Library 2020: The Future(s) of Libraries

If you enjoyed reading Inspiration Architecture you should check out the full set of 24 colorful perspectives on the future of libraries in Library 2020.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes:

The library in 2020 will be just like the library today, except without all the books, music, and movies. -- The Annoyed Librarian
We have an appalling lack of user experience integration among the subscribed resources and web-based services we provide. -- Daniel Chudnov
I predict that individuals will have a new hunger to come together for face-to-face interactions, and libraries are one of the last noncommercial settings where this can happen. -- Kristin Fontichiaro
[In 2020] through hard experience, the public has become appropriately skeptical of having too much confidence in the stewardship commitments of commercial actors. -- Clifford A. Lynch
Something that often is difficult for library and information professionals to comprehend is that the majority of the population does not use libraries to get information. -- Lynn Silipigni Connaway
The real value that many users find in the public library beyond access to information is the assistance from trained professionals who can help guide people through the changing landscape of information access in the digital world. -- Michael Crandall
I say we fight for and maintain our very long-term and hard-won connection to books and what they represent. -- Joseph Janes
We in libraries want geeks with the ethics and values for open information and freedom of access to be the ones in control of the world's data - in other words, us. -- Sarah Houghton
The U.S. public domain is still stuck at 1922, and each new purchase with a major vendor locks each individual purchaser deeper into that vendor's closed ecosystem. There is no cultural willpower to fight this. -- Daniel Chudnov
More open, transparent government at all levels is a requirement in twenty-first century society. The library will play an important role in supporting this transparency by providing free and open access to government information from the local to federal level. -- Susan Hildreth
I might go so far as to say (and I do not reference this lightly) that libraries are "of the people, by the people, for the people," and as such, I, for one, hope that they "shall not perish from the earth." (Lincoln) -- Courtney Greene
We must be willing to lose some of the things we loved most about the libraries we remember fondly if we're going to build libraries that will be truly memorable and valuable to the people we serve in the years ahead. -- James Rosenzweig
The library in 2020 will offer a culture of generosity. -- Josie Barnes Parker
Librarianship is the most important profession. -- Joseph Janes

These quotes offer but a glimpse into this wonderfully diverse collection. So, go ahead, buy the book, or even better, borrow it from your local library.

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Libraries, Learning, Literacy

My wife (a librarian) loves to tell me that I'm not a real librarian. And she's right. While I do have the degree, I've never served as a librarian. But, I do care a whole awful lot about the future of libraries and their impact upon our schools and society, which is why I wrote the following two articles.

Architects of Learning

It's a tough time to be a teacher. The bureaucracy is stifling. The politics are worse. And, the irresistible force of disruptive innovation has come to school. Everywhere you look, entrepreneurs sell silver bullets that will save our kids from the assembly line. Some teachers quit. That's understandable but sad, because while the system must change and technology will prove transformative, when the dust settles, teachers will continue to serve ...

Inspiration Architecture

The library in 2020 is the last bastion of truth. Sure, you can search yottabytes of free data by simply batting an eyelash. But it's dangerous to believe what you see through the iGlass lens. As you learned the hard way back in the Facebook era, if you're not paying for it, you are the product. That research study about the safety and efficacy of Lipitor Lollipops™ was sponsored by ...

I'm not sure what's next. These articles may be tiny seeds for a big book, or not. For now, I'm happy to have these ideas out there, and I look forward to talking about them at some upcoming conferences. See you on the road!

Strange Connections

This year's World IA Day is in 15 cities, including Ann Arbor.

Understanding IA has over 100,000 views. Thanks for spreading the word!

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Interviewed by LIS Students in Greece

Zoi and Chrysanthi, students at the Technological Educational Institute of Thessaloniki, interviewed me about becoming an information architect.

1. How did the IA concept originate? There are several different opinions expressed on this matter, and we would like a clarification. Do you agree that IA first started at Argus Associates?

