Luanne Silvia Sinnamon

Associate Professor

Research Interests

human information interaction
Information Systems
information retrieval
New Technology and Social Impacts

Relevant Thesis-Based Degree Programs

Affiliations to Research Centres, Institutes & Clusters



I have been a faculty member at the iSchool at the University of British Columbia since 2007. I completed my phd in 2008 at the Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto.

Research Methodology

user studies and experiments
genre analysis


Doctoral students

Design and use of Internet search engines; online information interaction and information design

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Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision

Dissertations completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest dissertations.

Becoming engineers: how students leverage relationships between documents and learning activities (2021)

Learners participate in complex environments that are comprised of diverse and distributed people, information, and tools. To better understand why this situation presents challenges for learners, and to examine how they seek to overcome these challenges, a two-part study was conducted. This research explores undergraduate engineers’ information interactions through a mixed methods study. Questionnaire responses and interviews with students were analyzed to investigate how undergraduate engineers seek, manage, and interact with discipline-specific information and how they share documents with their peers. This work included questionnaire responses from 103 students enrolled in undergraduate engineering programs at a large university in Canada. Follow-up interviews with 18 of these respondents extended accounts of students' experiences.The findings contribute to understandings of how undergraduate engineers navigate complex information environments. Given that students have access to a substantial amount of information communicated in many ways, their ability to select and apply information was found to be integral to their participation in these environments. Results identified and described the latent relationship between learning tasks and document genres. It was also found that students regularly collaborate through social media and other backchannels to sidestep their instructors’ efforts to monitor and control how and what information they share.Findings suggest implications for understanding how students develop awareness about pairing documents with the learning activities in which they are engaged. While students are coping with complex information environments, they are not necessarily using the expected document genres, suggesting areas for adjustments in curriculum, information literacy instruction, and theoretical synthesis.

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Motivations for participating in online initiatives: exploring motivations across initiative types (2018)

No abstract available.

The issue of avoidance: information avoidance in the context of personal health concerns (2017)

Information is increasingly available at the touch of a button, and yet limits are still present in the ability and willingness of individuals to access that information. These limits can result in information avoidance, a phenomenon in which individuals prefer not to seek or be exposed to information. Nowhere is this phenomenon more evident and more problematic than in health, where information has been linked to better health outcomes, and where the consumer health movement has shifted the responsibility of health information seeking from healthcare professionals to patients. This dissertation examines such health information avoidance, looking in particular at the mechanisms that constitute this phenomenon, and the affective, personality, and information source factors that influence it. Two studies were performed, the first an online survey using the crowdsourcing platform Mechanical Turk for recruitment, and the second a user study in which participants interacted with health information and were then interviewed. Both studies also employed scales such as the Need for Cognition scale, the Threatening Medical Situations Inventory (examining monitoring and blunting styles), and the Positive and Negative Affect short scale. Results indicate that very few people are willing to report practising complete information avoidance. However, numerous participants reported avoiding some information, often through filtering mechanisms such as self-regulation and delegation. This evidence of partial avoidance suggests that information avoidance can be located on a continuum of information seeking behaviours, rather than existing as a simple negation of information seeking. Significant factors that influence the practice of information avoidance were found to include affect such as fear, disgust, and disinterest, all factors that can indicate a threat to the participant. While the personality and information source factors tested were also influential, this work found that for these participants, affective factors often functioned as a primary influence. This work indicates that health information avoidance is a situation-dependent information behaviour, rather than primarily a personality trait as previously claimed. As such, it should be included in models that depict people’s general behavioural patterns with regard to information, such as Wilson’s (1999) General Model of Information Seeking and Johnson’s (1997) Comprehensive Model of Information Seeking.

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Reading the landscape of public libraries as place: Experiences of homeless men in public libraries in Vancouver, BC (2013)

