Last Updated 18 Jun 2020

ELIS and IP Models of Information Seeking

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Library and information science has changed greatly since the 1970s with current research focusing more on how ordinary people behave in everyday life when seeking information (Savolainen, 1995) rather than studying the habits of professionals such as those in the legal, medical and engineering professions. With this shift in focus, new models were required to explain information seeking characteristics based on the innate differences between these two groups.

One of the resulting models with great influence in the field of information science, based on its numerous citations, is the Everyday Life Information Seeking (ELIS) paradigm first introduced by Reijo Savolainen (1995). Nearly ten years later, Pamela McKenzie (2003) created a second, differing model of information seeking referred to as Information Practices (IP) using peoples’ everyday behavior as a basis. While both models are effective in their portrayal of how an individual seeks information in everyday life, ELIS and IP put a different degree of focus on stressing differing degrees of emphasis on the functions of human personality, context, and problem solving practices to explain an individual’s information seeking practices.

Before comparing their similarities and contrasting their differences a brief explanation of each method and its assumptions, main concepts, the context in which they are used and can serve as real-life practice in information science will be examined.

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Everyday Life Information Seeking (ELIS)

The ELIS model is based on the assumption that individuals have their own preference for which sources they are comfortable using and the socially conditioned patterns by which they behave. Central to the model is the concept that way of life, as defined by Savolainen, means “the order of things” (Savolainen, 1995) such as the division between one’s work and leisure time, consumption of goods and services and leisure activities. Human beings give preference to certain practices over others in going about their daily lives.

This definition comes from Bourdieu’s (1984) idea of habitus, or a system of thought that is determined by social and cultural factors as well as characteristic evaluation and perception, which are individually internalized. If a person does not maintain his preferences, or “mastery of life” according to the ELIS model, his life will become disordered. When a problem out of the ordinary occurs which needs to be solved, his mastery of life will take over so as to actively seek information which is considered effective and practical to solve it. This same process occurs when an individual is seeking information.

According to Savolainen, there are four types of life mastery used in the ELIS model which include optimistic-cognitive, pessimistic-cognitive, defensive-affective, and pessimistic-affective. All types exist in concert with a positive outlook from optimistic thinking on one end of the spectrum while a negative outlook as the result of dictating emotions takes place on the opposite end.

An individual’s way of life directs how he will seek out information and also the converse is true: that information seeking will determine mastery of life when used in context. Components that influence context include such things as personal values and attitude, social networking, material assets, cultural and cognitive influences, as well as the individual’s current situation in life. In addition to this mastery of life typology, Savolainen (1995) states that these components have influence over how an individual will seek to solve problems.

Two types of information are defined in the ELIS model. Passive monitoring of events such as news and weather reports from printed media which give an individual information regarding his everyday life is considered “orienting information”. Such everyday data is represented in the “project of life” box in the ELIS model. On the other hand, “practical information” seeking serves the purpose of finding a solution for a specific problem that interrupts an individual’s ordinary life. A personal approach to mastery of life is used to seek either orienting or passive information.

Savolainen (1995) takes a leap in explaining certain aspects of mastery of life. His research assumes that all humans share an innate desire to achieve this mastery of life and that when problems occur they will naturally seek information to solve the issue. The fourth type of mastery of life, pessimistic-affective or, more literally, “learned helplessness” is described with the caveat that systematic information could play a part in the information seeking behavior, characterized by the use of emotional responses and lack of judgment, in certain individuals.

Perhaps this is another type of mastery of life in and of itself. Another assumption made by Savolainen (1995) in his ELIS model is that there are only two simple divisions of an individual’s life; he is either at work or at play. There are several other categories that could be used such as those who are unemployed, those who job seeking, and those who do seasonal work (who would enjoy a huge proportion of leisure time). Therefore, in these cases, his assumptions based on a person’s division of work and leisure become moot.

