Information Architecture and Digital Libraries (Part 2)

For a library that delivers an information service in a digital space firstly requires a comprehensive understanding of the information environment in which it’s situated. It is important to identify information needs from both the user and organisational perspectives. In the case of an engineering technical library, there are also operational requirements to meet and industry regulations to satisfy, with regards to the library’s content – its use, maintenance and access to the collection.

An approach from the ‘bottom up’ looks at the tasks library users are required to complete as part of their job, as well as the series and patterns of activities undertaken to meet information needs. Morville and Rosenfeld (2007, p. 35) identify four common information needs: –

  • “known item” seeking – the user knows exactly what they’re looking for
  • “exploratory seeking – the user knows a few attributes of what they need, so a few search results will suffice
  • exhaustive search – the user requires a complete listing on a particular attribute or combination of attributes
  • “re-finding” – placing the search result aside, like a “saved search”, so the user may quickly return to the document

I, myself, have found definition of these information needs useful as I work to re-design an intranet site for my engineering technical library. Any ideal functionality will not happen all at once. I’ve had to break up the improvements into a series of “phases”, focusing on what is critically important to deliver first.

A ‘top-down’ approach to identifying information needs looks at organisational objectives and operational requirements, as they too, impact on what the digital library (engineering technical library, for example) holds in its collection, who will use the information and how the information should be managed and maintained.

Understanding the information environment then informs the approach taken to the information architecture design process, and develops the focus through which the digital library must take in order to effectively integrate information architecture practices into ‘every day’ processes and service orientation. According to Morville and Rosenfeld (2007), there are three areas of focus for information architecture methodology (p. 24-25).

  • Context – organisational objectives, operational requirements, resources, technology, politics, culture, industry regulations
  • Content – existing structure, document and data types, content diversity, volume
  • Users – audience, tasks, needs, information seeking behaviours, experience with technology and existing system

One may argue that the “context” is the information environment. However I would argue that an information environment cannot be without the content it requires, nor the users who need to interact with the system to search and retrieve information. An approach (or focus) is largely driven by context, yes, but I see all three impacting on each other. Aviation industry regulations (context) wouldn’t be be without the information needs of users and organisations, and there would be no focus or objective of a digital (engineering technical) library’s collection without the governing industry regulations or the users who require access to the collection. In order to satisfy the demands and expectations with the context, an information architecture need evolve around user (and organisation) situation, be task-based and ‘searching behaviour’ (user) focused (Kirby, 2006, p. 11).

I shall leave you with a diagram which depicts how I see the information environment. I’ve attempted to identify the relationship between information needs and the focus areas required to proceed with an information architecture approach to delivering a digital library service.

As always I welcome any feedback, thoughts, further ideas. The paper I’ve written (for assessment in my Masters course) is but my first attempt at understanding information architecture key concepts and principles. Please let me know if you think I’ve missed anything. I’ve developed an interest in information architecture and only wish to further my understanding.

Kirby, E. (2006). Improving intranet usability at AXA. Knowledge Management Review, 9(4), 10-11.

Morville, P. & Rosenfeld, L. (2007). Information Architecture for the World Wide Web (3rd ed.). CA, USA: O’Reilly Media, Inc.

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