Information Architecture and Digital Libraries (Part 1)

For my last assignment for the semester, I had chosen to look at information architecture for digital libraries. I suggested a framework, defining each element’s role, relationships between them and arranging them in a way that constitutes a “big picture” of information architecture principles and practice.

In a series of posts, I will share my views of information architecture key concepts and principles. I certainly don’t have all the answers (though I make every effort to try!), but the framework I suggest is an attempt to explain each concept as they contribute to the final outcome and ‘state’ of information architecture design.

Information architecture practice is relevant to a digital library as they share a common goal – both are concerned with achieving findability (Batley, 2007, p. 3). Concepts and principles of information architecture need a slightly different approach in their application, primarily because digital libraries not only have a user interface, but also have a collection (of mostly external content) to effectively manage, organise and structure in a way that makes findability efficient for the library user. An example is the engineering technical library I work in. Content is not generated internally, it is gathered from many vendors, all with various ways to describe and label technical data and documentation.

The role of information architecture is to enable access to content with a systematic approach to interface design, organised and structured in a way which facilitates the user’s quest for required technical data or documentation (Toms, 2002, p. 855). Designing functionality, enabling access, starts with identifying and understanding information needs from both the user and organisational perspectives. In the case of my engineering technical library, practices and processes also need to satisfy industry regulations which govern the use, collection, management and access to technical data and documentation, and meet operational requirements which dictate how technical data and documentation needs to be accessed.

Given the scope of information architecture being applicable to “shared environments”, the practice may therefore lend itself to designing a digital space which delivers an information service, such as a digital library via a company intranet. Intranet users are highly critical of poor usability (White, 2002, p. 47). Integration of information architecture practice into the effective management of a digital library (achieve findability and usability) can only mean benefits in the form of increased productivity. The effects may not be realised directly, but if I can design the technical library’s intranet site in a way that improves usability and decreases the time it takes for library users to search and retrieve information, the ‘flow on’ effects can potentially be seen in other operations and objectives, such as ‘on time performance’. The goal of the technical library is to provide effective access to the library collection, through an intranet, providing a user experience which enables efficient search, navigation and retrieval of information. Information architecture practice can certainly assist with achieving this goal.

 

Batley, S. (2007). The I in information architecture: the challenge of content management. Aslib Proceedings: New Information Perspectives, 59(2), 139-151.

Toms, Elaine. G. (2002). Information interaction: Providing a framework for information architecture. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 53(10), 855-862.

White, M. (2002). Information architecture and usability. EContent, 25(4), 46-47.

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