Beyond Information Architecture: A Systems Integration Approach to Web-Site Design

Article excerpt

Users' needs and expectations regarding access to information have fundamentally changed, creating a disconnect between how users expect to use a library Web site and how the site was designed. At the same time, library technical infrastructures include legacy systems that were not designed for the Web environment. The authors propose a framework that combines elements of information architecture with approaches to incremental system design and implementation. The framework allows for the development of a Web site that is responsive to changing user needs, while recognizing the need for libraries to adopt a cost-effective approach to implementation and maintenance.

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The Web has become the primary mode of information seeking and access for users of academic libraries. The rapid acceptance of Web technologies is due, in part, to the ubiquity of the Web browser, which presents a user interface that is recognized and understood by a broad range of users. As libraries increase the amount of content and broaden the range of services available through their Web sites, it is becoming evident that it will take more than a well-designed user interface to completely support users' information-seeking and access needs. The underlying technical infrastructure of the Web site must also be organized to logically support the users' tasks. Library technical infrastructures, largely designed to support traditional library processes, are being adapted to provide Web access. As part of this adaptation process, they are not necessarily being reorganized to meet the changing expectations of Web-savvy users, particularly younger users who are not familiar with traditional library organization methods such as the card catalog, print indexes, or other legacy tools.

Libraries must harness the power of the highly structured information systems that have long been a part of libraries and integrate these systems in new ways to support users' goals and objectives. Part of this challenge will be answered by the development of new systems and technical standards, but these are only a partial solution to the problem. An important part of making library systems and Web sites function as powerful discovery tools is to modernize the systems that provide existing services and content to support the changing needs and expectations of the user. Emerging concepts of information architecture (IA) describe the system requirements from the user perspective but do not provide a mechanism to conceptually integrate existing functions and content, or to inform the requirements necessary to modernize and integrate the current system architecture.

The authors propose a framework for approaching a comprehensive Web-site implementation that combines components of IA and system modernization that have been successful in other industries. Within this framework, those components are tailored for the unique aspects of information provision that characterize a library. The proposed framework expands the concept of IA to include functional and content requirements for the Web site. This expansion identifies points within the conceptual and physical design where user requirements are constrained by the existing infrastructure. Identification of these constraints begins an iterative design process in which some user requirements inform changes to the underlying system architecture. Conversely, when the required changes to the underlying system architecture cannot be achieved, the constraints inform the conceptual design of the Web site. The iterative nature of this approach acknowledges the usefulness of much of the existing infrastructure but provides an incremental approach to modernizing installed systems. This framework describes aspects of the conceptual and physical-design elements that must be considered together and balanced to produce a Web site that supports the goals and objectives of the user but is cost-effective and practical to implement. …