Some homeless men are very frequent public library users, but are rarely asked by librarians for their opinions about libraries. Semi-structured individual interviews of 23 homeless men investigated how they used libraries and explored their understanding of the library as a place in downtown Vancouver, BC. Despite not being eligible for regular library membership privileges, often due to simply not having an address, 14 participants were still very frequent Central Library users. Homelessness is a high risk lifestyle and 4 participants who purposely avoided street danger in the Downtown Eastside found a safer niche within the Central Library, while 15 participants purposely chose to physically distance themselves from the stigma of homelessness and mostly kept to themselves while they were at the Central Library, which was often daily from opening until closing. Public space in libraries is especially valuable to homeless people who have no private space of their own. Amenities such as washrooms, comfortable seating and access to the Internet, which are not as freely available elsewhere as they are at libraries, made the Central Library the preferred library among all participants. Just like many of the other library users at the Central Library, participants enjoyed very ordinary library experiences, such as reading for pleasure, learning, playing online games, searching the Internet and sending and receiving emails, and some of the most frequent users created a new social identity for themselves as library users, which is far more socially acceptable than the stigmatized social identity of homelessness. Being a frequent library user gave some participants a routine and stability and the anonymity of being an ordinary library user at the Central Library gave participants an opportunity to be treated respectfully by other library users. Seventeen participants believed that using public libraries had greatly improved their lives and used libraries as transition spaces to improve their circumstances. Some participants who were frequent library users said they would like to have their own library membership for the Central Library, perhaps as much to give them a sense of belonging in their own community as for borrowing library materials.

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The role of editorial boards of scholarly journals on the green and gold road to open access (2010)

The traditional subscription-based publishing system of scholarly journals is in crisis, and open access has been suggested as an alternative model. However, participants in the traditional publishing system are engaged in a debate on its feasibility as a replacement for subscription-based journals. As the gatekeepers who determine what is published in scholarly journals, editorial boards play an important role in scholarly communication. However, although there are some studies of their role in scholarly publishing no major study has focused on their role in influencing journal access polices, and in particular, their role in influencing journal policies to make some or all articles free or to allow self-archiving by authors.Through a survey of editors and editorial board members of major scholarly journals, this study explores their role in the open access movement. It examines the positions of the major publishers of scholarly journals (categorized as commercial, scholarly society and university publishers) to open access. In addition, it examines the awareness of journals’ editorial boards of their publisher’s access polices and whether their own attitudes to open access were consistent with those of their publishers. Editorial boards’ behaviour as a force for change in setting open access policies is explored. The study also considers how their level of responsibility at the journal and their own open access publishing behaviour are related to their perception and promotion of open access.The findings of this study show no clear-cut difference between categories of journal publisher in term of offering some or all of their articles free to users, and in allowing authors to self-archive. The respondents in this study demonstrated some awareness about journal access policies, with higher awareness of policies regarding offering free articles than of those on self-archiving. The majority of the respondents are satisfied with subscription-based journals although their opinion on offering free articles and on self-archiving is generally positive. They were not willing to take strong measures to influence journal access policies such as resigning from the editorial board. The level of responsibility at the journal, gender, and publishing behaviour influenced the respondent’s answers to the questionnaire.

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Master's Student Supervision

Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.

Presentation of hyperlinks as a factor in information overload and subjective responses to web-based health information (2023)

This study investigated how the visual saliency of hyperlinks as a web page design element impacts people’s perceived information overload (IO) and subjective states in the case of COVID-19 vaccination information. An experimental study was conducted, in which a total of 82 participants were randomly assigned to three conditions that differed with respect to the visual salience of hyperlinks leading to additional information sources. After completing an information-seeking task, participant’s IO level and subjective state were measured using adapted scales. Statistical analysis of scale data and thematic analysis of open-ended responses were used to analyze the data. Findings indicate an impact of visual saliency of hyperlinks on people’s IO reactions. Specifically, using accordion menus distributed throughout the page to dynamically hide many of the hyperlinks, participants’ perceived IO levels were significantly reduced. Participants’ IO reactions were negatively correlated with their subjective states, although no significant differences in subjective states across conditions were observed. Further design manipulation to reduce the visual saliency of hyperlinks by clustering them at the bottom of the page had no effect on IO, indicating that visual salience is not the only factor to consider when designing pages with high numbers of hyperlinks. The study results indicate that people do feel overloaded when looking for online health information, even arising from the experience of using a single web page, and the web page design elements do attract their attention and influence their information-seeking behaviour and experience. In conclusion, this thesis makes a valuable contribution by conducting an experimental study to understand the influence of hyperlinks’ visual saliency on people’s perceived IO and subjective states.