Who invented the airplane? When was America discovered? Where did IA begin? None of these questions can be answered faithfully with a fact. In 2004, I wrote A Brief History of Information Architecture to capture my version of the story. For different perspectives, you might also read:

Looking back, I recognize we weren't entirely fair to Richard Saul Wurman, and today I'm particularly inspired by holistic framings of our field, as evidenced in Jorge Arango's Architectures, that show "Wurman IA" and "Polar Bear IA" to be one and the same. In short, I'm less interested in defining where IA began than I am in exploring where it's going.

2. Could you imagine your future progress as a professional when you studied LIS in Michigan or even when you wrote your IA book?

No. I love to tell our daughters (who are both in middle school) that I have a job that didn't exist when I was in college. But my inability to predict my own future goes much further than that. When I studied LIS at Michigan, I never planned to become an entrepreneur. When I began at Argus, I never imagined we would grow our little startup into a 40-person business. And when Lou and I wrote the polar bear book, I never dreamed it would play a pivotal role in the careers of so many people all around the world.

Now, I'm an independent information architecture consultant. I've been flying solo for over a decade. I didn't predict that either. So, I guess that means I have absolutely no idea what I'll be doing during the next 10 years.

3. You and Louis Rosenfeld are known as pioneers in this particular professional practice/field. Was it easy to find people that shared your ideas and vision, or was it a process that demanded a great deal of time to "convince" others about the power and the dynamics of IA?

It wasn't hard to find good employees. In the mid-to-late 1990s, there were lots of smart, young LIS and HCI students who shared our ideas and vision. It was, on the other hand, sometimes hard to find good clients. We learned the hard way not to waste much time trying to convince prospective clients of the value of information architecture. Folks need to feel the pain that's caused by bad IA before they're ready to invest in good IA. Of course, today, that pain has spread into every nook and cranny of business, so it's much easier to find good clients.

4. For those who are not familiar with the field, how would you describe an IA's professional object?

The easy answer is that information is the IA's professional object. In the polar bear book, we define IA as "the structural design of shared information environments." Today, that definition is still valid and useful, but I find myself increasingly drawn to the framing of IA as "the architecture of understanding" which positions understanding as our professional object.

In Understanding IA, we explain that as information architects, "We help our users to understand where they are, what they've found, what to expect, and what's around. We help our clients to understand what's possible."

5. What do you like and dislike most about your job?

I love the diversity that consulting affords. Over the years, I've worked with amazing people on web, intranet, mobile, and cross-channel challenges at the Library of Congress,, the National Cancer Institute, Cisco, Harvard, the Kresge Foundation, Polar Bears International, etc.

On the other hand, while I love the freedom of being a solopreneur, it can be lonely and isolating. Which is why I enjoy collaborating with partners such as Q LTD and TUG. It's great to have colleagues as well as clients.

6. What is the source of your inspiration when you write a book?

My books are born of frustration. For instance, I wrote Ambient Findability because I was annoyed by over-use of the word usability. But I'm also driven by empathy for the user and a conviction that by writing books about information architecture, findability, and search, we're helping designers and developers to understand how to make better products and services.

7. Do you believe there are solid foundations to consider that make the transition from librarian to becoming an IA possible? And if not, could you suggest some actions that would empower such a future development?

There is no single path to become an information architect. It helps to have "empathy for the user" and a disposition towards "systems thinking."

8. Would you suggest a shift in LIS curricula in order for students to achieve a better understanding of IA? And if so, could you name some suggestions as courses to be taught?

Yes. The ideal program would piece together a multi-disciplinary curriculum that draws from architecture, anthropology, communication, design, journalism, marketing, LIS, HCI, and the list goes on.

9. Do you think IA should be taught in undergraduate or postgraduate level? For example, in our country (Greece), LIS studies are at the undergraduate level and there are few possibilities to receive a Master in LIS.

I'd like to see it taught at both undergraduate and graduate levels. And, the basics of information architecture should be taught to elementary school children as part of a broader course in information literacy.

10. Are there methods/actions that can help spread the ideas and concepts of IA among peers, academics and the market?

Most products, services, sites, and systems are designed without the direct involvement of an information architect. So, we have a great opportunity and responsibility to educate our clients and colleagues about the concepts, principles, and best practices of information architecture. We need to keep writing articles and books and speaking at companies and conferences.

