LIMB Research and Findings

Karen Fisher's (also writing as Pettigrew) earlier work offers glimpses of LIMB:

  • Her PhD on social networks of the elderly;
  • Her field studies on different populations:
    • Teenagers
    • Stay-at-home mothers
    • Homeless
    • Shoppers
    • Library users
    • 2-1-1 phone services
    • Farm workers
    • Immigrants

LIMB findings from the first full-fledged study on LIMB, focusing on health information seeking on the Internet (NC Health Info Study; Abrahamson, et al., 2008), include:

  • Gender and LIMB may be related (e.g., women appear more likely to seek information)
  • LIM and muse information needs may be different
  • LIMB may be associated with relationship strength (LIMs search on behalf of strong ties)
  • LIM seeking appears to be motivated by a concern for others
  • LIM searching may occur more often without explicit prompts and may be more internally than externally motivated
  • LIM searching may be both intentional and unintentional, and may therefore be challenging to identify
  • LIMs experience or recognize information seeking barriers, but may also be confident regarding their search abilities
  • LIMs share, store, or use health information that they determine is potentially useful; they also monitor information related to others' needs and appear to assist others in processing information.

Of particular interest to further empirical information behavior research is the fact that these preliminary findings include evidence of a wide range of information seeking effects, such as those described as:

  • affective (related to emotions, e.g., lessened worry about health care or procedures)
  • cognitive (improved understanding of issues, medical terminology, etc.)
  • physical (led to a lifestyle or health behavior change, such as quitting smoking or adhering to a new exercise regimen).

These observed effects were eventually identified as contextual factors in the LIMB model, with the addition of a fourth factor, the social factor:

  • affective (related to emotions);
  • cognitive (related to thoughts or thought processes; also learning, etc.);
  • physical (related to the participant's or stakeholder's physical state, including physical health or geographic or other situation);
  • social factors (related to the social life context of the seeker-stakeholder).

The LIMB model thus allows consideration of a wide range of information behaviors related to varied contextual factors and multiple user or stakeholder perspectives. This can also facilitate consideration of sociocultural issues and beliefs in future empirical studies in a variety of domains.

Abrahamson and Jimison (In Progress) recently applied the LIMB model in a pilot formative evaluation and ethnographic study of elders' in-home medication management practices and medication reminder device preferences. Compellingly for LIMB researchers, data analysis revealed that some participants utilized distributed cognition or distributed responsibility among social network members in their medication information management and reminder practices. This confirmed our earlier findings that LIMs usually search for information on behalf of family members and those with whom they share strong ties (Abrahamson, et al., 2008). This also inspired Jennie to begin thinking about applying the LIMB model in empirical research on family health information behavior, an area which appears to be underrepresented in the library and information science (LIS) literature.

Though much LIMB work has taken place in the health information seeking domain, the LIMB model can guide investigations in all contexts where people seek or use information.

Researching LIMB regarding the public's use of computers and the Internet in public libraries is a major focus of our most current work, the U.S. Impact Studies.

Our current and future research questions include:

LIM and Muse questions:

  • Who are the stakeholders in LIMB? (LIMs, muses, et al.)?
  • Are lay information mediary information needs different from muses? Do they use information differently? How so?
  • Why and how do muses choose LIMs to help?
  • What prompts muses to ask LIMs to seek information?
  • How do muses communicate their needs?
  • What prompts a muse to use a LIM's information?
  • Do muses actively have more than one LIM?
  • What are muses' and LIMs' information literacy aptitude and proficiency levels?
  • How do LIMs judge the relevance of information and choose which information they share with muses? (corollary question: Are muses aware of this, and what do they think about it — e.g., what are perceived effects of information filtering, including costs and benefits?)
  • What ethical, cultural, and practical issues regarding LIMB in general, and privacy, autonomy, and relevance in particular, are important in LIMB and why?

The above questions are particularly ripe for sub-questions related to credibility and cognitive authority, information and health literacy, and the influence of stakeholder power-relationships on information seeking and communication.

System and service-related research questions might include:

  • How can we model LIMB in information systems and services?
  • How can we design information systems/devices/applications/services to accommodate different needs (from LIM or muse perspective)?
  • How might this affect knowledge management, classification, or ontology development?
  • How do LIMB findings affect information policy?

Evaluation Questions:

  • How do we measure information “use” and effects resulting from LIMB, when some participants or stakeholders may be indirect users? — (approach and answers depend on settings and information domains studied, could include digital libraries, or hard-copy, or verbal information shared)
  • How do muses evaluate LIMs' information, and vice-versa?
  • Do all LIMB stakeholders share the same evaluation criteria, or do they differ?
  • What differences do LIMB-tailored services & interventions make —
    • For LIMs?
    • For muses?
    • For others (families, organizations, communities, society)?