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A comparative user study of misinformation intervention techniques on search engines (2021)

Since ancient times, misinformation exists in people’s lives, becoming a serious social and technical challenge confronting our society. As the portals to massive amounts of information, search engines are responsible for providing users with accurate information and guidance. Focusing on COVID-19 information, the purpose of this qualitative study is to understand how young adults respond to different misinformation intervention techniques on search engines. The study was carried out through a user study with four steps: a brief self-completed questionnaire, two observed online search sessions, and a semi-structured interview. The searches were conducted using an artificial search engine prototype and participants experienced one condition in which misinformation was present, but not flagged, and another in which it was flagged using one of two approaches. During the interview, the participants were asked to share their experience of the two searches, their views on search engines, misinformation presented by search engines, and different misinformation intervention techniques.Results showed that most participants lacked awareness of misinformation encountered in their searches, even though they were generally competent searchers. Users showed a high degree of trust in the information presented by search engines, especially Google, but they relied on the sources of information as the primary basis to judge the credibility of results. The misinformation intervention techniques tested did help users to identify misinformation, but also prompted some negative feedback, suggesting that a nuanced and balanced approach is needed to address this issue. These results may inform the future design of the search engine results page. Users’ perceptions of these intervention techniques may also be relevant to the design of other information interaction platforms.

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Exploring learning opportunities in open data use across data literacy levels (2020)

The purpose of this study is to explore learning opportunities for users with different data literacy levels when using open data within an open data portal, with the goal of informing design. An open data portal is a web-based data repository provided by a government to allow the public to find and use open-access government data. Three aspects are investigated: user interactions with the open data portal and associated tools; obstacles faced in interacting with the portal; and learning strategies employed. The City of Vancouver’s open data portal was the study environment. Fourteen university students participated in this remotely administered study which included an assigned task, a think-aloud observational session, a self-completion questionnaire, and a semi-structured interview. There were divvied into high/low data literacy groups based on a self-assessment questionnaire. The video recordings of the think-aloud observational sessions and semi-structured interviews were analyzed using qualitative methods. Participants in the low data literacy group faced more obstacles due to gaps in understanding how to process open data than those in the higher data literacy group. Participants in the high data literacy group mainly faced obstacles in figuring out how to use the unfamiliar data analysis tools in the portal. Some important data processing activities such as evaluating data quality, data wrangling, labeling analyzed findings and data citation, seemed to be lacking across all participants, regardless of their data literacy self-assessment. These results suggest that an open data portal should improve usability to help users learn to use the tools and provide learning tools to help users develop needed data literacy skills to make good use of open data. The findings have implications for the future study of designing learning tools in an open data portal for users with different data literacy levels.

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Interest matters? The relationships between interest and common interactive information retrieval experiment measures (2020)

This study explores the relationships between the level of interest in an assigned search task and the retrieved content and measures commonly used in interactive information retrieval research. First, measures that are commonly used in IIR experiments were identified by reviewing IIR literature, then an experiment was conducted where participants were asked to complete two search tasks, one more interesting to them and one less so, and the differences in their behavior and perceptions were measured to determine if there is a significant difference between the two tasks for each of the measures identified. The results are inconclusive regarding the influence of interest. The possible reasoning for such results is discussed, and recommendations for designing future experiments are given.

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Design of a geographical visualization-based interface for a community academic knowledge exchange (2019)

Bridging the existing divide between the members of the DTES community and academic research was the overarching motivation in this research project. With the members of the DTES community as the primary users, an easily accessible map-based visual interface was planned and designed as an alternative point of entry to the existing Downtown Eastside Research Access Portal (DTES-RAP) to access community-based research.The author commenced the research by conducting a literature review to study the theories of community-based research that corresponded to the goals of the research. Here, journal articles dealing with aspects of community engagement, cultural sensitivity, geographic visualization, community mapping, searching as learning were among those that were studied. Following this study, textual analysis was done on journal articles about the DTES that were available through the DTES-RAP, to bring out locational references and main topic areas addressed in each study. An iterative design-based approach with stages such as empathize, define, ideate, prototype and test, was adopted. The resulting connections between organizations, authors and topics were represented in a map-based visual interface, designed to promote learning through exploration. Following the prototyping stage, a pilot study of the interactive version of the interface was conducted with graduate students of the University of British Columbia. On receiving the approval of the UBC Behavioural Research Ethics Board, a small-scale usability study was conducted with the members of the DTES community to evaluate the current design and identify areas for improvement. Some conclusions have been drawn and recommendations made based on the knowledge gained through this study.

