Ever worked on the information architecture of a library site or section?
Labels like “information services”, “electronic resources” and “online databases” will send you mad. They describe their contents adequately to librarians, but to anyone else?
I had the good fortune recently to meet Sarah Houghton-Jan, the Librarian in Black and Assistant Director for the San Rafael Public Library.
In her previous role as Digital Futures Manager of San Jose Public Library, Sarah developed – fought for – the best information architecture I’ve come across on a library website.
Here is a snapshot of the top level sections:
In her blog post on the redeveloped website she says:
We don’t use the words “database” or “OPAC.” We chose words that our users actually told us they wanted us to use.
Yes, they did user testing and Sarah has stats.
I’ve now forgotten the precise numbers she quoted, but from memory “Downloads” tested over 80%, more than double the recognition for “online databases”. The choice of labels may surprise you, but they are based on user vocabularies.
Dig through the site. There is lots to learn, and borrow.
With all the buzz at a conceptual (social media, gov 2.0) and brand (YouTube, Facebook, Twitter) level, we sometimes overlook the most important bit. It’s also the most humble.
The world wide web is predicated on each discrete chunk of data or information having a unique address.
Don’t believe me?
I can reference Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau’s seminal paper WorldWideWeb: Proposal for a HyperText Project published November 12, 1990. But most importantly I can link to it.
The world wide web is designed to be a platform for sharing. We can point to things, and we can point to information about things.
So – URIs, URLs, web addresses. Everybody gets it. Sort of.
Councils are not very good at promoting events. We rarely use humour and never set out to surprise or shock.
Looking at our promotional material you see an ersatz Australia where everything is just middling. You know the place – it’s well signposted by WordArt arcs and oh so apt clip art (stick guy scratching his head! 50s cartoon man giving a thumbs up!).
Council staff, bless them, retain a touching faith in the pulling power of stapled newsletters, colour (!) laser-printed A3 posters and photocopied Publisher flyers (on coloured paper!). If a designer is contracted, the brief is anodyne.
Yet we’re out there competing for attention with sophisticated agency-created marketing campaigns and raw, authentic cultural products in musical, magazine and video form. Attention is fleeting and our constituents are adept consumers. Most ignore our material because they don’t live in this bland parallel universe.
I’d go as far as to say most Council-run events that do get good numbers do so in spite of their promotion.
And now – the internet and social media. Where the same routine is being played out. Except instead of posters on noticeboards, it’s “can you put this on the front page of the website?”
One too many of those has inspired this rant. That, and a very good blog post 19 paying punters can’t be wrong.