Information Seeking Needs and Practices of Youth

Welcome to our information seeking needs and practices of youth page! This Wiki is a collaborative project of students from various sections of LIS 506 in the Fall semester of 2011 and the Fall semester of 2013. It was created to help interested professionals explore the issues surrounding information seeking needs and practices of youth. Feel free to read the whole page or to use the table of contents to jump to specific sections.

Information Seeking Needs of Youth

Whether finding print material or online resources, users are interacting with computer interfaces in order to locate what they want. Different age groups have different needs when it comes to interacting with an OPAC or other search engine, as noted below. Young children often rely on the assistance of an adult, such as a librarian, to help them find material; however, children can learn to find information on their own if given access to search mechanisms that are tailored to the needs of their specific age level. It is important to know the different techniques used among different ages groups in order to sufficiently provide them with help when it comes to seeking information.

Ages 5-10

According to Allison Druin and her colleagues, children ages 5-10 "want access to pictures, videos, or sounds of their favorite animals, space ships, volcanoes, and more" (Druin, Designing a Digital Library, 398). They need online interfaces that do not require complex typing, correct spelling, or an understanding of abstract concepts or in-depth content knowledge. Clickable icons are good, but need to be large enough to accommodate children's lack of fine motor skills with a mouse. Hutchinson and colleagues' research found that children need a "flat, simultaneous interface...over a hierarchical, sequential both Boolean searching and casual browsing" (Hutchinson, 1618).

Ages 9-12

Children in this age group still require some of the technological support that is built into computer interfaces for younger children, but they are beginning to develop the capacity to find information using a more complex interface. Reading skills are emphasized in online interfaces for these children. This not only reinforces learning to read, but prepares them for interfaces they will encounter in high school and adulthood.


As noted by Agosto, most teens use libraries for school related research and to use the Internet. Public librarians reported that they create and maintain "young adult library Web pages to provide reference assistance, educational support, and community information for teens." (Agosto, Why Do Teens Use Libraries, 56) These uses imply that teens are savvy at using a variety of computer interfaces and do not require the same assistance that younger users need in order to navigate a search for information.

It is important to know what teenagers are looking for when they are doing their information seeking and also what barriers might stand in their way. An article titled “Young Adults' Information Behavior: What We Know So Far and Where We Need To Go from Here,” does a good job stating what those are. Agosto states in her article written for the Journal of Research on Libraries and Young Adults several categories of information needs recur for teenagers, including:
▪ peer, family, and other relationships
▪ popular culture
▪ emotional needs
▪ physical health and safety
▪ emerging sexuality
▪ consumer needs
▪ academics
▪ leisure activities and interests
▪ careers
▪ college

The common barriers for teenagers that were noted among many studies were:
▪ lack of source knowledge
▪ background and contextual knowledge deficiencies
▪ negative perceptions of libraries and librarians
▪ information avoidance
▪ embarrassment and social unease
▪ use restrictions by parents/guardians, schools, or libraries
▪ access issues
▪ information overload

Piagetian Stages of Cognitive Development

According to Amy S. Pattee, she states that Carol Kuhlthau calls for librarians to learn about the Piagetian stages of cognitive development and apply it to their knowledge of bibliographic instruction to help children find what they need. Thus, it is important that librarians know about the four stages of cognitive development to help them understand how children and adolescents process and understand information. The four stages are the Sensorimotor stage (0 to 2 years), the Preoperational stage (2 to 6 years), the Concrete Operational stage (7 to 11 years), and the Former Operational stage (11 years and older).

Sensorimotor Stage (0 to 2 years)
This stage marks the start of a child’s intellectual development by learning his or her senses such as tasting and touching. He or she begins to understand information by tasting, touching, smelling, seeing, and hearing everything.
Preoperational Stage (2 to 6 years)
In this stage, a child’s thought processes are developing, but he or she is far from “logical thought.” He or she also becomes aware that the world is organized into categories. At the end of this stage, he or she is typically capable of understanding broad categorizations of physical objects. However, the child will still have difficulty in ordering and classifying them in the right order.
Concrete Operational Stage (7 to 11 years)
During this stage, the child’s thought process becomes more rational and mature, like an adult. It also becomes more “operational,” hence the name of the stage. The child is able to think logically about real objects and actions. He or she is also able to manipulate the objects in his or her mind without the need to physically manipulate the information that is there. The child continues to organize their world in concrete terms, but still may have difficulties organizing abstract concepts. He or she may also still have trouble combining information from multiple sources.

