Information architecture - parallel planning for digital and physical services

Lars Noodén
For The Pysical Library and Beyond
Library as Place and the Library in Cyberspace

Järvenpää, Finland, 11-12 August 2005
14.15 - 15.00

Main point being that physical and digital libraries are both tools, though with different characteristics. Neither libraries nor library services are monolithic, they are by nature modular and pieces can be added, swapped or removed.

I - Virtual is not real, digital is real

A - Selection

Either the library, its information and its services are real or they are not. Digital libraries are an important part of our lives and there is nothing unreal ("virtual") about them.

B - Services

There is the possibility to use digital services to help give more personal services like those available in smaller libraries.

C - Acquiring additional roles

e.g. Banking has shifted to the libraries as banks close their branch offices and reduce staff in those that remain. Patrons come to use the networked computers for that and other tasks.

D - A library is not a library without a community

Interaction depends on the type and location of the library and of the type and nature of the community it serves.

1 - Connection to the community

There is definitely some kind of strong connection between a community and its library, or a library and its community.

The Case of the Kivitaipale village library in the Rural Municipality of Rovaniemi.

When the Kivitaipale village library was threatened with closure, the local citizens most affected absconded with all the books and stored them in nearby cow sheds until such time as the library could be re-opened. This was done to prevent reallocation to other libraries. After a lot of planning and negotiation, the library was reopened for the community. Luckily, no materials were damaged nor was there a need to involve the police.

The community had the collections for almost two years and people could in theory have access to the collections. Yet, to the community just having a collection was not a library. So that's an anecdote illustrating that there is still more to a library than a collection or group of collections. It would be interesting to do a follow up and ask the people there about how they define a library and what is important.

Other communities, large businesses, and universities don't just throw a bunch of material in an unattended facility an call it a library either. That does not happen even under alternate names like information center.

2 - Reflecting community

What kind of library best serves a given community? What kind of community is represented and how is it defined?

The Case of the Internet Public Library

Prof. Joe Janes (now at the University of Washington) and the people in his classes started working on the IPL in January 1995 as a class project at the University of Michigan's School of Information and Library Studies (now called School of Information). Internet use was still growing exponentially. Back then most of the traffic was telnet and ftp, and pretty much everyone using the Internet back then used e-mail, mailing lists, Usenet, and were becoming interested in new tools like gopher and the WWW.

To many for whom the Internet was new, there were two shocks. It was a shock to learn that there was an established core community and that it went back many years, almost decades. Though many had ties to universities, perhaps the most surprising aspect was that there was no single geographic, demographic, cultural or linguistic factor that could be said to identify them as a community in the same way communities have traditionally been defined. What then made this decentralized, distributed user base a community with it's own customs, traditions, history and ettiquette?

Since the discussion was occuring at an American Library Association (ALA) accredited library school, the obvious question to follow was, "what kind of library would that community have?"

Public libraries, university libraries, corporate libraries, and others all reflect their communities in what they have and how they serve.

II - A recognizable and comfortable environment

A - Tailoring the physical environment

The arrangement of that physical space is important. It is, in effect, one of the "user interfaces".

The Case of Malmö Public Library

Sven Nilsson, library director at the time, described one of the goals of the renovation which occured in the late 1990's as being able to provide a variety of environments in the library to accommodate different patrons. Some like closed spaces, some like open. Some like lighter, etc. After serveral cycles of adjustments after the renovation to the physical space and to procedures, the arrangement succeeds in providing a range of attractive environments for patrons.

One of the most clever features is the mobile shelving, lighting and raised flooring added during the renovation. Much of the lighting is mounted from the top of the shelving and thus is where ever the shelves are. The raised floor makes it possible to move and re-arrange power outlets and network connections as desired, without the normal expenses of remodelling, by simply moving the floor tiles with the outlets. The mobile shelving and lighting facillitate this modularity further.

Some types of libraries will need more physical space, others will need less.

B - Different patrons have different priorities

Like with design of any system, libraries need to know, not just assume, the needs of their patrons.

Different priorities / expectations

One academic library had a bad situation in regards to the university faculty. It was so bad that the faculty had been working for some years to get the budget cancelled.

Upon investigation, it turned out that one group was pleased with the library: it was the students. They did not use the information resources as much as they valued the environment. There were rooms, tables, chairs, desks, etc. that they could use for group or inidividual study or even study in quiet zones. Plus they could stay as long as they wanted.

At a time when most other sites were concentrating on flashy images, the Internet Public Library had focused on content, text, and has tried to adhere to W3C standards. As a result, the library got several thank you letters per week for many years from vision impaired users who found it to be one of the few sites they could use.

C - Online presence

Online and physical have different strengths. Use the best of both for what they are good for. (See quote at end).

III - Planning is similar for both

Potlatch vs potluck

A - Guidelines

m2/1000 patrons, staff/1000 patrons, terminals/1000 patrons, fire exits, protection of private data, etc.

x- the physcial library must expand to remember to leave places for group work and expecially training, since time will need to be devoted to training patrons in using the digital resources
x - wireless network: panOulu ( illustrates both service and collaboration.
x- sufficient public terminals c.f. LTSP at Riverdale HighSchool in Portland, Oregon, USA.