Savolainen (1995) admits to identifying a couple more assumptions that might interfere with his research. One is the importance of way of life as being a significant factor in information seeking behavior, confirmed by the results of studies done on blue collar workers and teachers. He also made a point to recognize that he assumed mastery of life style plays a key role in a person’s response to problems and also when they are seeking information but evidence suggests that mastery of life by itself does not always dictate behavior.

Research was performed by Savolainen in Finland using a sample of the middle class and working class populace and conducting themed interviews. Eleven industrial workers and the same amount of teachers were questioned regarding their methods of seeking orienting information from the media for their everyday life needs. The subjects were asked to relate a recent problem and how they went about solving it with the results analyzed and assessed for their relevance to the ELIS model. Savolainen (1995) hypothesized that social class would be a determining factor in information seeking but found instead that this only creates an outline on which to base their way of life.

Information Practices

McKenzie’s (2003) more recent IP model is quite different in its approach.  Similar to Savolainen’s ELIS model, the theory behind IP encompasses a variety of components. McKenzie first came up with the ideas behind IP when observing the information seeking practices of women expecting twins. Responding to Erdelez’s 1999 (from McKenzie, 2003) challenge for “more holistic and detailed tools” to use when modeling information seekers’ behavior, McKenzie (2003) sought a more current overview of information seeking in everyday life by non-professionals as well as acknowledging that individuals often use “non-active” practices when encountering information.

This led to her theory which would ultimately uncover the various ways people behave, and interact, when armed with new information. McKenzie (2003) claims there is a flexibility often used when seeking information and that the process is not totally linear.

McKenzie’s IP model assumes four modes of information practice with two phases encountered within each. The individual uses flexibility and complexity and these traits are incorporated in each mode and phase. The four modes are active seeking, active scanning, non-directed monitoring and proxy. The first type of seeking identifies a source while the second is only semi-directed combined with observation.

Non-directed refers to encounters with information that was not formerly expected while seeking by proxy is defined as using an intermediary source to get to the end result. At least one of these modes is used by individuals who then interact to the information with varying behavior. A breakdown in communication or a barrier to the proper connection can occur during information seeking in any of these manners.

There are additional ways for an individual to connect with a source of information as well as interact with the information itself. Active seeking occurs during searches when supplemental data is uncovered, usually in response to an acute need, which was not part of the seeker’s original intent. This then redirects him to other possibilities and new information.

Connection with this information gives an individual cause to interact with it by using a list of pre-formed questions or topics previously considered. By being positioned in a space where information can be shared or one can be exposed to information via electronic sources, a connection is made through the process of active scanning. Listening as well as observing others and scanning the material at hand are several methods of interaction with the information.

On the other hand, non-directed monitoring is more like an unexpected, unintentional encounter with useful information during the course of everyday life. Observation and listening in on conversations between other people are ways of interacting with the information. Lastly, connection by proxy is a result of using information sources such as friends who lay claim to certain information and act as intermediaries to this information or through an interpersonal referral system. Interaction in this mode occurs when the information given takes on the form of advice, diagnosis of a problem, or instructions.

Along with the ELIS model, the IP model also makes several assumptions. The four modes of information seeking seem to be rather narrow. Avoidance may be considered an additional mode, as is the case when information comes to a person who may not desire to receive it, such as a traumatic medical diagnosis. The ways of interacting with information that McKenzie (2005) outlined in the IP model are limited in scope as well.

Assuming an individual uses their own context during interactions with information as she suggests, then a wide variety of personalized traits and behavior should come into play. Consequently, there cannot be a limited number of types of interactions; they would be infinite. Certainly the fact that McKenzie (2005) performed her research on a restricted number of pregnant women might influence the results and her interpretation of them.

The sample subjects used in the research were a group of 19 Canadian women who were all expecting twins at the same time. Using epistemological orientation of discourse in her methodology, McKenzie reasoned that the subjects were motivated to seek necessary information (as new mothers) but also considered generically representative of their community at large.

The subjects were allowed to answer interview questions freely and with no limitations and this information, along with diary entries, used to obtain the necessary qualitative data to complete the study. The expectant mothers were asked to not only share their behavior when seeking routine information but to reflect on any differences that occurred during critical incidents in the information seeking process or their interactions with it.