Former Operational Stage (11 years and older)
In the last stage, when the child becomes an adolescent, the developmental structures become the abstract, logically organized system of adult intelligence. When the child is faced with a complex problem, he or she thinks about all the possible solutions before trying them in the real world. The child is also able to use a wide range of approaches to fulfill his or her information needs.

Information Seeking Practices of Youth

Classifying or categorizing information so others can find it is a difficult task. Each individual sees the world in a slightly different way and those differences inform how that individual organizes his or her information into categories. In addition to our individual interpretations, individuals must also be able to reconcile their interpretations of the world with broader cultural assumptions of the world. Because of this, according to Linda Cooper, author of “Methodology for a Project Examining Cognitive Categories for Library Information in Young Children,” information seekers must “change their way of thinking about information from a personal to a cultural perspective” in order to successfully use the library to find information (1224). This can create problems for information seekers if they are unable to make the cognitive leap from individual to cultural interpretations.

Because information systems in libraries are usually designed for adults, they often do not support the information needs of children who have been shown to think differently from adults. In fact, as Cooper explains, children not only face obstacles shifting from individual to cultural views of the world but also experience problems with reading and language expertise, life experience, and developmental issues such as using fine motor skills (1224). Allison Druin, Elizabeth Foss, Leshell Hatley, Evan Golub, Mona Leigh Guha, and Jerry Fails also observed how children’s development influences their ability to search for information. In their article “How Children Search the Internet with Keyword Interfaces,” they discuss children’s ability to spell, type, and select appropriate search terms. They also noticed that children do not look very deeply into search results and if they do not find what they are looking for easily, they assume that, that information does not exist on the Internet or that it is not important. Because children face obstacles as they search for information, it is important to look more deeply into their information seeking practices to determine how to help them meet their information needs.

How Children Categorize Information

To learn more about how children categorize information, Cooper asked kindergarten through fourth graders what kind of information they thought should be included in a library, how that information should be made accessible, and how that information should be categorized. Through her study, Cooper found that how children create categories evolves and becomes more fine-tuned as they get older. For example, first graders saw “animal” as a relevant category for both “Clifford” and “dog,” but they observed more nuances between “Clifford” and “dog” than kindergarteners did. Kindergarteners often saw little difference between books about Clifford and books about real animals or pets. The first graders were beginning to be more aware of reality versus fantasy and observed that “Clifford” could also be categorized under headings like “story” or “cartoons” (Cooper 1229).

What Libraries can do to Help Children Find Information

Although Cooper did not discuss what her study means for categorizing information in children’s departments, it is clear from her research that what works for adults does not necessarily work for children. There are many obstacles to creating an organization system for libraries that follows how the children in Cooper’s study organized materials, primarily that books can only occupy one physical space and different age groups categorize books differently; however, librarians should at the very least talk to children about classification systems so children understand the reasons why information is organized the way that it is. Following Cooper’s methodology and asking children what information they feel should be included in a library and then asking them to organize books that reflect their answers into categories seems to be a good way to at least expose children to the complexities of categorization and ways to think about information retrieval.

Some libraries are addressing children’s needs by creating children’s library catalogs that are separate from adult catalogs, are more developmentally appropriate for children, and help children find information more easily. Examples include:

Each catalog has its strengths and weaknesses, but they show that librarians are paying attention to children’s information seeking needs and practices and are making adjustments to serve them better.

Applying the K-W-L Method

Another thing that librarians can do to help children find information is to use the K-W-L method when a child comes to the information desk and asks a reference question. The K-W-L method is a process model of reading and research that was developed as a framework for classroom instruction related to children’s research and report writing. The method was designed to encourage young people to actively read expository texts. K-W-L means “What Do I Know” about a topic, “What Do I Want to Know” about a topic, and “What I Learned” about a topic after doing research.

