Adventures in Information Architecture Part 2: Thinking Big, Thinking Small

When we last saw them in Part 1, our Web Committee heroes were stuck with a tough decision: do we shoehorn the Ottawa Room content into an information architecture that doesn’t really fit it, or do we try to revamp the whole IA?

There was much hand-wringing and arm-waving. (Okay, did a lot of hand-wringing and arm-waving.) Our testing showed that users were either using Summon or asking someone to get information, and that when they needed to use the navigation they were stymied. Almost no one looked at the menus. What are our menus for if no one is using them? Are they just background noise? If so, should we just try to make the background noise more pleasant? What if the IA isn’t there primarily to organize and categorize our content, but to tell our users something about our library? Maybe our menus are grouping all the rocks in one spot and all the trees in another spot and all the sky bits somewhere else and what we really need to do is build a beautiful path that leads them…

Oh, hey, (said our lovely and fabulous Web Committee heroes) why don’t you slow down there for a second? What is the problem we need to solve? We’ve already tossed around some ideas that might help, why don’t we look at those to see if they solve our problem? Yes, those are interesting questions you have, and that thing about the beautiful path sounds swell, but… maybe it can wait.

And they kindly took me by the hand — their capes waving in the breeze — and led me out of the weeds. And we realized that we had already come up with a couple of solutions. We could use our existing category of “Research” (which up to now only had course guides and subject guides in it) to include other things like the resources in the Ottawa Room and all our Scholarly Communications / Open Access stuff. We could create a new category called “In the Library” (or maybe “In the Building” is better?) and add information about the physical space that people are searching our site for because it doesn’t fit anywhere in our current IA.

The more we talked about small, concrete ideas like this we realized they might also help with some of the issues left back in the weeds. The top-level headings on the main page (and in the header menu) would read: “Find Research Services In the Building.” Which is not unpleasant background noise for a library.

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