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Let's map it out : the everyday health information seeking behaviours of LGBTQ youth in Prince George, BC (2017)

Purpose:There is a growing body of literature concerning the health information seeking behaviours of LGBTQ youth. However, these studies typically involve just gay, bisexual, and lesbian sexual health. The purpose of this project is to better understand the everyday health information seeking behaviours of LGBTQ youth and where they prefer to visit to access health information. As most of the previous research has been completed in urban settings, this project was completed in a smaller Northern British Columbia city – Prince George, BC. Methods:This project included 11 LGBTQ youth who participated in five participatory mapping and focus group activities. In groups of two or three, the youth would begin by labeling a map of Prince George places they prefer, somewhat prefer and dislike to visit for health information. Afterwards, focus groups were completed to ask follow up questions about the youths’ health information seeking behaviours. Once the activities were completed the interviews were coded based on inductive themes, and analyzed with theories from everyday health information seeking behaviours and critical geographies of sexuality, emotion, and cyberspaces.Results:Six themes became apparent from the content analysis and review of the data: 1) Negative impressions; 2) Convenience; 3) Social costs; 4) Comfort; 5) Queer friendly spaces; 6) Quality of information. Conclusions:Based on the experiences shared by the participants, factors were identified that contribute to the everyday health information seeking behaviours or places LGBTQ youth prefer to visit for this information. These youth were well informed about their health, and wanted to find the best information for their health needs. Furthermore, the work demonstrated that there are connections made between different places or spaces and LGBTQ youth information behaviour.

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Open data portals in northern New England states (2017)

As the United States transitions from the Obama administration’s engagement with open government data to the Trump administration’s more closed information strategies, the future support for federal open government data is uncertain. An alternative target for open data initiatives is state-level open government data portals. This study provides preliminary informationon state level open data, illustrating challenges faced by small, rural states in supporting an open data portal. The research investigates the current condition of state open data portals: whether their current form and the laws supporting them are sufficient to support their intended use. Thisstudy also explores whether the effects of the national political climate can be seen on state portals. This research uses a case study approach, focusing on the northern New England states: Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont. The case studies use four main methods of investigation: content analysis to determine the goals of the portal, consideration of the policies and contextinfluencing the portal based on the Open Data Policy Framework, inventorying of the data based on the Open Data Barometer, and a review of saved copies of the portals using the Internet Archive.Based on these methods, we found that these portals fall short of supporting their stated goals. Problems with ambiguous licensing, unclear information organization, unclear project ownership, lack of support for data users, and minimal advertisement of the portal’s existence may have contributed to low citizen engagement with the portals. Portal data is vulnerable as none of the states currently have laws that ensure data will be open and proactively provided, although Vermont is considering such legislation. National politics may have an influence on state open data, as Maine’s portalceased updates two days before the federal election.There is potential for those in the field of library and information science to contribute to state level portals through the provision of support for the knowledge organization and information literacy aspects of the portal that are currently lacking. This study also suggests that evaluative tools more specifically attuned to the state open data context would considerably strengthen the analysis of future research.

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Task-type-specific use of facets in discovering online content (2013)

As noted by Herbert Simon, the challenge presented by the rich information ecologies of our time is one of shortage of attention. Hence it is necessary for important information to stand out. This research proposes that facets used in the context of full text search, support this ‘attention getting’. Faceted search has proven to provide more effective information-seeking support to users in some situations. To date, studies have focused on specific domains typically using a specific set of facets. Consequently, little is known about the effect of faceted search on a broader range of task types. This research investigates the effect of faceted search in a task context. In this process questions about the differences in perceived usefulness and actual use, and whether systems providing facets lead to a higher user satisfaction, effectiveness, and efficiency compared to systems without this capability are answered by means of a systems review, an online questionnaire, and an experimental user study. The systems review revealed 47 potential facets used across the 12 systems perused. 14 of these facets from different levels of observed prevalence were used in the online questionnaire to determine their perceived usefulness across three types of search tasks: Doing, Known-Item, and Learning. Results of the questionnaire research show a significant difference in the perceived usefulness of the facets between Doing and Learning tasks. Six out of the 14 facets, 4 perceived as highly and 2 as less useful, were incorporated into an experimental government search system for comparison to a baseline system not providing facet capabilities. An experimental user study employing these systems found that there were some differences in the perceived usefulness and actual use of facets. Specifically, the audience facet, which received low usefulness scores in the questionnaire, was used quite frequently in the user study. Only few statistically significant differences between the baseline and experimental system were found. The most notable differences were found in Perceived Success, a measure of effectiveness, and Level of Satisfaction, a measure of satisfaction, between the first and third tasks performed in the experimental system, with the third task showing higher scores.

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