According to Pattee, she states, “The reference transaction with children can be effectively guided by the K-W-L model because the steps of the information-seeking process and the reference transaction are analogous to the steps of the investigative reading process suggested by the model. Kuhlthau’s model of information-seeking identifies seven steps in process—task initiation, topic selection, prefocus exploration, focus formulation, information collection, search closure, and reproduction” (34). Therefore, using this method will greatly assist the child in acquiring his/her information needs without the librarian just giving him/her what he/she wants.

Using the K-W-L method suggest activities for both the librarian and patron to help facilitate the information search process. During the task, the librarian may help the patron with his/her topic by asking what he/she knows about the topic at hand. That way, they begin selecting, exploring and focusing more narrowly on the topic. During this process, the librarian and child work together to establish categories of the information being sought and look forward to using these categories in the information collection process. While the child gathers information with the help of the librarian, he/she may be led to find and assess this information in terms of the categories that were established earlier in the reference interview. Thus, applying the K-W-L method to the reference interview will help the child find the information he/she needs.

To get more details about applying the K-W-L method and to see examples, please read Pattee’s article “What Do You Know? Applying the K-W-L Method to the Reference Transaction with Children.”

School Libraries and Information Seeking Behavior

The Theory of Radical Change

The Theory of Radical Change is based on the digital age principles of interactivity, connectivity, and access. It provides a promising theoretical framework for explaining contemporary changes in information behavior and resources as well as for serving as a guide for investigative studies and professional practice. The radical expansion of the theory proposed here is in step with the digital environment. The shift in emphasis of twenty-first-century school libraries makes an expanded Radical Change theory an especially important tool for school libraries in assessing and planning for the radical changes in students, their information seeking, and their expectations for resources. (Dresang)

This is an important theory when discussing information seeking needs of youth in school libraries (and elsewhere). It implies that planning really needs to exist for the ever changing and evolving digital environment that today’s youth are fully ensconced in. Dresang also states that, “The theory is unusually important in that it focuses on both people and resources—the interaction in the digital age between and the combination of users and information resources.” This interaction is especially important to study if an understanding of information seeking behaviors is to be understood.

Common Core Standards, The School Library, and Information Seeking

The introduction of Common Core Standards have left many wondering what steps to take next, including the school librarian, especially regarding information literacy. According to an article in the School Library Journal titled "All Aboard! Implementing Common Core gives school librarians the opportunity to take the lead.", literacy, critical thinking and the inquiry process are all key components of Common Core. Which also happen to be the school librarian's forte. The Common Core Standards are very closely aligned to the American Association of School Librarians' recent Standards for the 21st-Century learner. That being said the job of the school librarian should be trying to immerse themselves into the planning for the school's goals to become aligned with Common Core. This article also states that the school librarian is, unfortunately, not being invited to participate in the Common Core immersion but because the very ideals that Common Core is trying to establish is what school librarians know best it should be the goal of the librarian to show their worth and become involved. There are many resources and tools out their for becoming familiar with Common Core, it is in your best interest to become familiar with them and what they mean for information literacy skills.
Here are some helpful hints outlined by this article in becoming familiar with Common Core: These tips are a great way to get informed on Common Core and how to integrate your information seeking curriculum.
  • Literacy is the new ELA/social studies/science. While these subjects will continue to have their own content-specific instructional objectives, Common Core’s overarching goal is literacy. Social studies and science content will be taught via regular texts, not textbooks. So make sure your library has high-quality resources that teachers and kids need.
  • Literary nonfiction. Although we’re all still trying to figure out what exactly the term “literary nonfiction” means, for your library it means you’ll need to buy more world-class informational texts. Think Gail Gibbons’s animal books or Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel—extremely well-written titles that are packed with valuable information.
  • The textbook is dead . While some textbooks may wander your school halls like zombies for the next couple of years, make no mistake… the textbook as we know it is dead. Common Core calls for shorter, well-crafted texts that kids can consider more deeply. The focus is on primary (or maybe secondary) sources, not the predigested tertiary writing found in many of today’s textbooks.
  • Close reading of shorter texts. Your databases will become teachers’ new best friends once they discover that periodicals are a great source of superb shorter texts that students can dive into. Stretch your collection to include resources like The Civil War Times and other niche publications.
  • This shall not pass—or at least it had better not. Common Core is a great boon for school libraries, especially since they’re a school’s number-one source for the primary-source informational texts that kids need. Add to that our focus on literacy, critical thinking, and information skills, and there’s the potential for a school library renaissance. Don’t waste this opportunity!
  • Become the local expert. Each school that has a certified teacher librarian can also have a curriculum and pedagogical expert. Embrace that role. Push to attend every training session and be there to provide resources and support.
  • Rethink your collection. While school libraries will continue to be a source for narrative books for students, your collection development energies need to be spent on building up literary nonfiction resources—so focus on the authors and publications that do a great job.
  • Highlight what you have . We already have loads of resources that are perfect for Common Core. Check the appendixes, pull the books, highlight the databases, and showcase what’s readily available!
  • Ask for help . Your library will be the new textbook, so ask if you can tap into your school’s textbook funds. Can that money be used to help you purchase new resources to support Common Core in the classroom?
  • Work together . With all of these new nonfiction needs, it makes sense to also use this as a chance to go digital. K–12 publishers have wonderful nonfiction content available for unlimited, simultaneous use. But don’t buy it yourself; work at the district or consortium level for better leverage and resource sharing.
(To see these in their original article please visit:

