Category Archives: Libraries

Information Architecture for the digital-physical world

Day 2 of the Electronic Resources and Libraries Conference is over and I am still finishing the second part of yesterdays blog post! Oh well, there are a few distractions in Austin after the conference that get in the way of sitting in a hotel typing away on a computer.

I want to follow on from yesterdays blog post with the seven points Andrea concluded his presentation with. For want of a better word, he used “manifesto” to box the following seven points:

1. Information architecture becomes an ecosystem – all of the information artifacts no longer stand alone. They are all part of the single user experience and need to be acknowledged as such.

2. Users become intermediaries – users produce and re-mediate content. [In content management circles this idea has been around a while]. Andrea cited the example of Rosenfeld Media with its range of user experiences.

3. static becomes dynamic – information and content acquisition really never gets finished. There is always something more. Content is always changing and being reconstituted in different ways. The example of a dynamic information example is Wikipedia.

4. dynamic becomes hybrid – boundaries are separating media; there are thinner channels and genre. The example given in the presentation was the Hitachi 2400 windshield that could display a bevvy of information on the screen as you drove along! For example, the logo for a company might pop up to alert you to the fact that a XYZ fast food joint was coming up. I am sure there are probably more worthwhile pieces of information that could be presented but I’ll need to see if digital placement of information on the windscreen is the way to go.

5.horizontal prevails over vertical – intermediaries push for more informal structures and meaning; push for spontaneity and ephemeral meaning. Tagging was the example given.

6. products become experiences – from single object to a wider experience. Experience spans multiple steps for the user experience. [I think that recognition of the customer experience has been around a while among companies and marketeers (love that US expression) for a while as they attempt to differentiate their products – objects – from competitors.]

7. experiences become cross channel experiences – no longer tied to the one artifact and experiences span across channels. The great example used was for selling teddy bears! Build-a-bear not only allows you to create your own teddy bear (thereby outdoing the boring standard teddy bear and associated fluffy pals), you can also enter a digital world and play with other kids and teddy bears there as well. Your teddy bear has a unique bar code and you can give it a name. You can go to Bearaville and play, as an avatar with your bear who is “alive and playing as well”. Whoa – life couldn’t be so good!

Ultimately, Andrea concludes, the information architecture experience needs to account for a vary range of experiences useing cross channels and taking advantage of the integration between our physical space and our digital space.

Within the library context, we need to be aware that information silos may not hold the answers as they once did. We need to look at what channels of information we can use to help our users/clients/patrons get the outcome they want – to find the information they need.


Electronic Resources and Libraries Conference 2012

It’s a beautiful time in Austin, Texas. The weather is warm to hot and the music is loud and proud. But I am in Austin for the  Electronic Resources and Libraries Conference. I attended this conference last year and I am pleased to be back again.

I’ll start my conference report with the morning session today (the first day) of the Electronic Resources and Libraries Conference. I will have to post another instalment for the after lunch sessions. By the way, I had lunch at the wonderful Blanton Museum down the road from the conference venue. The morning was both interesting and satisfying.

I will focus on the keynote since this was the presentation that had the most relevance and interest to me and my workplace. The keynote was delivered by Andrea Resmini currently working in Sweden. The title of his presentation was “Between physical and digital: understanding cross channel experiences”.

Andrea opened up with a story based on the Umberto Eco novel (and subsequent movie) The name of the rose. He focused on the labyrinthine library and the differences between the description and map of the library in the book and in the movie. The purpose of the story was to illustrate how important meaning is in understanding complex environments; and secondly, that we need to be able to understand how different media affect people’s experiences. Thus, is there really a meaningful difference between the physical reality of the library or information centre and that of the virtual library?

Taking some inspiration from William Gibson’s novel, Neuromancer, Andrea explains that cyberspace is not a place to go to, it is a layer tightly integrated into the world around us. And as such, there are cross channels that enable information to be delivered, exchanged, and received to suit the needs of individuals and the contexts in which they find themselves. Cross channels may be expressed this way: “Cross-channel is not about technology, or marketing, nor it is limited to media-related experiences: it’s a systemic change in the way we experience reality. The more the physical and the digital become intertwined, the more designing successful cross-channel user experiences becomes crucial”. A full explanation, from which this quote was taken, can be found here.

The point of course is that libraries can no longer think of themselves as a set of discrete multiple actions, or silos,  (e.g. circulation desk, catalogue, web site etc.) but as facilitator for the provision of information in different ways to meet the needs of clients/users/students and the way in which they want to access and consume information. This of course involves the virtual library.

More generally, all of us are not staying within one channel all of the time. We move between them, depending on what it is we need them to do. And we would like all the digital pieces of the jigsaw puzzle to fit and work together.

