The 10 Habits (of Mind) of Highly Effective Information Seekers

I have been on blog-writing hiatus of late due to my new status as a PhD student in Information Science. Happily, this past year has given me plenty of time to delve deeply into the theoretical underpinnings of information literacy and information seeking. I learned a lot, and have been chewing on one problem in particular: What are the missing components of information literacy instruction? What is not currently being addressed?

I believe the answer lies in the essence of every information seeking model out there, and especially in Kuhlthau’s Information Search Process (ISP) model, which I had the pleasure of deconstructing in a theory development class. What is that essence? Uncertainty.

Uncertainty is present in the information seeking process (just about every information seeking model recognizes that role).

Uncertainty is inherent in inquiry and reflective thinking (John Dewey).

Uncertainty is the primary principle of Kuhlthau’s ISP model, and she defines uncertainty as “a cognitive state that commonly causes affective symptoms of anxiety and lack of confidence.”

There you have it. Addressing uncertainty is key to information literacy development. In the absence of understanding ways to overcome the barriers that uncertainty creates in the information search process, we teach skills that will likely not develop beyond the classroom.

So, how do we address uncertainty in the information search process? A good place to start is Costa and Kallick’s Habits of Mind  They identified 16 habits of thought and action that help students manage the uncertainty that comes with ill-structured problems (e.g., information problems). These habits are described to some extent in the Dispositions of the ACRL Framework. However, habits of mind are broader than the realm of information literacy. They are ways of thinking and doing that are essential to many areas of lifelong learning. In a nutshell, habits of mind are life skills.

I found that 10 of the 16 habits Costa and Kallick describe are absolutely essential to information literacy development:

  1. Thinking about Thinking (metacognition)
  2. Thinking Flexibly (being comfortable with multiple perspectives)
  3. Thinking Interdependently (collaborating)
  4. Questioning and Posing Problems
  5. Gathering Information through All Senses (being an observant researcher)
  6. Striving for Accuracy (choosing accurate or evidence-based sources)
  7. Applying Past Knowledge to New Situations (transferring skills)
  8. Persisting (growth mindset)
  9. Creating, Imagining, Innovating (looking at information in new ways)
  10. Communicating with Clarity and Precision

Some of these habits are addressed in IL instruction, but we must remember that there is a big difference between teaching a skill to a student and creating an environment where the student can put that skill into continuous practice. The latter is more important in the development of habits of mind, and the library is just one environment that can be designed to reinforce them.

One simple way to help students keep these habits at the forefront of their minds is to provide them with a profile of the highly effective information seeker (a la Covey’s 7 habits). Post them around the library. Give classroom instructors a copy. Create an institution-wide movement. With these habits of mind, students will be able to search for information with more confidence and purpose, and they will be more discriminant in their selection of sources.

Why not just use the Dispositions from the ACRL Framework? In my opinion, there are too many of them and they are too detailed. The habits of mind simplify those dispositions, making them much more accessible and easy to understand.



4 thoughts on “The 10 Habits (of Mind) of Highly Effective Information Seekers

  1. I think this is a great idea. I wonder if you could post concrete examples of what those behaviors look like. Like, I know what thinking about thinking is, but I think my students would benefit from seeing a more specific example of what that behavior looks like.

    Also, with those changes, could I reblog a version of this on


    • Hi Todd,

      Here are some examples of associated behaviors for each habit of mind (minus thinking about thinking):

      -Thinking flexibly: any research project that requires an analysis of multiple perspectives is an example of thinking flexibly. Also, actively participating in a classroom discussion on a debatable topic.
      -Thinking interdependently: group projects, teamwork
      -Questioning and posing problems: the research planning process, identifying research questions and a plan of action to answer them.
      -Gathering information through all senses: think of the information seeking process beyond just literature gathering, for example, interviewing people, observing behaviors, etc…
      -Striving for accuracy: not settling for the first source or most convenient source (e.g., Wikipedia)
      -Applying past knowledge to new situations: drawing on previous research experiences to tackle a new research problem. Helping students do this is an important instructional strategy (e.g., making connections between formal and informal search experiences, how they are alike).
      -Persisting: following a research project to the end, not giving up during any step of the process. This is demonstrated ion the outcome of a quality research paper, so this is one that can be quantitatively measured.
      -Creating, imagining, innovating: synthesizing information into a new and (perhaps) non-traditional format, for example, a digital portfolio versus a traditional research paper
      -Communicating with clarity: successful presentations, well-written research assignments

      These tie in with the ACRL dispositions, but are much more broadly applicable. I can see the habits of mind as being part of the first-year experience or freshman orientation courses. These skills go beyond IL to support general academic achievement, which makes it easy to argue why IL is so fundamental to college success.

      Feel free to re-blog.


  2. “Managing the uncertainty of information seeking”… hmmm… I’ll have to ponder that concept.
    Your post also makes me think about how to encourage patrons to manage the uncertainty that one sees in their faces as the step through the doors of a public library.

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