11. In our country there are very few professionals (computer scientists, librarians, web designers, etc.) that are even aware of the term "Information Architecture." Would you consider this alarming, considering the wide-spread dissemination of ideas through the Web? Do you experience a similar situation in your country?

I find that neither surprising nor alarming. And it's largely the same in the U.S. As Herbert Simon explained, a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention. Consequently, it's incredibly hard to reach people with any message. And IA isn't an easy message to digest. Most people don't want to think about complex systems. It makes their heads hurt. Which is precisely why I'm optimistic I'll get to evangelize IA for the rest of my life.

12. In Greece, the LIS community, both academic and professional, is not familiar with the concept of IA. What would be, in your opinion, an efficient way to inform them of IA?

I've written lots of articles about IA, most of which are available for free via the Web. That's the most efficient way I know to make the information accessible. But there's no efficient way to make them want to learn.

13. Are there any obstacles/problems on getting co-workers/peers and clients to appreciate the value of IA?

I'm very lucky. The folks with whom I work generally appreciate the value of information architecture. So, I'm the wrong person to ask.

14. In your opinion, which are the top 3 skills that an IA must absolutely have in order to succeed?

An IA must be able to learn, synthesize, and communicate.

15. How much has the IA field developed since publication of the polar bear book? Do you think that the IA field needs more publications to promote IA?

Half of what's in the polar bear book is as relevant today as it was in 1998 and 2002 and 2006, but the other half is totally out of date. It's your job as an information architect to figure out which is which. I'm not sure we need more IA publications, but we do need one or two really good ones.

16. To what extent do you think that the practice of IA can help solve the challenges of information overload?

Organizing information can move us towards calm computing, but like obesity, overload is largely a cultural problem. If we're going to stop people from wanting to drive with an iPhone in one hand and a Chocolate Cookie Crumble Frappuccino in the other, we must figure out what's driving us to distraction. So, yes, I think that's a job for the architects of understanding.

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Viral Video

The Library of Congress recently began uploading videos to their very own YouTube Channel including the first moving image ever made.

It's exciting to see the Library using multiple channels including iTunes, Flickr, YouTube, Twitter, and a blog to share and spotlight its amazing collections.

Strange Connections

Have you ever noticed the search, discover, and share options that YouTube provides at the conclusion of embedded videos?

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Finding the Common Good

I highly recommend the full report on the results of the Library of Congress Flickr Pilot Project (as well as the fascinating collections of images).

[Grand Grocery Co.], Lincoln, Neb. (LOC)

The statistics are impressive, and the analysis of tagging behavior is interesting. And, when you finish reading, you can wander The Commons, an unexpected public good that resulted from this collaboration between Flickr and the Library.

Strange Connections

The glittering allure of the mobile society by Alan Moore of SMLXL provides useful data and insights about search, interactivity, and the pocket Internet.

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University of Washington

Last week, thanks to ASIS&T UW, I visited the University of Washington iSchool, where I shared the stage with my old friend, Joe Janes, also known as the Internet Librarian and founder of the Internet Public Library.

Joe discussed the past 50 years of searching (PDF). I talked about the present and future of findability (PDF). We had a great discussion with the audience, and then went out for drinks. A podcast should be available soon (see below), and in the meantime you can read my Silverfish interview.

I also made my requisite IA pilgrimage to the Seattle Public Library, where I had fun climbing the Dewey Decimal Books Spiral. Lou will be there tomorrow for Enterprise IA, and then IDEA starts up on Monday. I wish I could make it!


Unfortunately, the quality of the UW Podcast isn't great, at least at the start. If you want to hear my voice, this Library of Congress Webcast sounds better.

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Finding Findability

Yesterday, I received an unusually high volume of fan mail about Ambient Findability. I already posted one message. Here's the other:

Mr. Morville:

I've had various roles in the computing business since the mid '80's and am now in the business of acquiring marketing and customer satisfaction information for bank executives. Ambient Findability is the most important book on information I have ever read. It's helping me personally and professionally. I can hardly believe how many good ideas are in the book. It's incredible. Thank you very much for writing it.

I am recommending it to everyone I work with in the computing and information business, and keep a copy of it handy at my desk so I can show it to people.

