ILI's Expert Interviews - Day 1

2013-08-30 09:57:29

ILI is well known for its choice of Keynote speakers: out-of-the box thinkers and thought leaders who bring their own unique insights and experiences to our professional roles. ILI caught up with this year's Keynoters during the summer to find out more about them, their journeys, and their assessment of the future for information services and curation.

Keynote - Tuesday 15 October

Peter MorvilleILI opening Keynote speaker, Peter Morville, tells us how he describes information architecture, common misconceptions about search and findability, who inspires him, and what he thinks about Danny, the Champion of the World.

Tell us about your journey as an information professional
When I graduated from college in 1991, I had no idea what to do, so I moved in with my parents. I worked by day (mind-numbing data entry) and messed around on my computer by night. One day, while browsing the shelves of the public library, I stumbled upon a tattered old book about careers in library science. As I learned about libraries, I thought about the disorganised computer networks (e.g., CompuServe, AOL) I'd been exploring. Could librarianship be practiced in digital environments? That question led me to library school at the University of Michigan.

When I graduated from library school in 1993, I knew what I wanted to do, but there were no jobs. So, I became an entrepreneur, working with Lou Rosenfeld and Joe Janes to grow a company called Argus Associates. We helped companies to structure and organise their websites. There wasn't a name for this type of work, so we decided to call it "information architecture" and set out to establish a new field of practice.

How do you explain information architecture to strangers?
I struggle. I really do. The easy answer is "I organise large websites so users can find what they need." That answer isn't wrong. It's just horribly incomplete. As an information architect, I also create blueprints and roadmaps for mobile and multi-channel services. And, I play an important role in digital strategy, helping my clients decide what to build and how to build it. Increasingly, this work requires an orientation towards systems thinking. A website isn't a standalone product. It's deeply intertwingled with other parts of the organisational ecosystem. But I don't explain that to strangers. It's too messy and complex. But maybe I should. Like I said, I struggle.

What are some of the most frequent misconceptions you come across when it comes to search and findability?
When our daughters ask for help with homework, I often go to Google. Sometimes they tell me not to bother; they already tried and the answer's not there. But I'm a librarian. I'm better at search. And I find where they fail. Most people don't realise that search is like Othello: a minute to learn, a lifetime to master.

Your keynote at ILI covers a wide range of topics - what are the most important challenges and opportunities for librarians and information professionals in 2013?
Libraries must make search easier. The fragmentation of information into myriad catalogues and databases is a disaster. Users don't know where to begin. A single search box is the right place to start. Also, we must teach people how to search. This is a grand challenge not just for libraries but for parents, schools, and society at large. Information literacy leads to greater understanding, better decisions, and improved quality of life.

Who inspires you, professionally and personally?
I'm inspired by people who go their own way. One person who comes to mind right now is Vienna Teng, a Taiwanese American pianist and singer-songwriter. Vienna grew up in California, majored in computer science at Stanford, quit a high-tech job at Cisco to build a successful musical career, relocated to Ann Arbor to study business and the environment, and then moved to Detroit to write songs about capitalism and climate change. Her music and her life story are uplifting. She's going her own way, and taking us along for the ride.

What's your favourite book and film?
I don't know how to compare the ones I loved in childhood to the ones I experienced recently. When I was a teenager, Out of Africa was my favourite film. I also loved Grease. As for books, Danny, the Champion of the World comes to mind. As a child in England my dad read it to me, and a few years ago, I read it to our girls. I may have enjoyed it even more as a grown up.

Finally, what's your vision for the future of libraries and the role of librarians?
The library is an act of inspiration architecture and a keystone of culture. To learn more, you'll have to come to the keynote.

Peter Morville's keynote takes place at ILI on Tuesday 15 October.

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