The field of human information behavior runs the gamut of processes from the realization of a need or gap in understanding, to the search for information from one or more sources to fill that gap, to the use of that information to complete a task at hand or to satisfy a curiosity, as well as other behaviors such as avoiding information or finding information serendipitously. Designers of mechanisms, tools, and computer-based systems to facilitate this seeking and search process often lack a full knowledge of the context surrounding the search. This context may vary depending on the job or role of the person; individual characteristics such as personality, domain knowledge, age, gender, perception of self, etc.; the task at hand; the source and the channel and their degree of accessibility and usability; and the relationship that the seeker shares with the source. Yet researchers have yet to agree on what context really means. While there have been various research studies incorporating context, and biennial conferences on context in information behavior, there lacks a clear definition of what context is, what its boundaries are, and what elements and variables comprise context.
In this book, we look at the many definitions of and the theoretical and empirical studies on context, and I attempt to map the conceptual space of context in information behavior. I propose theoretical frameworks to map the boundaries, elements, and variables of context. I then discuss how to incorporate these frameworks and variables in the design of research studies on context. We then arrive at a unified definition of context. This book should provide designers of search systems a better understanding of context as they seek to meet the needs and demands of information seekers. It will be an important resource for researchers in Library and Information Science, especially doctoral students looking for one resource that covers an exhaustive range of the most current literature related to context, the best selection of classics, and a synthesis of these into theoretical frameworks and a unified definition. The book should help to move forward research in the field by clarifying the elements, variables, and views that are pertinent. In particular, the list of elements to be considered, and the variables associated with each element will be extremely useful to researchers wanting to include the influences of context in their studies.