Friday, April 21, 2006

Ambient Findability

Libraries can no longer assume that our customers are thinking about the library, or our online systems, to locate information. The stark reality is that library customers may never visit a library for information again if good enough answers can be found using Google.

Students particularly do most of their research off site and come to the library only if they need to. The library as place is becoming less and less where research is done and more and more as a space for studying or computing. A recent podcast from Arizona State University supports this perception.

Customers are no longer using library websites as their primary discovery tool. Instead of reading static web pages, library customers are now cataloging their personal libraries, organizing bookmarks, writing documents, and sharing information with others through new generation social software. What began with blogs and wikis is now the standard for sharing, collaboration, and customer involvement.

What matters more than where library content is located or organzied is if it can be discovered. As a result, libraries need to focus on making sure their resources cen be accessed in ways and in formats that accommodate the way customers are accessing information - via mobile devices, social networking communities, or search aggregators.

The focus of Peter Morville's writings of late have been on the concept of Ambient Findability. His work entitled "Ambient Findability: Libraries at the Crossroads of Ubiquitous Computing and the Internet" again covers this concept.

According to Morville, optimizing for findability involves design, coding, and writing, as well as information architecture. It has major implications for librarianship. When optimizing for findability, Morville suggests asking three questions, but the one I will focus on is "Can users find the content despite the Web site?"

It’s this question that Morville indicates findability goes beyond information architecture into search engine optimization (SEO). SEO guidelines include:

  • Determining the most common keywords and phrases that users from the primary audience are entering into search engines.

  • Include those keywords and phrases in your visible body text, navigation links, page headers and titles, metadata tags, and alternative text for graphic images.

  • Use of drop-down menus, image maps, frames, dynamic URLs, JavaScript, DHTML, Flash, and other coding approaches causiously since they may prevent a search engines from crawling your pages.

  • To increase page popularity ranking, create direct links from the home page, site map, and navigation system to important destination pages to

  • Use RSS feeds with backlinks to encourage subscriptions and visits and to boost search rankings.

  • Reduce HTML file size by embracing web accessibility standards and improve the density of keywords.

More Information

Boutin, Paul Search Optmization -- FREE!

Morville, Peter. Ambient Findabilty. O'Reilly: Sebastopol. 2005.

WebMonkey's SEO What? Sphere: Related Content


Anonymous said...

In much the same way "brick and mortar" retailers are feeling the pressure of and, libaries (brick and mortar) are feeling the pressure of the information age. The days of paying librians being paid to sit around and wait for customers and questions is, largely, over.

As proven time and time again, once information is in public hands, the public will absorb it and act on their own. This is clearly evidenced by the home improvement wave. Why pay a plumber/carpenter when you can visit a home improvement center and do the same job by yourself, at a fraction of the cost, and on your own terms?

Being search engine friendly is a step in the right direction but it does little to address the librians (with masters degrees) that are sitting idly by as the general public replaces their role with search engines (available 24/7 at zero cost). There is a place for a librian, just as there is a role for various trade jobs (beyond what Home Depot can do), but the role is now greatly reduced.

Too many librains idly sit at the front desk, waiting for the customer will never arrive, the customer that is busying googling.

Eric Schnell said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Eric Schnell said...


Your points are well taken. Indeed libraries need to relook at their customer service models.

Steve said...

What about academic libraries? Do you think that it's time to throw away the enquiry desk?

Eric Schnell said...

The number and scope of questions coming into the desk leads me to think that a more generic information desk can take the place of a more traditional reference desk.