Research Interests

My research centers on the Information Search Process (ISP)  that reveals the user’s perspective of information seeking and use and was initiated in 1981 with a qualitative study of high school students revealing thoughts, actions, and feelings in a sequence of stages described in the model of the ISP. Since then, the stages of the ISP have been verified in a series of studies applying both qualitative and quantitative methods and incorporating longitudinal and large-scale design. Full descriptions of the studies and of the model of the stages in the ISP with implications for library and information services are presented in my book, Seeking Meaning: A Process Approach to Library and Information Services, available through Greenwood Press.

In brief, the ISP may be thought of as occurring in seven stages: Initiation, Selection, Exploration, Formulation, Collection, Presentation, and Assessment. These stages are named for the primary task to be accomplished at each point in the process. The model describes the thoughts, actions, and feelings commonly experienced by users in each stage of the process. When users are engaged in a complex task such as an extensive inquiry project their thoughts evolve from vague and unclear to focused and personalized, their actions change from general and exploratory to specific and comprehensive, and their feelings emerge from uncertain and hesitant to interested and directed. The critical component of the ISP is the person’s own formulation of a focus that involves gaining a personal perspective of the topic or subject while using a variety of sources of information. In other words, users are constructing their own understandings through inquiry.The concept of uncertainty is a central theme with implications for diagnosing for zones of intervention within library and information services and systems.

This work is among the most highly cited of library and information science faculty (Budd, Library Quarterly, 70(2), pp. 230-245, 2000) and one of the conceptualizations most often used by library and information science researchers (Pettigrew, and McKechnie JASIS, 52(1) 62-73, 2001).

Research Themes

  • Information Search Process (ISP)
  • Uncertainty
  • Constructive approach to inquiry
  • Cognitive and affective aspects of information seeking and use
  • Zones of Intervention for library and information services
  • The process of learning from a variety of sources of information
  • Guided Inquiry

Ongoing Research Projects

Information search process (ISP) as a model for Inquiry-based learning in the information age school.

This research centers on the library media specialist’s role in restructuring schools for the information age using a constructivist theory of learning that focuses on the process of thinking that builds understandings by engaging students in stimulating encounters with information and ideas. The investigation extends from preschool through undergraduate education to gain insight into the position of the librarian as the information specialist and the library as the information center in educational institutions that prepare students for living, working and citizenship in the technological information society. My latest book in this area is Guided Inquiry: Learning in the 21st Century with Maniotes and Caspari. I am senior advisor at the Rutgers Center for International Scholarship in School Libraries (CISSL).

Information search process (ISP) in the workplace.

This is a program of ongoing research based on the model of the ISP to gain a better understanding of the variety of tasks that involve information workers, their process of information seeking and use to accomplish their work, and the role that mediators play in the process of information seeking and use. Of particular interest are complex tasks identified by the workers that require the constructive process of using information for interpreting, learning and creating. The concepts of complexity, construction, and uncertainty are investigated within the context of information seeking and use. Longitudinal case study methodology has been used to study security analysts and lawyers as examples of different groups of information workers.

See Model of the Information Search Process: Figure 1, Figure 2


  1. Research in Progress:

During the past twenty years a noticeable shift has occurred in the discipline of library and information science from a system-orientation to a user-centered approach.  My early research into the user’s perspective of information seeking and the development of the model of the information search process (ISP) has made a major contribution in this area.

My original research contribution was a six stage model of the information search process developed from a study of high school students that describes the changes in thoughts, actions and feelings in the process.  This model was validated and refined in a series of expansive investigations with diverse library users and later with people in the workplace.  One of the major findings of this research is the change in the holistic experience in the process of information seeking, incorporating the physical, cognitive and affective dimensions from the perspective of the user.  The model reveals that the process begins with a substantial feeling of uncertainty that commonly increase with information seeking before decreasing through the formulation, construction and learning.