I will return in my next post to continue what Andrea went on to say, outlining his seven point “manifesto” about information architecture, the user experience, and cross channel experiences.

But to finish this post, I want to give some further reading. Andrea mentioned the book “Pervasive Information Architecture” and I will be chasing that up when I return home later in the week.


Knowledge brokering

In response to a post about knowledge brokering by Richard Vines on the ACT-KM listserv, I thought I should also share my comments here.

Before knowledge management came along and gained some traction as a discipline (or at least, a particular kind of management approach) we had libraries where information was provided, some of which was used to solve business problems and improve decision-making. While this form of explicit knowledge transfer was usually one way, in smaller special libraries inside organisations (especially corporate institutions), there were opportunities to harness tacit knowledge through knowledge brokering (even if at the time we weren’t calling this a knowledge broker role).

In my experience in working in special libraries in international banks in the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s, it was indeed one of my key (implicit) roles to act as a knowledge broker within the organisation. The reason was that it was my job to help people solve problems and improve decisions through providing information and knowledge. And even back then, some of us realised that books and journals and newspaper clippings weren’t the stuff of real competitive advantage – human capital was.

My knowledge broker experience sought to match up those with the right knowledge at the right time to those who needed it. In many cases, this brokering role became an addition to the basic information search, analyse, and deliver role I was already playing. The matching was often serendipitous, often opportunistic, and had relatively poor scaleability en masse. However, it did require me to build relationships and trust, while at the same time demonstrating keen awareness for what people were working on and what interested them. In this sense, the knowledge brokering was highly personal.

Nevertheless, knowledge brokering in these contexts of the time performed the role of matching existing tacit knowledge within the organistion to those individuals where it was needed. At the same time, my knowledge broking role also considered the compliance and “Chinese-Walls” issues so important within investment banking.

Finally, I must say that the opportunities arose because the “library” was regarded as being “neutral” and thereby had the ability to leverage trust, conversation and multiple interactions from which knowledge brokering was possible.

The bottom line, however, was in making conversation and establishing people connections; something that knowledge management still strives to reproduce (with more scale) today.

Libraries and the customer experience

I find the day after a conference has finished is a good time to let the knowledge gleaned from the previous days flow through the brain without reference to notes. I like this type of unstructured post-conference flow because it allows key themes to emerge by themselves in my thinking.

A key theme for me (and I mean a theme that I have been thinking about in response to the combination of information and experiences from the conference) is that libraries and organisations need to go where to the clients are in a way that is meaningful to them.

Amy Sample Ward started this thought in me when she emphasised working with the community, not for the community. Working with a community or a client group means working with them in consideration of what they want and how they want it. How they want their information may be different to how the organisation believes it should deliver the information.

Michael Clarke (no, not the Australian cricketer) from Silverchair (no, not the Australian band) presented on “the great unboxing”. Libraries had to start thinking more about content than just the format (the container the information was in). The focus on content is something I have emphasised in my workplace as well. Other presentations, particularly around library catalogue search and the library catalogue GUI, also emphasised the need to provide the traditional library service in a way that was effective, but also both familiar to users and appealing to users. In some cases being like Google was important because Google is a familiar and well-used information search option. If we want users to use the catalogue, then we must make the catalogue as appealing to use as Google.

My thinking around this is that whilst as librarians we have a range of library tools and information technologies at our disposal, they don’t really mean much unless we meet the needs of our clients in the way the clients want their needs met. And information needs are becoming more focused on content from a multitude of sources and networks than ever before – and libraries and organisations need to be there in all those places. In marketing speak, you go to where your customers are and meet with them in a way the customers have determined. So, if your customers are on Facebook, then that’s one place you need to go. Interestingly, at the Web 3.0 conference I attended last year in Sydney, the same sentiment was expressed: using social media is fine but it only really means something if it means something to your audience. The Web 3.0 conference is on again in June.

The upshot (take-home?) of this is that if libraries or organisations want to push a system that their clients won’t use, but go ahead with it anyway because the library or organisation sees some other “benefit”, then we are wasting time and resources because the clients aren’t going there. We need to consider the customer experience!

And if your clients aren’t going there, then it doesn’t matter what the system can do compared to something else, it just isn’t going to work!

End of ER and L Conference for 2011

Today was the third and final day of the Electronic Resources and Libraries Conference in Austin, Texas.

There were presentations given on standards; acquisitions and assessment, web discovery, ebooks, and content indexing.