Additional Resources for the School Librarian:
Understanding the Common Core Standards
AASL Standards & Common Core State Standards Crosswalk

Teaching Students about Reliable Sources

Because the school library is evolving with the digital environment an emphasis needs to be put on teaching students to know what a reliable source is when researching. Instructing students to use databases to look for information is important and crucial for their future in high school and college courses. However, teaching students to use Google and other such search engines in a responsible manner is just as important, for research and everyday needs. How can this be done? The first step is teaching students to know credibility, bias and reliability. This is a great article by Debbie Abilock concerning teaching about information reliability. Below are some links to lesson plans that have been designed to teach exactly this.

There are many resources available to teacher-librarians to help guide students when teaching about reliability of sources. These are just a few. Another option would be to create a LibGuide, either just for your libraries resources or one can be created with a sole project in mind. These can help guide the students to reliable and credible resources while also engaging in information seeking.

LibGuides and Information Seeking

LibGuides is the most popular research guides platform at colleges and universities. However, using this platform in the school library you can prepare your students for high-quality research projects done in college. You can also introduce your students to information literacy skills they will need throughout life. A LibGuide can be created to help your students navigate your school library or personalized for a specific project. This provides a level of collaboration between you and the teaching staff and will also give you, the teachers and the students tools to use at that moment but also in the future for repeating projects. LibGuides are a great way to prepare high school students for research projects but can also be used in the elementary school library. Getting the youngest of children used to navigating information in this way will help become better researchers while providing a useful tool for the staff.
To help guide you in developing your LibGuide here are some resources:
LibGuides For School Libraries
Best Practices for LibGuides
Reasons to love (and use) Libguides

And some examples of great LibGuides:
Best of LibGuides (SpringShare)
New Trier Haiti Project 2012
Creekview High School - Rasmussen U.S. History Influential Person Project

What Search Engine Developers can do to Help Children Find Information

Through their research Druin, Foss, Hatley, Golub, Guha, and Fails have offered some suggestions for making search engines more kid friendly. Children often have trouble with spelling, and while autocomplete could help them overcome this obstacle, children also have trouble typing and rarely look at the screen while they type. Search engine designers could create tools or adjust current tools to make searching easier for children. For example, alternative input methods could be used to help solve the problem. Instead of typing in search terms, children could click on pre-defined categories or speak an audio query to enter in their terms. Another option could be to explore alternate auto-complete algorithms. Because children are not looking at the screen while they type they miss the auto-complete suggestions. Some helpful adjustments could include offering suggestions after a pause in typing or after the search button is pressed. Placing the auto-complete function near the bottom of the screen might also make it easier for children to see the options as they type (Druin et al.).

Other problems children have when they search include not looking deeply into search results and finding age appropriate content. Druin et al. suggest limiting results to a single simplified results page with “less text, fewer links, and no scrolling.” Another option could be redefining the interface to more clearly direct young users to other pages. Providing age appropriate results is challenging, and Druin et al. did not have as many concrete suggestions for improving search engines in this area. However, they did recommend placing results that were at a child’s reading level first since children are the most likely to explore those first few results.

How are libraries accommodating the information seeking practices and meeting the information seeking needs of youth?