I thought you'd like to know how I came to find Ambient Findability: About a month ago my 9th grade son started a school science project, and part of the required work was to prepare a bibliography. When I asked to see his work I was aghast to see that all of the references in the bibliography were found on the Web using Google. He had not even considered using a library for this task. I insisted that he needed to find sources that were known to be authoritative and that we would go to the library at once to research it. The library had not opened yet, so we went across the street to Barnes and Noble and went to the Science section to start looking for references. While there, I wandered into the Engineering section and found your book by happenstance, started reading it, and bought it before we left.

Because his subject was a bit unusual, I explained the importance of reference librarians and how they can help find materials to support research. We went to the library, introduced ourselves to the reference librarian, and subsequently found good quality information that he needed. Although he found the critical information he needed to form his hypothesis in a book, I don't believe he took that exercise seriously, and seems to think it's odd that Google isn't sufficient for academic work. Our next conversation on this subject will be about how free technology isn't a complete answer, just partial, and needs to be augmented by a variety of other media, including for-fee online services.

Best regards,

Rudy Smith

Ham Lake, MN

I love hearing how people found the lemur book, and it's good to hear a first-person story about the challenges of selecting sources and evaluating authority. So, keep those email messages coming. Cheers!

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Room to Read

Leaving Microsoft to Change the World tells the interesting and inspiring story behind John Wood's mission to bring books, libraries, schools, computers, and educational scholarships to the children of Nepal, Cambodia, India, Laos, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, and South Africa.

Leaving Microsoft to Change the World

It's a wonderful story, and Room to Read, the nonprofit organization he founded to promote literacy and education in the developing world, appears to be having a real impact.

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Library of Congress

I'm headed to Washington, DC next week to speak at the Library of Congress.

Library of Congress

My talk is free and open to the public, so please share this flyer with anyone who might be interested. Thanks!

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Bookless Libraries

Today, NPR's Talk of the Nation will discuss the Bookless Library. Karen Schneider provides details and a pre-show perspective. In related news, George Monbiot warns that RFID implants are creating libraries of people.

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Google Book Search

Mary Sue Coleman delivered an inspiring address yesterday to the Association of American Publishers. Here's a snippet:

I have spent 45 years in higher education, from being a freshman at a small liberal arts college in Iowa, to leading of one of the premier research universities of the world. I have been involved in groundbreaking medical research, have worked alongside some of the brightest minds in academe, and have dined with Pulitzer Prize winners and Nobel laureates.
Google Book Search is the most revolutionary enterprise I've ever experienced. It has the potential to transform the flow of knowledge, and there is no greater gesture a university can make.

Now that puts Google Book Search in perspective!

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I stumbled across the social card catalog at the Ann Arbor District Library this weekend. Then, thanks to Superpatron, I found John Blyberg.

Ambient Findability Card Catalog Image

It's good to see librarians are learning from retail and embracing Jenny's vision of libraries as social machines. Does this mean we can write in books?

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Endeca in the Library

The NCSU Libraries have announced the first library deployment of Endeca ProFind with Guided Navigation. I expect many libraries will follow suit. It must be an exciting time to be at NCSU. Not only do they have the coolest catalog. They also get to zip around on a Segway Human Transporter.

No wonder everyone wants to be a librarian these days. Speaking of which, I had lunch yesterday with Superpatron (the alter ego of Ed Vielmetti) who's been playing with Ann Arbor's catalog. I especially like his visual wall of books.

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You Are Here

Welcome to the next generation. In case you haven't noticed, it's a borg. I mean, it's a blog. Yes, after years of quiet resistance, I've succumbed to the call of the blogosphere. I've been assimilated.

In blogging, my most transparent and prosaic goal is to promote my new book, Ambient Findability. I've poured blood, sweat, and tears into this strange text, so I won't be shy about inviting folks to read it.

That said, I'm hoping this blog will go beyond the book. As my classification scheme hints, I'll be writing about authority, business, culture, design, search, ubicomp, etc. And let's not forget the oft-maligned category of miscellaneous. I very much reserve the right to write about seemingly random topics.

So, if you want the original findability, it's there but not here. And if you like this new place, please come again, or better yet, leave a piece of yourself behind.

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