Compare and Contrast

Both the ELIS and IP models are based upon theories which attempt to explain the behavior of non-professionals in their everyday lives when seeking information of both critical and non-critical status. The two models include the key component of individual context and its power over the information seeking process. McKenzie (2003) refers in positive terms to Savolainen’s earlier research and its breakthrough concepts in the studying of information seeking behavior in non-professionals in her treatise on the IP model, giving him credit for a novel approach.

The IP model, while it takes note of the role of individual context, does not offer any further elaboration on the plethora of these factors that most likely exists. While McKenzie (2005) refers to individual context, she does little more than that in using it to explain behavior. Conversely, the ELIS model revolves around the theory of individual context and a person’s social standing, morals, values, attitude and current life situation. These factors are obviously an integral part of how a particular person seeks information as well as how he orders his life. In terms of the importance of context, Savolainen’s ELIS model has included a richer diversity of theory into the concept, which is one of its strengths.

Both McKenzie (2003) and Savolainen (1995) include mention of an individual’s personality traits in explaining their information seeking behavior. This factor obtains importance as a part of mastery of life typology in the ELIS model in its references to characteristics of optimism and pessimism in the first two types, explaining positive or negative reaction to information that is found during a systematic and cognitive-oriented approach. His mastery of life, too, is reflected in this personality trait, extending it to other applications.

The use of emotion as a response to the life process and problem solving characterizes the third and fourth types of mastery of life; people who fall into these categories do not think logically about their behavior. Thus the ELIS model can be considered to contain psychological theory in addition to theories regarding information seeking behavior.

The IP model, on the other hand, assumes an individual patterns their behavior based on personality traits without actually furthering understanding on this dimension, merely stating that users connect with information through very active or less direct modes. Interactions that occur are the result of using both cognition and emotion in seeking information. There must first be an individualistic understanding of information to allow for active seeking and scanning.

Non-directed or proxy modes are used by those who interact as a result of emotion. Using Savolainen’s (1995) fourth mastery of life type as a comparison, it would leave no other option but to consider the pessimistic-affective type to use the proxy mode due to the fact that he “does not rely on his abilities to solve everyday life problems”, according to McKenzie. Those who are considered systematic personalities, however, may also use the monitoring and proxy modes.

Both the ELIS and IP models are also alike in their treatment of information seeking techniques and practices. While each employs its own terminology in explaining information seeking behavior, many of the concepts are similar. For instance, with the ELIS model, Savolainen (1995) explains that people seek information on an everyday basis to orient aspects of their lives by using passive monitoring to monitor its passage. In the IP model, this concept is similar to what McKenzie (2003) terms passive monitoring and in fact she makes reference to this likeness in her research.

Practical information is explained by both models also. The ELIS model refers to this as information sought in use of a problem. In the IP model, this same concept is referred to as the intermediary or proxy method of seeking information. McKenzie (2003) offers further insight by defining this process as a way of gathering information from friends or other personal sources. The ELIS model simply fails to describe this.


There are significant factors available in study of both the ELIS and IP models which aid in further understanding of how ordinary people search for information during the course of their everyday lives. As Savolainen (1998) suggests, mastery of life typology can be employed in the understanding of how people use their own context to perceive information as well as their perception of how competent they are in performing a search. Both models are relevant as use in deeper investigation into specific populations which exhibit unique behavior. Future research to delve deeper into the context concepts of the ELIS model would be beneficial.

Additional study of individual concept and interaction behavior based on the IP model are also warranted based on the ability to further pinpoint motivation in information seeking. While the gap in more comprehensive research exists, the concepts in both the ELIS and IP models are relevant and valid as an aid for those studying Information Science as well as in other areas of study of human behavior including sociologists and psychologists. It will be exciting to find what further insights are gained from future exploration of both Savolainen’s and McKenzie’s models on information seeking behavior.


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ELIS and IP Models of Information Seeking. (2017, Apr 15). Retrieved from

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