The ISP model is substantially different from other models of information seeking in that it describes a complex process of constructing from information rather than the common view of information seeking merely as collecting information.  This model challenged the traditional source approach to librarianship that attempted to solve users’ information need solely by location of sources while ignoring the more confounding interpretation tasks that confront users in the process of using information for learning and where users are seeking meaning rather than merely seeking information.  Over the years the ISP model has become one of the most highly cited in the field of library and information science.

In 2004, I published the 2nd edition of my major book on this work, Seeking Meaning: a process approach to library and information service.  In the book I present a principle of uncertainty for information seeking that acknowledges the dilemma of the user in the early uncertain stages of the ISP confronting a library or information system primarily designed to respond to a clear, certain request for specific information or a particular source.  The concept of a zone of intervention at critical points in the ISP was introduced to assist the user in the process of constructing from a variety of sources of information.

School libraries have been a primary area of impact and application of my research. The ISP model is recognized as one of the few in the field based on empirical research and has been established as a foundation for library and information skills programs and information literacy initiatives.  In the last few years I have been concentrating on the critical problem facing the international school library community of demonstrating the impact of school libraries on learning as a significant component in designing schools to education the next generation of workers and citizens.  At Rutgers my colleague Ross Todd and I have established the Center for International Scholarship in School Libraries (CISSL) concentrating on the impact of school libraries on learning in K-12 schools.  We conduct macro and micro impact studies and are developing prototype methodology and instruments that can be widely replicated in diverse schools across the country and abroad.

My research reveals the potential of the school library as the inquiry center in 21st century schools that has been overlooked by major school reform efforts.  These studies confirm my earlier findings that the ISP model may be applied for guiding inquiry where a constructivist view of learning is predominant among the teachers and administrators.  I have written a book on Guided Inquiry for K-12 school librarians, teachers and administrators on implementation of the ISP concepts for improving learning for their students.Guided Inquiry: Learning in the 21st Centurywritten with Leslie Maniotes and Ann Caspari and published in 2007 by Libraries Unlimited.

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Progression and Development of
Kuhlthau’s Information Search Process


Title of Selected Research Reports



Children’s Reading in Guided Inquiry. Keynote at the International Reading Literacy Symposium, University of Tokyo, Japan.

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Each stage of the ISP requires different kinds of reading.


Research Matters: The Long Reach of the Model of the ISP.Journal of Research on Libraries and Young Adults (JRLYA)

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The triad of tradition, experience and research work together to build, sustain and develop library services for children and youth


Guided Inquiry for School Libraries in the 21st Century. School Libraries Worldwide

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Guided Inquiry based on the ISP equips student for the challenges of a changing technological world.


Information Search Process. Encyclopedia of Library and Information Sciences Taylor Francis.

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A summary of research on the Information Search Process


From Information to Meaning: Confronting Challenges of the Twenty-first Century. Libri, vol. 58, 66-73.

Moving away from concentration on technology of searching to using
information for learning, problem solving and creativity.


Information Literacy through Guided Inquiry: Preparing Students for the 21st Century. Proceedings of the International Association of School Librarians Annual Conference, Lisbon, Portugal.

Guided Inquiry for preparing students for information environment


Meeting the Challenge of Intellectual Access: Vital roles for librarians. Margaret Mann Lecture, School of Information, University of Michigan.

ISP in the context of education and the workplace that indicate new roles for librarians


Rethinking Libraries for the Information Age School: Vital Roles in Inquiry Learning. Proceedings of the International Association of School Librarianship Annual Meeting, Auckland, New Zealand.

Consideration of changes in schools to prepare students for ISP in workplace


The Information Search Process (ISP) A Search for Meaning Rather than Answers. Doshisha Journal of Library and Information Science, 1 (6), 31-46.

Uncovers problem of seeking meaning from information


Information Search Process of Lawyers: A Call For ‘Just For Me’ Information Services. Journal of Documentation, 57 (1), 31-46.

