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Facilitated Online Learning as an Interactive Opportunity





Planning and Conducting Information Needs Analysis (PACINA)


Briefing 3

 January 2005


Concepts and applications




Firstly, we have to be clear what this elusive concept called “information needs,” which we plan to analyse, actually is. In defining “information” you have to hop over the enquiry desk and walk around with the library user for a while to see what they actually do in your library. You need to get out of the library and find out how they use information for their day-to-day work. You need to be present at decision-making meetings within your organisation to witness how information contributes. “Information” thus entertains a wide perspective of knowledge and resources which can help solve and inform problems. The final output of your Information Needs Analysis (INA) has to go beyond merely coding and re-packaging the results of the survey into graphs and tables. It must encompass organisation of the findings, within the context of library or information services and plans to develop new services. There is a pitfall here: it is all too easy to run a survey of what current users are doing (which resources they consult), rather than looking at their needs and how well these are being satisfied. On the other hand, information needs analysis is not an impact study, on how library and information services affect what users do (another course called MAXIM, Maximising the Impact of Your Service, explores those issues.) Nor is it an evaluation, which asks how well the information unit is delivering the services it has already decided to support. Information needs analysis includes information audit, as we shall see later, and much more besides (Henczel, 2001). The information audit is a tool for determining the role of information in a community organisation, and linking that role with the information seeking behaviour of the people in that community or users of that service. The information audit may also explore the information an organisation holds, how the organisation uses information, and who manages its information resources (St. Clair, 1995).


Another acronym which you may see in many of the texts for this process is Community Information Needs Analysis (CINA), defined as a structured, planned, formal study which identifies the information needs of the library’s community of users (Westbrook, 2001).



Objectives and outputs


In a future briefing, we will explore preparation for an INA in terms of selecting methods: what to do and how to do it. But, before embarking on such technical questions, you should step back and consider why. At least nine possible situations could be informed by the INA (Westbrook, 2001):


·        Budgetary planning, both short-medium term, and longer term strategic work

·        Priority setting for acquisitions, services and staffing, including decisions about librarians taking on new or extended roles.

·        Positioning your library in a competitive “information providing” environment

·        Making hard decisions about allocations of finite and possibly scarce resources

·        Planning for and managing change in service provision

·        Developing staff careers and skills

·        Long term planning for growth and adaptation of library services.

·        Marketing or raising the profile of your library service (this is unlikely to be the prime aim of such an exercise, but may be a desirable spin-off)

·        Providing insight into non-users: in some ways, these are a more significant group, because you are not reaching them: user need analysis may “cast light as to why they never darken your door”!


You may wish to develop specific objectives for your INA, such as:


  • Evaluating or promoting existing services and resources. Or, if your organisation is facing a spending revue, maybe just maintaining them.
  • Generating support for requests for new services, new staff or new resources etc.
  • Identifying gaps in service provision
  • Raising the  profile of information services or resources
  • Mapping data flows (see below)



Most INAs should have three key features:


  • Know what you want to achieve: as the information audit has many potential outcomes, make sure you focus on the one(s) that are relevant to your purpose
  • Know your organisation: this requires working knowledge of the organisation’s business, structure, operation and culture.
  • Identify stakeholders: information stakeholders, internal and external stakeholders.




Doing some homework


In preparing for the audit, you need to define the scope of the project, both by the type of information (comprehensive, archives, technological etc) or the coverage of the organisation (organisation wide, or specific departments). Your choice is determined by your objectives, but may be tempered by resource issues, human, physical, financial and technical. You need to set up lines of communication, which will operate at three levels:


  • Before the audit begins to get people on board and make sure they understand the purpose of the audit. This often means enlisting the support of a “sponsor” such as a senior member of staff with specific interests in the topic of the project, by demonstrating how the project and its conclusions will benefit the organisation (e.g. produce a costed business plan), to gain moral support and resources
  • During the audit: to deal with problems and questions.
  • After the audit: for feedback and clarification, and to promote implementation.


Although dependent, to some extent, on the methodology you finally choose, at this stage you should start to think ahead about how you will handle the data, such as choice of “in house” or bought in services, how you will analyse it and how you plan to disseminate the findings and implement the recommendations.



Mapping information flows


You may choose to present data using diagrammatic representations of information flows through the organisation. This may help you to match resources to organisational objectives and explore critical success factors, which enable (or prevent) an organisation achieving its goals. Such flow charts can address questions like:


·        What are the sources and generators of information?

·        What are the destinations of the information?

·        What uses do recipients put the information to?

·        Are there any critical areas: bottle necks, clearing houses, gatekeepers, sinks?

·        Is there unnecessary duplication of information?

·        Are there areas of inefficiency: information disappears into “black-holes” or some parts of the organisation consume disproportionate information relative to their outputs.

·        What paths does it follow around the organisation?

·        What external bodies are sources or recipients of information which passes at some stage through your organisation?





St. Clair G (1995) Ask the customers The One-person Library 11(9) [reprinted in: Special Libraries Association (1996) The Information Audit: an SLA information kit Washington: Special Libraries Association, original pagination not included]

Westbrook L (2001) Identifying and analyzing user needs: a complete handbook and ready-to-use assessment workbook with disk New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers.



Recommended reading:


Dubois CPR (1995) The information audit: its contribution to decision making Library Management  16 (7): 20-4

Henczel S (2001) The Information Audit : a practical guide München: K.G.Saur

Orna E (2004) Information Strategy in Practice. London: Gower

St Clair  G (1997) Matching information to needs Information World Review  123 (March): 20

St. Clair G (1997) The Information Audit 1: defining the process InfoManage 4 (6): 5-6)

Wood S (2004) Information Auditing: a guide for information managers Ashford: FreePint.





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