Inspiration Architecture: The future of libraries

Peter Morville, @morville, Slides — including book titles (I want to build a book list of all of his recommendations!)

Books: Info Architecture; Ambient Finadability; Search Patterns; Intertwingled (everything is connected; from code to culture)

Intertwingled has five chapters: Nature; Categories; Connections; Culture; Limits

Peter worked on an evaluation of Library of Congress’ web presence. Very complex. Report written up; brutally honest. Compared to Winchester Mystery House: Fragmentation & Findability; report embargoed. Too sensitive.  Trickled up gradually to ex committee & brought back in, and changes made in the web presence. Didn’t go as far as he wanted to.

Org chart of LoC. Brought in by a middle manage. Could see problem,but couldn’t solve. Didn’t have authority. Ex. committee formed web governance board; chief of staff, chair of board. Had authority now to affect change. But didn’t get as far as we liked….because there are a lot of people involved. Big culture. Changing culture is really difficult even when you have executive leadership & internal champion.

Harvard — first portal, consistent interface across all libraries. web discovery solution.

Books he was reading at one time…

  • Disrupting Class (christensen)
  • Making Learning Whole (Perkins)
  • Make it stick (Brown)

Teaching is an impt part of what librarians do; ref interview is impt teachable moment

The Simplicity Cycle book — every feature we add, adds goodness to the system, but as we add features, it gets more complex, and at a point, it gets too complex and confusing.

1. Nature

  • Build cycle
  • Fuzzy line bw Inspiration & Planning
  • Wonders of failure..until someone gets a larval cyst in the brain
  • Planning/Building/Doing/Thinking dichotomy – find right balance and context
  • Thinking in Systems, book
  • Language for mapping complex systems
  • The art of systems architecting “it is the responsibility of the architect to know and concentrate on the critical few details and the areas that really matter”
  • Keystone species (Polar Bear)

2. Categories

  • Categories have values but problems too — Sorting Things Out: Classification and It’s Consequences book
  • Info architects work with categories; taxonomies, nav systems; UI/UX; optimization & search optimization
  • Need to go deeper on classification. Categories are cornerstone of culture & cognition.
  • Bounded Set (simple, but wrong); Centered Set (Hebert; inclusive; direction); Fuzzy Set (most are in this; better examples, worse)
  • We use radio buttons when checkboxes or sliders would reveal the truth — do it to users & selves

3. Connections

  • Pages/Websites — Hyperlinks
  • Space/Places — Paths
  • Mind/Categories — Connections
  • Time/Actions — Consequences
  • Systemantics (Gall) — “The systems always kicks back” know you’re succeeding when you get a knife in your back
  • If you think info arch hasn’t changed since the polar bear, you’re simply not paying attention:
  • The Ethnographic Interview (Spradley)
  • Users & Stakeholders both need to be studied

4. Culture

  • Corporate Culture (Schein) — Artifacts; Espoused Values; Underlying Assumptions — three levels of culture — have to dig deeper & deeper.  mapping culture to understand what’s going on
  • The culture map
  • Organizational Traps — double-loop learning in orgs (and individuals) is rare: Change actions or behaviors based on feedback; willing to change those. Resistant to changing beliefs even in the face of feedback.
  • HIppocrates’ Shadows
  • Antifragile: Things that gain from disorder (taleb) — naive predisposition to intervention
  • 4-minute mile barrier

5. Limits

  • Depressing but impt books: Living beyond limits: Ishamel & The Limits to growth & The Sixth extinction
  • Daylighting
  • Making the invisible visible
  • Baker Library @ Harvard, Not website redesign, but opportunity to map library ecosystem & then remap library website as part of that ecosystem
  • “How do you do research?” & developed maps
    • faculty research map — Idea Generation, Exploration, research experiment fieldwork, Analysis, Synthesis, Writing, Editing, Feedback, Publishing, Promotion
    • MBA Student Research — case busting — teachable moments in their life cycle: Interview with a Harvard MBA student: We’re in the middle of the library, which means we’re trying to be quiet; she showed me how to do a few things, but I forgot them once I left; I would really like to learn how to do this, maybe I’m just a totally dumb user. Tweaking lots of things (ref interview followup by email; website changes). Across channels for tremendous opps to improve experience & service.


  • PIck a context & map a system
  • Then, Map the broader context — the system outside the system
  • Share the map
  • Start mapping for purposes of understanding

“Where architects use forms and spaces to design environments for inhabitation, info architects use nodes & links to create environments for learning & understanding”

Need to look at architecture for understanding

  • Microscope — Dig down into the details to look into the messiness
  • Telescope — see big picture
  • Kaleidoscope — to ???
  • Physical, Historical Architecture — Strength, Utility, AND beauty

“Each step is a potential place; place to worship, place to watch, place to sell, place to sleep, place to die and be burned.” Donlyn Lyndon

No house should ever be on a hill or on anything. It should be of the hill. Belonging to it -Frank Lloyd Wright

Not just place of books or information. The library is an act of inspiration architecture and a keystone of culture. Bridges bw physical and digital. Communities and individuals. Impt bc library is connected in all sorts of ways. Everything is deeply intertwingled.