The American Library Association and the for Library Collections & Technical Services have long recognized the special information needs of children. Therefore, they provide special bibliographic treatment of materials children use in order to meet their needs. Their recommended guidelines for cataloging juvenile materials are outlined in their Guidelines for Standardized Cataloging for Children. The Library of Congress also has guidelines for cataloging juvenile materials, including a separate system of Children's Subject Headings:


Many libraries are making websites tailored to the needs and practices of their juvenile and young adult patrons. In these examples from Champaign Public Library, the designers have accounted for younger children's need for icons on Just Kids, while the TeenSpace site--although still using icons--is more complex and employs more text.

Champaign Public Library's Just Kids
Champaign Public Library's TeenSpace

Practical Strategies and Advice for Librarians

  • Talk to patrons. Conduct a survey of the youth using the library catalog to find out what needs improvement. Keep track of what types of catalog questions are asked to see if there are common areas of confusion.
  • Work with the library tech staff to create a more kid-friendly interface for the catalog.
  • Keep a list of common search terms that may be difficult to spell, like ‘animal’ or ‘dinosaur’, next to the keyboard. Children can use this for reference while typing. Include pictures next to each word for children too young to recognize the word on their own.
  • School librarians can incorporate information seeking skills into their school’s curriculum. This could include inviting classes into the library to learn how their school’s catalog works and how to get the best results while using search engines.

Tips for Conducting Reference Interviews with Children

  • Even before reference interviews, make sure you every child who enters knows you are available and eager to help, make eye contact and smile, introduce yourself and learn the names of children and parents, wave at children as they enter or leave.
  • Get out from behind the reference desk. Don’t wait for children to come to you, if you see a child or family having trouble, approach them and ask how you can help. Children are often more hesitant to approach librarians, while adults know that librarians are there to help them. Young girls are often especially reluctant to ‘interrupt’ librarians.
  • If you are sitting at the desk when talking to a child, don’t just stare at the computer screen while looking up your answer. Look at the child, use body language that reassures them that you are paying attention and working on their question.
  • Don’t talk down to children. They’re kids, not stupid, and they won’t hesitate to say so if they continue with the interview. Children, even very young children, are aware patronization—even if they do not know the term for it. They will be aware of a librarian not treating them or their requests with the same level of respect as they would an adult in a reference interview.
  • Do not treat requests based on needs as less important than those based on interests. Similarly, don’t question or judge the worth of the reading level, genre, or format that the child asks for. A little boy who wants to read a book about My Little Pony, a teenager asking for a picture book about Justin Beiber—every request is as valid and valuable as every other.
  • Even if an adult is accompanying the child, direct your questions at the child. For shy children or those unused to speaking for themselves, start off with basic and encouraging questions.
  • Kneeling, sitting on a low stool or chair, or meeting the child on their level in other ways can be very reassuring to a child.
  • Be conscious of the developmental stage and reading level of the child you are talking to while making your recommendations, but do not make assumptions based on age, gender, ethnicity, race, religion, or any other factor.
  • Remain attentive and patient, adults often have trouble articulating exactly what they are looking for, so do not expect children to be any different. Moreover, rushing children can result in misunderstandings. Instead work together with them step-by-step to draw out key information. You will have children come up to you asking about ‘that book my teacher likes about the fish by the author with two L’s in his name’.
  • Don’t just find a book for them—try and show them information seeking methods that they can use in the future. Giving them a brief tour of the different sections of the children’s department or showing them how a certain collection is organized alphabetically or by subject, especially right before or while doing the actual search itself.

Additional Resources

Agosto, Denise E., and Sandra Hughes-Hassell. “Toward a Model of the Everyday Life Information Needs of Urban Teenagers, Part 2: Empirical Model.” Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 57.11 (2006): 1418-1426.

Agosto, Denise. "Young Adults' Information Behavior: What We Know So Far and Where We Need To Go from Here." Journal of Research on Libraries and Young Adults 2.1 (2011).

Carnesi, Sabrina and Karen DiGiorgio. "Teaching ghe Inquiry Process to 21st Century Learners." Libary Media Connection. March/April 2009: 32-36.

Dresang, Eliza T. "More Research Needed: Informal Information-Seeking Behavior Of Youth On The Internet." Journal Of The American Society For Information Science 50.12 (1999): 1123-24.

