Funding Opportunities for Research in HIB
Report on the 2004 Annual Research Symposium of ASIS&T’s
Special Interest Group on Information Needs, Seeking and Use (SIG
Rafal Kasprowski (email@example.com)
Assistant Librarian, Electronic Resources University of Houston Libraries
The 4th Annual Research Symposium of ASIS&T’s Special Interest Group on
Information Needs, Seeking and Use (SIG USE), held in Providence, RI, at ASIS&T’s
2004 Annual Meeting, examined funding opportunities for research in human information
behavior (HIB). The symposium had a dual purpose: help HIB researchers submit
successful proposals while making funding agencies more aware of HIB research.
The invited speaker was Gary Marchionini, University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel
Hill. The panel was composed of representatives from three major funding agencies,
Lynn Silipigni Connaway (OCLC), Joyce Ray (IMLS), and Sangtae Kim (NSF), as well as
three experienced HIB grant recipients, Karen Fisher (University of Washington),
Barbara Wildemuth (UNC at Chapel Hill) and Gary Marchionini. Over 40 participants
conducting or preparing research in HIB attended the symposium.
Following the speaker’s introduction, the representatives of the funding agencies
explained the history and research objectives of their grants. During the question and
answer period, they responded to the participants’ concerns about the grant application
process and provided them with tips for successful submissions. The invited HIB grant
recipients took part in these discussions and, in the final segment of the symposium,
engaged with the participants in round-table sessions offering research and career
Perspectives on HIB Research
In his introductory speech, Marchionini presented the fields of human information
behavior (HIB) and human information interaction (HII) discussing current challenges
and research opportunities for the future.
Marchionini argued that practical methods, rather than theoretical frameworks, are best
suited for exploring HIB/HII, considering the complex variables involved, such as cultural
experience, computer experience, information seeking skills, and metacognitive abilities.
Examples of this empirical approach are naturalistic methods, investigating isolated
tasks as they appear in the real world, and scenario-based methods, reducing the
complexity of real phenomena to obtain more predictable results.
Current models in HIB/HII
The current challenge in HIB/HII research is to focus on information analysis and reach a
greater understanding of what it really means to interact with information than is possible
at the level of information searching and retrieval. One of the models currently used is
the cost-benefit analysis model, where the effort (cost) required with relation to desired
outcomes such as learning (benefit) is studied. Effort can be measured in terms of time
and load, such as perceptual load (e.g. eye tracking, dwell time), cognitive load (time
invested to solve the problem at hand), physical load (e.g. fatigue factors), and affective
load. Performance and satisfaction measures represent an example of current research
model limitations. Satisfaction may not measure quality as people tend to be satisfied
with little in terms of the information they find. Similarly, performance can be inversely
proportional to satisfaction; users often perform better if given less time, although they
may not like to be subjected to time limits. Models need to be improved; classical
transaction log data, for example, should be used with interviews, observations,
stimulated recall, think-alouds, and other methods to understand human thinking.
HIB/HII researchers have a growing number of research opportunities available to them.
Classical approaches such as relevance studies are being applied to multimedia and the
World Wide Web. Studies of group behavior have become particularly relevant in the
context of online interactions. Today’s dynamic and context-rich information has new
implications on archiving granularity. Increasing numbers of sensors world-wide, make
possible more thorough studies of such HII factors as dissemination, information
collection and management. Studies of affect have proven useful in understanding
users’ emotional involvement in information searching. Professional groups or people
with special needs exhibit unique information behaviors worthy of separate investigation.
Exoinformation, or the information that people reveal about themselves knowingly or not
as a byproduct of their information seeking behavior is another growing research area.
Marchionini claims that getting humans more actively engaged in the information
seeking process is the only hope for significant advances in HII models, user interfaces,
and educational models and practices. In general, more collaboration between all key
players – users, information professionals, and computer specialists – is required to
reach this goal.
