Journal of psychiatry mental health news
23 3 353 Pediatrics
24 3 356 Pediatric nursing


Figure 3

Language of dispersion of the literature.

Languages that are the major vehicles for dissemination of a literature are an indicator of where a relevant and comprehensive literature can be found for research, teaching, and scholarship in a subject area. Table 4 and figure 3 indicate that English accounts for 56 percent of the articles published. French is second with 23 percent. There gap between first and the second could exist because more countries globally use English as one of their major languages than French. Papers in German were third with 13 percent, while Russian, Japanese, Korean, Serbian, Norwegian, and Spanish, scored 2 percent or less. Haiqi (1995) found that English language was the first with 51.41 percent in dispersion of the literature of Acupuncture.


This study is an exploratory snapshot of the contributions in information-seeking behavior in the literature of health sciences from 2000-2007. The findings indicate that the literature recorded exponential growth from 2004 onward. It also found that 66.9 percent were multi-authored, showing the collaborative approach of scientists in the field. This approach opens doors for interaction among experts in different areas of the health sciences, leading to learning and sharing of information resources. Collaborative research enhances the productivity of authors as well as their visibility. Subramanyam (1983) states that collaboration has also been found to affect the visibility and productivity of scientists. Zainab (2007) emphasizes the importance of collaboration for effective information seeking, saying that “Collaboration and professional intermediation therefore becomes necessary to support purposeful bibliographic compilations to support effective information seeking amongst library and information users and researchers.”

Bradford's distribution was found to be applicable to this study, even though the graph does not take the Bradford “S” shape. This exploratory study used a snapshot modality spanning an eight-year period. More detailed and in-depth research needs to be done in this fast-growing literature.


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