Friday, August 24, 2007

Information architects v. librarians

I have discovered a key difference between information architects and librarians: information architects write books that you can find at a bookstore; librarians write books that you can only find (at best!) at the ALA store twice a year, assuming you attend ALA meetings.

There is meaning behind this statement beyond book distribution. It has to do with the insularity of the library world and our tendency to only speak to each other. It also reveals an underlying assumption that what we know and what we think isn't of interest to anyone outside of our profession. At least, I hope that's the reason, because another possibility, which would be even worse, would be that we don't think that anyone outside the library world is worth speaking to. That would be truly tragic.


Mary Alice Ball said...

I'm not sure of blogging etiquette but thought I would let you know that I mentioned this in my blog (

I agree that librarians could be taking a more active role in advocating for a variety of issues that are critical to people we claim to serve. Our work gives us insights beyond those of average citizens, whatever their circumstances. If we are committed to change and creating a better world then those insights are best acted upon and shared.

Alex said...

That said, it's worth noting that information architects also live in the real world, and most of the time create solutions for real people, often trying to find a usable way of finding things (in the generic sense of IA) as opposed by the functionality of librarians.

How to bridge that gap is a big question, one I've pondered long, and frankly given up on.

JamesK said...

Perhaps more astounding than the insularity (or maybe just an extension of it) is the level of consternation some librarians exhibit when they're libraries don't make the cut for things like 'top 100 tools for learning', when their budgets get cut by taxpayers, or when certification boards omit them as essential services to, say, hospitals. The response is consistent (and incredulous): "No one gets how important we are."

Happily, there are just enough librarians out there presently to counter this, by asking the hard questions and striving to re-invent libraries in ways that better serve their constituencies (everyone say "Dewey Free"). It may also be possible to trace some of the improvements in library technology (better web sites, finding tools, etc.) to the arrival of Rosenfeld and Morville's book and to an increased awareness of IA among librarians.

I got from the panel discussion on innovation at ALA this year that there is a new generation of librarians, with a new set of tools (I'm guessing an awareness of IA principles is somewhere at the core), and maybe a new set of values, ready to make viable their institutions for the next century.