Laying the Groundwork
HIB researchers need to develop systematic approaches for obtaining grants and the
community as a whole must promote its work if HIB research is to grow.
Establishing a track record
It is essential to start applying for grants and awards early in one’s academic career to
establish a case history. The grant system is set up to provide grant opportunities for
new faculty in the first five to seven years of their tenure track, as it is in everyone’s best
interest to see the new generation of researchers succeed. Applicants should
progressively focus on a research agenda and topic they are ready to embark on for the
long term as grant projects tend to last for several years.
Small grant amounts should not deter applicants from applying to programs that may
prove to have strategic potential. Although their immediate financial reward may not be
significant, small grants can offer research opportunities with far-reaching profits.
Connecting with peers and program officers
Conference attendance, committee work, and research presentations, are all ways to
develop professional ties with peers, as they foster discussion about research projects
among participants and improve presentation skills. Serving on review panels and
actually participating in the review process provides researchers with key insight into the
grant process in preparation for their grant applications. Universities are usually able to
support trips to funding agencies, but it is also possible to meet program officers on
campus knowing their travel schedule. Institutional support is also important for
competitive purposes when submitting one’s proposal, in particular when approval by
faculty is accompanied by financial contributions for cost-sharing.
Securing collaborations and support network
Project collaboration is a key contributing factor to a successful application. The more
support a project can garner, the more confidence reviewers will have in its successful
completion, acceptance in the community and overall impact.
Join forces with researchers from your department, campus, or other institution with a
strong grant record and complementary expertise. The Canadian grant system puts
particular emphasis on the reputation of team members. Partnerships can be a good
way to get money indirectly from grants available to team members from other
disciplines. Collaborators from non-IS fields often need to be advised that information
professionals work with them on their own research and not only to help them with
Another way to use resources efficiently is to barter tasks and services with other
researchers or agencies. For example, you can help develop a questionnaire for an
agency running a phone survey and, in exchange, include questions for your own
research. Public libraries are good topics for research, because they are open to
researchers and can provide resources like patrons as study participants.
Develop a support team of people who can help you at different stages of the grant
process: identifying sources, meeting grant criteria and human subject requirements,
budgeting, filling out grant and contract paperwork, etc. Including students as research
assistants gives them vital research experience, while allowing you to be more
productive with the available grant money.
Promoting HIB research
All panel members agreed: the HIB community as a whole needs to promote its
research. Its foremost members should participate on review boards to counter under-
representation, which may currently contribute to the mishandling of some HIB
proposals. Strong representation on review boards and solid rapports with program
officers who will work proactively with applicants on submissions are particularly
important for research in interdisciplinary fields like HIB. One may think that the
probability of receiving a favorable review increases for interdisciplinary research
because of the spread across disciplines (p1 + p2). In reality, the probability usually
decreases (p1 x p2), in part because reviewers are mainly used to dealing with core
disciplines. Nominations for positions on review boards are very competitive, but
professionally rewarding. Open seats are usually available as most positions expire on a
rotating basis after approximately two years.
Fund Philosophies and Objectives
The OCLC/ALISE Library and Information Science Research Grant (LISRG) is awarded
“in recognition of the importance of research to the advancement of librarianship and
information science” as part of both organization’s goal to “promote independent
research that helps librarians integrate new technologies into areas of traditional
competence and contributes to a better understanding of the library environment.” The
funds can be used to offset costs, such as release time from teaching for the principal
investigator, research assistants, project-related travel, and equipment, if integral to the
research. Indirect costs such as staff training and general operating expenses are not
covered. OCLC has funded many projects over the years, in particular those using data
available through OCLC (e.g. MARC record holdings and WorldCat). The number of
applicants for the grant has been increasing significantly. The grant is being revised and
a new research agenda may result from the process. Further details are available at
http://www.alise.org/awards/oclcalise.html (both sites last accessed April 11, 2005).