B - Familiar Standards

When one plans a library, both physical and digital components require standards: wiring, capacity, ventilation, plumbing, etc. and cataloging, indexing, classification, etc.

C - Standards

The BBC, for example, is working on a video codec, Dirac, which will be usable by anyone. It would be nice to see other national broadcasting services, say YLE or NRK, as well as library consortia onboard that or similar projects for unencumbered codecs.

Standards that are independent allow for flexibility in the future and increase the longevity of the encoded data.

D - Modularity

A hypothetical case concerning the library catalog (OPAC)

A reflection on terminal emulators …
Say, hypothetically, that the circulations and cataloging departments have been accessing the library catalog for decades via terminal emulators using the telnet or ssh protocols, but do not know that is what is being done. Instead, the connection is referred to only by the brand name of the program being used, Eflectionrey, which is a commercially available terminal emulator like dozens on the market, including free ones included in each operating system. Like many of the other emulators it handles telnet and ssh, some automations (scripting) which are not used, and different standard modes. Unfortunately it is locked into a platform which is on the way out.

Then, hypothetically, the library has two choices. One would be to spend a lot of time and or money to emulate the old platform, which would nonetheless be unreliable. Or, two, find a corresponding terminal emulator for the new platform.

The fortunate use of standards make it possible to swap out components like the terminal emulator above in cases where a new one is needed. It's just like swapping out an old telephone for a new one, except it is a program we're talking about. The only requirement is that both follow the standards.

See news://comp.terminals for more about terminal emulators.

E - Collaboration

There is a lot of potential to collaborate locally, regionally, internationally or across disciplince between libraries, archives and universities.

Optimization Input Output
Progress mm + mm + … + mm 20 mm
Economy 1/20mm + 1/20mm + … + 1/20mm 1 mm

Collaboration in open codecs, protocols, and formats can be seen as an investment.

It's not "zero sum gain" -- If I have an idea and you have an idea, and then we give eachother our ideas, we both have two, not one each.

F - Safety

emergency escape in physical library ability to check source code for back doors - echelon ability to ensure that personal data is kept private, even on the servers -- only open source can ensure this

European Parliament resolution on the existence of a global system for the interception of private and commercial communications (ECHELON interception system) (2001/2098(INI)). 2001-09-05. See points 29 - 33|PRG@QUERY|APP@PV2|FILE@BIBLIO01|NUMERO@264|YEAR@01|PLAGE@1&TYPEF=A5&NUMB=1&DATEF=010905

"You can't trust code that you did not totally create yourself. No amount of source-level verification or scrutiny will protect you from using untrusted code"
- Ken Thompson, co-author of Unix

Ken Thompson. Reflections on Trusting Trust. Communication of the ACM. Sept 1995.

The code, including the entire toolchain must be open, or else it may be compromised. Libraries could lose control of data encoded by non-open codecs and formats.

IV - Planning far ahead

Actually, the decions which determine what will or won't, can or can't happen in the future are currently being made, but with little coverage or publicity.

A - Planning (similar for both physical and digital)

Similar strategies for both physical and digital. One difference is the amount of omission, disinformation and misdirection piling up.

B - Principles

These have been built up over many years and are as a result ingrained in how we handle physical information media. They will only exist in the digital realm if actively planned for.

C - Stewardship

Who retains stewardship of electronic resources?

Who retains stewardship of the codecs and algorithms needed to access digital assets and resources? Posessing the data is no good if it cannot be decoded or accessed.

Digital Restictions Management (DRM) technologies go by many names …

(Note 20050816: DRM ties access and the life cycle of the data to a third party.)

sw patents, unlike copyright, govern use not distribution. They are not yet in Europe, but only through the efforts of groups like the EFF and many small businesses (e.g. MySQL AB, Opera AS) who have taken a very active stand.

Bad patents cost millions to overturn. The USPTO is granting patents on business methods as well as things ranging from emoticons (aka smilies) to established standards and material from computer science curricula.

FFII Software Patent Conference. Brussels 9-10 Nov 2004.


Archivist Charles Dollar pointed out quite well how electronic resources require proactive planning. One cannot wait for things to happen or it will go very badly.

Policy decisions are being made nationally and internationally now, that will help or hinder libraries 5 year from now.

Modularity, interoperability and collaboration are the strong points of both physical and digital aspects of libraries.

Either the library, its information and its services are real or they are not. Digital libraries are an important part of our lives and there is nothing unreal ("virtual") about them.


We evaluate everything else before choosing the most appropriate one. Why stop for ICT? It's a tool like any other.

Appendix A - Interesting Tools for Libraries.

"Go to nature and take facts into your own hands. Look and see for yourself. "
-- Agassiz

The same applies to tools and technologies.

Mon Aug 8 18:53:53 EEST 2005