Dresang, Eliza T., and Kyungwon Koh. "Radical Change Theory, Youth Information Behavior, and School Libraries." Library Trends 58.1 (2009): 26-50.

Gross, Melissa. "The Imposed Query And Information Services For Children." Journal Of Youth Services In Libraries 13.2 (2000): 10-17.

Julien, Heidi E. "Barriers To Adolescents' Information Seeking For Career Decision Making." Journal Of The American Society For Information Science 50.1 (1999): 38-48.

Large, Andrew, Valerie Nesset, and Jamshid Beheshti. "Children As Information Seekers: What Researchers Tell Us." New Review Of Children's Literature & Librarianship 14.2 (2008): 121-140.

Lighthall, Lynne, Eleanor Howe, and Seattle, WA. International Association of School Librarianship. Unleash The Power! Knowledge - Technology - Diversity: Papers Presented At The Third International Forum On Research In School Librarianship, Annual Conference Of The International Association Of School Librarianship (IASL) (28Th, Birmingham, Alabama, November 10-14, 1999).

Mayton, Daniel M., II, et. al. "The Perceived Effects Of Drug Messages On Use Patterns In Adolescents." A paper presented at the annual meeting of the Western Psychological Association (Los Angeles, CA, April 28, 1990).

Meyers, Eric M., Karen E. Fisher, and Elizabeth Marcoux. "Making Sense Of An Information World: The Everyday-Life Information Behavior Of Preteens." Library Quarterly 79.3 (2009): 301-341.

Minkel, Walter. "They Can't Always Find What They Want; Kids' Online Behaviors Have Researchers Scratching Their Heads." School Library Journal 50.8 (2004): 29.

Pattee, Amy S. "What Do You Know? Applying The K-W-L Method To The Reference Transaction With Children." Children & Libraries: The Journal Of The Association For Library Service To Children 6.1 (2008): 30-39.

Powell, Eryl. "Young People's Use Of Friends And Family For Sex And Relationships Information And Advice." Sex Education: Sexuality, Society And Learning 8.3 (2008): 289-302.

Swanson, Josephine A., June P. Mead, and Heidi L. Haugan. "Using Internet Resources To Strengthen Community Programs And Collaborations For Children, Youth, And Families At Risk." Proceedings of the Families, Technology, and Education Conference (Chicago, IL, October 30-November 1, 1997).

Todd, R. J. "Adolescents of the Information Age: Patterns of Information Seeking and Use, and Implications for Information Professionals." School Libraries Worldwide 9.2 (July 2003): 27-46.

Toney, Christina D., et al. "A Visit To The Information Mall: Web Searching Behavior Of High School Students." Journal Of The American Society For Information Science 50.1 (1999): 24-37.


Agosto, Denise. "Why Do Teens Use Libraries? Results of a Public Library Use Survey." Public Libraries 46.3 (May/June 2007): 55-62.

Cooper, Linda Z. “Methodology for a Project Examining Cognitive Categories for Library Information in Young Children.” Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 53.14 (Dec. 2002): 1223-1231.

Druin, Allison, et al. "Designing A Digital Library For Young Children: An Intergenerational Partnership." Proceedings of the ACM/IEEE-CS Joint Conference on Digital Libraries (1st, Roanoke, Virginia, June 24-28, 2001).

Druin, Allison, et al. “How Children Search the Internet with Keyword Interfaces.” Proceedings of the ACM 2009.

Hutchinson, Hilary Browne, Allison Druin, and Benjamin B. Bederson. "Supporting Elementary-Age Children's Searching and Browsing: Design and Evaluation Using the International Children's Digital Library." Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 58.11 (2007): 1618-30.

DRESANG, ELIZA T., and KYUNGWON KOH. "Radical Change Theory, Youth Information Behavior, And School Libraries." Library Trends 58.1 (2009): 26-50. Academic Search Premier. Web. 19 Nov. 2013.

Hill, Rebecca. "All Aboard! Implementing Common Core gives school librarians the opportunity to take the lead." School Library Journal (2012). Web. 24 Nov. 2013

Pattee, Amy S. "What Do You Know? Applying The K-W-L Method To The Reference Transaction With Children." Children & Libraries: The Journal Of The Association For Library Service To Children 6.1 (2008): 30-39.