The IMLS offers two relevant programs: the Librarians for the 21st Century grant and the
National Leadership Grant. The first has a research component for studies of the
demographics of the profession, a section for continuing education for librarians, and a
category for building library programs, including curriculum development (esp. research
methodology, leadership, and digital asset management). The goal of the National
Leadership Grant is to ensure maximum benefit to the public is generated by the
research. The three new funding categories are Advancing Learning Communities, to
support and encourage the development of virtual and physical learning communities,
Building Digital Resources, to preserve digital resources and develop management
tools, and Research and Demonstration projects, to test applications for the real world.
Institutions of higher learning are now eligible to apply not only for the grant for libraries,
but also the grant for museums. In fact, the IMLS encourages collaborations between
museums and libraries, as many projects developed in museums are relevant to human
information behavior. More on both programs can be found at
http://www.imls.gov/pubs/pdf/2005programs.pdf (both sites last accessed
April 11, 2005).
NSF’s directorate of Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE)
consists of four divisions, two of which are particularly relevant to the information science
field: Information and Intelligent Systems (IIS) and Shared Cyberinfrastructure (SCI).
The IIS division’s (http://www.nsf.gov/div/index.jsp?div=IIS, last accessed April 11, 2005)
areas of interest are (1) the interaction between information, computation and
communication systems and users, organizations, government agencies and the
environment; (2) basic research with the goal of creating general-purpose systems for
representing, storing, accessing and drawing inferences from data, information and
knowledge; and (3) research focused on advances in information technology that
address problems in the sciences and engineering.
The SCI (http://www.nsf.gov/div/index.jsp?div=SCI, last accessed April 11, 2005) strives
for the harmonious integration of computational engines (supercomputers, clusters,
workstations, small processors, etc.), mass storage devices (disk drives, tapes, etc.),
networks (wireless, distributed, ubiquitous); digital libraries/databases; sensors/effectors;
software (operating systems, middleware, domain specific tools/platforms for building
applications); and services (education, training, consulting, user assistance). Its general
objectives are (1) to design, develop, deploy and upgrade the resources, services, and
facilities that are part of the national cyberinfrastructure for scientific and engineering
research and education; (2) encourage research on experimental infrastructure to
ensure the advancement of CI to meet the demands of tomorrow’s science and
Funds awarded by the NSF are typically contractual agreements, not grants, with more
loosely defined objectives. This is meant to encourage researchers to pursue their ideas
more freely if the payoff is potentially significant.
Grants for a Variety of HIB Projects
Many funds can be used for HIB research, but applicants must be creative and proactive
to obtain the grants. With rising participation from the private sector, proposals have
been diversifying and rapidly growing in numbers, while government funding has
Governments, foundations, non-profit organizations, and funding agencies are the
better-known grant sources, but corporations are becoming increasingly more important
contributors. Universities offer grants smaller in size designed for pilot studies, which
may lead to more substantial grants. Besides grants, direct financial assistance, whether
in salary, student assistant time, or materials and equipment, is also available. It may be
possible to get funding for ongoing projects, provided the research is innovative and
some of the ground work proving that has been completed.
Research and demonstration projects
Applications for research and demonstration projects are the preferred type by the ILMS.
The IMLS has funded research projects on computer usability, the needs and
expectations of online information users, information seeking behavior in bio-acoustics,
and people’s use of the Internet compared with public library resources. The IMLS is
particularly interested in the relationship between the digital and the physical experience.
Digital library projects
Valid digital library projects must address a real problem, help in developing a tool, or
advance our understanding of users. Simply transferring information online does not
qualify for a grant. In the case of the NSF, digital library grants are split between the IIS
and the SCI – the IIS for original research; the SCI for maintenance projects with existing
libraries. The SCI only funds digital libraries that either have an impact on the scientific
community or constitute a good training ground for maintaining research libraries.
Through its Building Digital Resources program, the IMLS funds post-digitization and
tool development projects for the creation, presentation, management, and preservation
of digital resources.
