Aug 272008

 Where are librarians in the field of Information Architecture in Australia? Theoretically we are skilled at deciding the best ways to store and retrieve information and design related schema to structure this.

Waaay back in library school… almost a couple of decades ago … I did an exercise where I had to create a thesaurus. The lecturer suggested we get a bunch of index cards and write every topic we could think of related to the subject, then rearrange them into the categories that would logically emerge. We had to know how to structure it heirarchically and use Narrower Terms,  Broader Terms and Related Terms. It helped me to understand the structure of large thesauri when I assigned subject headings during cataloguing, but it’s not a skill I’ve used much in my career.


Soooo… fast forward to a recent seminar in Wellington with Donna Spencer, who will soon be in Perth to give a workshop about Information Architecture at the Edge of the Web Conference. This description of how an information architect may decide a schema for a web site seems strangely familiar, Information architecture not simple, even for experts :

A classic way of finding out how people’s minds categorise is to give them cards with the names of narrowly detailed topics and ask them to sort the cards into categories — either adopting previously named categories or defining and naming their own.

And, just check out these session topics from the upcoming OzIA Information Architecture conference mid-September in Sydney. As far as I can see, none of the presenters work as librarians.

Are users really ready for faceted search?
Elizabeth Pek
Short Session
Easy content discoverability is a goal for any business. This session will discuss the faceted search experience and whether a Google style simple search interface works in all contexts.
Search and sensibility: Four tales of search
Louisa Cameron, Angus Fraser, Scott Bryant, Chris Khalil (News Digital Media)
Advanced Session
Four highly trafficked online services, four very different takes on search; we share lessons learned and tips for helping users find what they are looking for.
Taxonomy, Social Networks and Pace-Layering
Roger Hudson
Advanced Session
Is our growing reliance on search rotting our brains? Will social software replace conventional site taxonomy? Can pace-layering provide an answer to these questions?
From research fluff to useful tools
Stephen Cox
Short Session
Having lots of research data can be frustrating, what do you do with it all? Learn how News Digital Media transforms its research into practical tools for design.

I think librarians have lost a chance to hone our skills, broaden them to web design and let web designers know what we do. When is the last time your organisation asked its librarians what to do when the corporate website was redesigned? I think it’s possibly too late for us to join the party now – even given that the poster child for Information Architecture, Peter Morville, is a librarian.  I hope I’m wrong…

While I’m having a little rant about how our skills aren’t on the radar of web designers, I’m not sure whether to laugh, cry, applaud or throw tomatoes at this article by William Hicks from Digital Magazine, Getting The Most Out Of Your Library. It describes what the “bricks and mortar” library can offer a web designer – yes, we are a *building*. Library staff are fleetingly mentioned as people paid to help you find “stuff”. What about our library web sites and catalogues? This:

You will not be happy with many library websites. Libraries are big and beastly, offering lots of services to lots of audiences. Information architecture is rarely pretty, markup is typically much worse. You will get lost. Sorry.

and this:

  So you found the library catalog, fired off a search and found an item that sounds mildly intriguing. The result page probably didn’t have any real reviews of the book, it is doubtful there was a book cover, nor apparently any other related items. You’re most likely staring at a title, some notes on the author, a bunch of useless publication data, some subject headings, notes, and a string of letters and numbers. it is not. It’s not built for you the user. It’s built for the vendors, librarians, and their staff. For now, you are stuck with it. (Again, sorry.) Help or urge the local librarian to adopt newer ideas into their catalogs.

UPDATE 28 August 2008. There is a librarian presenting at OzIA – Prue Deacon, about Thesauri. Apologies Prue. Good to see you there.

Building a navigation structure for HealthInsite using thesaurus management software
Prue Deacon
Short Session
This presentation will show how the broader/narrower relationships in a thesaurus structure can be the basis for a classification scheme and hence support a site navigation structure.

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  14 Responses to “Information Architecture in Australia – where are the librarians ?”

  1. Hi kathryn,

    Happy to report that Prue Deacon is a librarian and will be presenting at Oz-IA/2008.

  2. Hi Kathryn

    I have always thought that Librarians and information architecture go well together which is why I have started the Masters in Info Architecture through CSU.

    So here’s hoping in a year or 2 I can push the library/ia connection to its fullest, that is of course if it is too late.

  3. Good post Kathryn!

    Information architects do know about librarians. We really, really do. And we respect them (indexers too).

    So I wonder whether librarians know about information architecture 😉 After all oz-ia is a submission-based community conference. If librarians aren’t on the list, it’s because they didn’t submit a proposal…

    I think Margaret Ruwoldt is an ex-librarian too.

  4. Eric. Thanks for this. I must have seen Prue’s session when I first saw the programme a couple of weeks back, as I was obviously thinking about thesauri when I wrote the post. Apologies to Prue for leaving it off.

    Rachel. Very heartening. Are there many other librarians doing the class? Is it similar to what you learned in library school? Do you think that when you finish, if you work in IA outside libraries, you will be perceived as someone who *is* or *was* a librarian ?

    Donna. I’ve very sorry that I won’t be in WA for Edge of the Web, or else I would come for your workshop. I agree with your comment – I think librarians didn’t morph or advertise our skills quickly enough to be visible where we needed to be – and we probably still have our heads stuck in our “bricks and mortar” more than is healthy if our profession will survive.

  5. I’m more than happy to offer discount registrations to Oz-IA/2008 for professional librarians. Is there a professional association I should put on my contact list? Use code ‘lib08’ and you’ll get $110 off the registration, please spread the word.

    Also, while I remember … tell all your librarian friends to get on the announcement list for Oz-IA, that way they’ll hear the call for papers for the 2009 conference – I’d love to hear more from librarians 🙂

  6. Hi Kathryn

    As the Master of Info Architecture is run by the School of Info Studies at CSU there is some overlap between the library courses. The other subjects are from the School of IT. See the course structure at
    From what I can gather they is quite a few Librarians doing the course, mostly those that already have a technology focus to their current positions.

    As Donna said, Info Architects know and respect Librarians so I don’t imagine I will encounter too many problems in the future. Also, information architecture is such a new profession and one that builds on other disciplines including information management, so it is natural that many Info Architects will have a background is something else.

  7. I agree with previous posts…I’m a librarian by background and have been involved in the web sphere for many years and find that Information Architects and most web people know about and respect librarians…it’s librarians that don’t know too much about the web design world outside of libraryland.

    I feel that many librarians don’t make the relational jump in applying thesauri, indexes, taxonomies etc into web design.

  8. […] that may be important is Information Architecture. In a recent post, Kathryn Greenhill asks “Information Architecture in Australia – where are the librarians?” Librarians have skills in organising and classifying information, and creating […]

  9. Kathryn, you have discovered the secret world of IAs. Seriously everyone is on the money. All the IA’s locally know and respect Librarians and I know will personally often bring them in on projects to help with various aspects as required, especially with information categorisation. However too many times, and I can contest this personally as an IA, the Librarians don’t want to know. ” Its the web it has not relevance” – I hear. This is a real shame.

    Do you think there is a way we can engage or get people out of this heads buried in the library routine that seems to almost common place.

    For the record there where a few Librarians from various Universities presenting at the previous years at Oz-IA.

    Question for you Kathryn why aren’t you presenting! 🙂

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  11. […] I was very sad to be  missing Donna’s workshop at the Edge of the Web conference in Perth, ( Information Architecture in Austrlia – where are the librarians?  ) so I was very glad to catch up with it […]

  12. […] recorded first by itsikson on 2009-04-14→ Information Architecture in Australia – where are the librarians ? […]

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