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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Reference Interview and Instruction in Reference Training

This guide accompanies the U of I Library graduate assistant training session.

What is the information search process?

The information search process was originally developed by Carol Kuhlthau at Rutgers University in order to align the thoughts, feelings, and actions students experience as they engage with the various phases of the research process. Kuhlthau refers to the varying steps as the “zones of interventions for librarians.” While Kuhlthau developed this working with students, we can apply it to all researchers.

Visualizing the search process with Kuhlthau's zones of intervention

This table is useful for visualizing the search process in relation to Kuhlthau's zones of intervention:

model of the information search process

Suggestions for incorporating the Information Search Process into reference interactions

Meeting the users at their current “zone of intervention” in the research process and acknowledging their likely feelings can create empathy and lead to more positive interactions. Librarians need to understand, and remember, what it is like for students as they work through the phases of the research process.

•Zone 1: Initiating a research assignment
•Zone 2: Selecting a topic
•Zone 3: Exploring information
•Zone 4: Formulating a focus
•Zone 5: Collecting information
•Zone 6: Preparing to present
•Zone 7: Assessing the process