Workshops are cheap and relatively easy to approve as they do not fall under the peer
review process. It is often enough to point to an active research area to garner interest in
a workshop, and the turnaround from the time one is proposed to the time it is presented
could be only six to eight months. As grassroots-level projects, workshops often earn the
support of funding bodies because they advocate the community and reveal
underfunded research opportunities.
NSF’s Small Grants for Exploratory Research (SGERs), like workshops, are not peer-
reviewed and relatively inexpensive to accelerate approval. It is up to the program officer
to negotiate the budget with the principal investigator. The purpose of SGERs is to offer
timely rewards in new and innovative areas of research, which may be high-risk but also
have a high-reward potential. The rapid turnaround is meant to help capitalize on the
interest generated by the research topic. The SCI is currently spending well below the
budget limit for SGERs and is being pressured by advisory committees to be more
aggressive in offering funding in this research area.
NMI, HSD, CI-TEAM, etc.
In response to the tremendous push into middleware, the NSF set up the Middleware
Initiative (NMI) as part of the SCI with annual funding of $15 million. The Human and
Social Dynamics (HSD) priority area is designed specifically for interdisciplinary
research. The NSF supports education projects in research, curriculum development,
training and capacity building as part of the Cyberinfrastructure Training Education
Advancement and Mentoring (CI-TEAM) program. CI-TEAM is coordinated by Dr. Miriam
Heller with an annual budget of $3 million, expected to reach $10 million. Industry
partnerships and international collaborations constitute other funding options.
The selection process has become quite stringent over the years. As the number of
applicants has increased so has the competition for the grant amounts available.
All panel members would agree on the following suggestions for submitting a grant
1. Carefully read instructions and make sure to follow application procedures and
funding program objectives;
2. Do not submit the same proposal to more than one agency; a proposal that
appears to be intended for another agency undermines its overall credibility;
3. Describe the nature, scope and method of the research following the suggested
format; for example, write out the key points as stated in the program description
and explain each (Justification, Innovation, Timeline, Budget, etc.);
4. Clearly articulate the problem and explain why your particular research is
important and original in the context of other research in the area;
5. Don’t request funding for indirect costs and respect monetary limit;
6. Avoid any jargon that may be unfamiliar to reviewers; reviewers will not take the
time to look up the meanings of words;
7. Provide a literature review geared to experts in the particular area of study; first-
time applicants are turned down most often for an incomplete literature review.
8. Include a detailed methodology and multiple research strategies;
9. Present your proposal in terms of an innovative but risky idea that can yield big
payoffs for stakeholders; the greater the targeted benefit the better;
10. Demonstrate beyond doubt why your research team has what it takes to
guarantee that all your plans are going to be realized; indicate your team’s
expertise on the topic proposed; demonstrate institutional support.
Tutorials and mentors
Help yourself by taking advantage of any available training or help. The IMLS provides
an online Project Planning Tutorial for its NLG projects (http://e-
services.imls.gov/project_planning/, last accessed April 11, 2005). The OCLC can offer
mentors to help with the project, but it is the grant recipients’ final responsibility to deliver
the results. Applicants may try to contact their program officer before submitting the
proposal to receive feedback on research ideas and make sure they send the proposal
to the right funding division. The agencies may not have enough staff to read entire
proposal drafts, but officers will read emails and respond to questions.
With most funds, the researcher is expected to yield several papers once the grant has
expired. At the end of the funding period of an OCLC project, the researchers must
furnish a final project report. As OCLC and ALISE may want to publish or distribute this
information without restrictions, the recipients can only publish the project results if they
remain non-proprietary and are attributed back to the OCLC.
The chances of submitting a research proposal that will be accepted are 10% to 20%.
The symposium was well received by the participants, who found the various
interactions with the panel members informative and stimulating. Hopefully both the
meeting and this report will help HIB researchers become more successful grant