What is lay information mediary behavior (LIMB)
Have you ever sought information on behalf or because of another person? (With or without being asked to do so?)
Has anyone ever sought information for you?
What difference did it make — for you?
— for others?
You may be a lay information mediary (LIM) and not even know it! LIMs are those who seek information in a non-professional or lay capacity on behalf or because of others, without necessarily being asked to do so, or engaging in follow-up. If LIMs are inspired to seek information on behalf or because of you, you may be a muse. Either way, you are likely a part of the growing phenomenon, lay information mediary behavior (LIMB). As much as 80% of information behavior observed in various previous studies has been LIMB-related. Moreover, LIMB is greatly facilitated by contemporary information communication technologies (ICTs), such as blogs, wikis, Twitter, email, instant messaging, etc.
We (Jennie Abrahamson and Karen Fisher introduced LIMB in the paper, “‘What's past is prologue’: towards a general model of lay information mediary behaviour,” at the 2007 Conceptions of Library and Information Science (CoLIS) Conference 6 in Boräs, Sweden. We derived the LIMB conceptual model as the result of empirical research conducted together with Joan Durrance, and others, on Internet health information seeking (the NC Health Info Study); Abrahamson, et al., 2008).
We noticed LIMB-type behaviors described previously in the literature appeared to exhibit thematic similarities. Prior information behavior studies have referred to such information seekers as gatekeepers, proxies, information-acquirers-and-sharers, encounterers, et al. (Morey, 2007; Erdelez, 2005; Rioux, 2005; Gross, 1995; Metoyer-Duran, 1993). We assert that these behaviors are sufficiently related, e.g., in their orientation towards seeking information on behalf of, or sharing information with others, to be conceptualized as one broad type of information seeker.
LIMB is widely recognized among professionals and researchers in and beyond library and information science. Yet, historically, information systems and services been built tacitly for primary information seekers, with the assumption that the “user” is the information seeker.
This limited perspective might impede information access and use for LIMs and their muses. Fueling this concern is preliminary evidence from Abrahamson, et al. (2008) that LIM and muse information needs may, in fact, be different. Such emphasis on primary users may also confound information system and service evaluation, because it is challenging to account for indirect uses or effects that may occur as the result of LIMB.
The LIMB model provides a framework within which to conduct theoretical and empirical studies with to goal of understanding LIMB and its effects in varied contexts.
Participants in LIMB include several stakeholders in addition to the LIM:
- Muse: the person or persons who LIMs seek information on behalf or because of;
Other LIMB stakeholders include:
- Information systems or services
- Professional intermediaries
- Other stakeholders, who may include families, organizations, formal or informal network members, or entire communities
- Pre-muses: Muses who have had information needs imposed upon them, such as a teacher imposing an assignment on a student, who then receives help from a LIM (Gross, 1995) Available here.
We originally used the term “imposer” for “muse.” Early reviewers of this research expressed concerns or assumptions that “imposer” had many negative connotations. We changed imposer to muse to better reflect all possible dimensions of LIMB as described in Abrahamson, et al. (2007). Acknowledgement of the potential negative connotations or effects in LIMB is also discussed by Wyatt, Harris, and Wathen (2008) in their work on health information mediation.
Studying LIMB enables professionals and researchers to gain a broader understanding of how people seek and benefit from information. To learn more about LIMB, see our LIMB study findings and research questions, and publications.