From the presentations I saw, there were two stand-outs. The first was the presentation by Hana Leavay of the University of Washington Library who gave an interesting and informative talk on assessing electronic resources. Considerable thought had gone into the data collection, the sorting and analysis, and then finally the input into decision-making. Once again this presentation demonstrated to me why we need to better capture a range of statistics and work out ways of using the data for management and reporting purposes.

The other presentation was a group presentation about web discovery. The prime mover here was John Law from Serials Solutions and the product called Summon. Tammy Allgood from Arizona State University Library and Anne Prestamo from Oklahoma State University Library both provided practical ways in which Summon could (and did) work. Summon is a way to search across electronic journals from different sources and providers, with the added benefit of consistent indexing across repositories and databases, and quicker retrieval of material. I will investigate this product further when I get home.

I am organising a couple of library visits tomorrow and hope to see more live music before I start my way home with a flight to Los Angeles on Friday afternoon.

Finally, Austin is a great place to visit and you gotta see the Eric Tessmer Band live – awesome!

Halfway through Electronic Resources Conference

I am at the halfway point of the Electronic Resources and Libraries Conference in Austin, Texas. The conference has been pretty good so far, with a nice mix of thinking pieces and practical case studies. And Austin is a great place to visit for live music!

Some key highlights so far:

Amy Sample Ward yesterday emphasised the library should be thinking of working with the community (or your user group), not for your community (or user group).

A couple of presentations yesterday looked at presenting your library’s story ( your story to management or other stakeholders) in a more effective light by using good data and effective data presentation for your data to tell your “data story”. My only criticism was the lack of focus on the stories (narrative) from the library user group or your clients. Naturally, I made a comment and let the audience know about what SenseMaker might offer.

Library promotion was another topic of interest from Day 1. Nothing revolutionary to me in that presentation, although it did focus my attention on executing marketing strategies back at work when I can find the time to escape the daily minutiae of my administrative library work.

Yesterday afternoon we heard a passionate “rally to the library cause” from Michael Porter of Library Renewal who advocated public and academic libraries needed to organise more effectively to combat a growing threat to library budgets and library work. I do wonder how much impact “the intrinsic value of the library” has on governments looking at slashing budgets; and that’s exactly what US states are trying to do across the country at the moment. A more focused argument needs to be made on how libraries service the needs of community and what the impact that has on people and their ability to get things done both socially and economically. And enlisting the support of people (voters) is something libraries also need – so, libraries need a more politically focused approach.

Today we had some presentations of a more practical nature. We had a great presentation on analysing ejournal collections from database vendors. Nice MS Access database used as an effective tool to compare database collections.

Well, gotta get back to it. The afternoon session is about to start shortly.

Three information projects about to start at AusAID

It’s quite an interesting time in my workplace at the moment. I have three big projects about to commence.

The first is the information seeking behaviour project. I will be working with Optimice to investigate the information seeking behaviour of selected areas of staff within the organisation. I am looking to discover how people use knowledge objects and people to find information and knowledge using their everyday information seeking behaviour.  I hope to understand how people currently get the information they need to do their jobs and be informed as to what is going on. I can then determine how the library and information service needs to respond – what services can be improved, what services could be dropped, and what knowledge gaps there are that my team could try to fill. The project is of interest to other areas of AusAID as well – records management, internal communications, and the online team to name but three. I have the first meeting with Optimice in Sydney on Friday.

The second project I am working on with my team is the library management system upgrade. We use SirsiDynix and will migrate from the Horizon system to the new Symphony system. It’s taken longer than I anticipated to get all the approvals in place just for this system upgrade. Hopefully we will have everything ready to go shortly. In the meantime, we are looking at the positive and negative aspects of library catalogues and GUI’s. We are also hoping to establish country and subject-based portals within Symphony to better reflect our wide ranging content sources.

The third project we are working on is Yammer. We would like to officially pilot Yammer as a tool for sharing information and knowledge with selected groups within the organisation. Yammer is a useful web-based tool that we see plenty of great opportunities to use for internal collaboration and information sharing beyond group emails. We are currently going through the technical and security procedures to get formal permission to set up official pilot projects. I know Yammer is used by UNICEF. I understand that some Australian government departments may use Yammer and I’d be very interested to hear from their experiences. The oft-preferred Govdex just doesn’t cut it in terms of functionality and ease of use. 

While these projects will take shape in the coming weeks, I also have a nice little detour to take next week when I fly to the US to attend the Electronic Resources and Libraries Conference in Austin, Texas. I am paying for much of the travel but work is chipping in for the actual conference. I am looking forward to hearing some great presentations and talking with other information professionals during the course of the event. If you’ll be there, make sure you try and find me for a chat.

All up, some pretty exciting times coming up in the next couple of months.