Evidence of ISP in the workplace and need for creating meaning
With Tama


Information Seeking for Learning: A Study of Librarians Perceptions of Learning in School Libraries.  New Review of Information Behaviour Research, 2, 31-46.

ISP of students in science projects
With McNally


The Role of Experience in the Information Search Process of an Early Career Information Worker: Perceptions of Uncertainty, Complexity, Construction and Sources. Journal American Society for Information Science, 50 (5), 399-412.

Comparison of novice/expert use of ISP in the workplace


Accommodating the User’s Information Search Process: Challenges for Information Retrieval System Designers. Bulletin of the American Society for Information Science, 25 (3), 12-16.

Implication of ISP for information system design


Student Learning in the Library: What Library Power Librarians Say. School Libraries Worldwide. 5 (2), 80-96.

Using library for inquiry learning


Learning in Digital Libraries: An Information Search Process Approach. Library Trends, 45 (4), 707-723.

Information technology and the ISP, the problem of seeking meaning from abundance of information


The Concept of a Zone of Intervention for Identifying the Role of Intermediaries in the Information Search Process.Proceedings of the American Society for Information Science Annual Meeting, 367-376.

Develops notion of  a “Zone of Intervention” for library and information services


Students and the Information Search Process: Zones of Intervention for Librarians. In Advances in Librarianship, Academic Press, 57-72.

Introduction of critical moments where students need assistance and guidance


A Principle of Uncertainty for Information Seeking. Journal of Documentation, 49 (4), 339-355.

Explanation of the impact of emotion on the ISP


Implementing a Process Approach to Information Skills: A Study Identifying Indicators of Success in Library Media Programs. School Library Media Quarterly, 22 (1), 11-18.

Identified inhibitors and enablers of implementing the ISP in K-12 contexts


Inside the Search Process: Information Seeking from the User’s Perspective. Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 42 (5), 361-371.

Highly cited article on cognitive and affective aspect of information seeking


Validating A Model of the Search Process: A Comparison of Academic, Public, and School Library Users. Library and Information Science Research, 12 (1), 5-32.

Confirmation of the ISP in various types of libraries
With Turock, George and Belvin


Information Search Process: A Summary of Research and Implications for School Library Media Programs. School Library Media Quarterly, 18 (5), 19-25.

Practical application using the model of the ISP in schools


The Information Search Process of High-, Middle-, and Low-Achieving High School Seniors. School Library Media Quarterly, 17 (4), 224-228.

Large scale examination of the ISP high school seniors


Meeting the Information Needs of Children and Young Adults: Basing Library Media Programs on Developmental States.Journal of Youth Services in Libraries, 2 (1), 51-57.

Connecting cognitive-developmental stages to learning in libraries


Longitudinal Case Studies of the Information Search Process of Users in Libraries. Library and Information Science Research, 10 (3), 257-304.

In depth case study of six students from high school through college


Perceptions of the Information Search Process in Libraries: A Study of Changes from High School Through College.Information Processing & Management, 24 (4), 419-427.

Transference of skills from high school to college: a survey study


An Emerging Theory of Library Instruction. School Library Media Quarterly, 16 (1), 23-28.

Process is important in teaching research


A Process Approach to Library Skills Instruction. SchoolLibrary Media Quarterly, 13 (1), 35-40.

First study of the ISP with 25 HS students

Books authored by Kuhlthau on research and application of the ISP:

Teaching the Library Research Process. 1st ed. 1985; 2nd ed.1994; paperback ed. 2002. Available through Scarecrow Press.

Seeking Meaning: A Process Approach to Library and Information Services. 1st ed. 1993; 2nd ed. 2004. Available through Libraries Unlimited,

Guided Inquiry: Learning in the 21st Century. With Leslie K. Maniotes and Ann K. Caspari. 2007. Available through Libraries Unlimited,

Guided Inquiry Design: A Framework for Inquiry in your School.  With Leslie K. Maniotes and Ann K. Caspari, 2012.  Available through Libraries Unlimited.