15 April 2021 Blogs, Academic, Librarian

Tomorrow’s Architects: Designing the Future of Libraries, with Peter Morville

Author and speaker Peter Morville answers compelling questions about making discovery more equitable, cultural change, and more

On April 6, ProQuest sponsored a webinar featuring Information Architect Peter Morville, the author of multiple O’Reilly titles. (Access the video and slides from his talk).

O’Reilly, named a must-have database by Library Journal, showcases the work of technology and business practitioners and thought leaders to bring researchers a resource for “spreading the knowledge of innovators.” Morville’s talk not only spread knowledge – it explored the catalytic potential that library collections, systems, and resources like O’Reilly have in accelerating the work of learners and innovators worldwide.

Morville has a knack for finding connections between and among seemingly disparate things, and his talk highlighted many of these connections. He inspired attendees to look at not only their user interfaces, but their institutional cultures – and to evaluate not only how to support intellectual inquiry by facilitating research, but to “strike at the root” of unequal access to information, opportunity and representation.

Morville has generously agreed to let ProQuest share not only his webinar, but also a reading list for those who want to consider some of the ideas that inspired this presentation. He’s also published answers to some attendees’ questions. You can find more details on Morville’s blog.

From Peter Morville:

I gave a talk, sponsored by ProQuest and O’Reilly Media, called “Tomorrow’s Architects: Designing the Future of Libraries.” Because there were over 1,000 registrants, I couldn’t reply to every question, so I committed to handling some of the unanswered questions on my blog. Of course, questions are more valuable than answers, so thank you for your curiosity.

Q. Great talk! I love the references to indigenous wisdom. Chamberlin’s If This Is Your Land, Where Are Your Stories? elevates stories as a pathway of sorts for making connections. Do you have suggestions for how libraries can best gather or showcase stories to help communities build empathy and understanding?

Morville: What a wonderful question! First, a caveat that applies to multiple answers. As I’m an information architect, not a practicing librarian, I’m ill-equipped to respond, but will do my best. Second, per my caveat, I’m inclined to search for sources.

Third, I believe the Ann Arbor District Library serves as a useful model. By partnering with local organizations, the library is making the story of Ann Arbor accessible. And, by hosting the Summer Game (and now the Winter Game too), @AADL inspires people to learn more about their library and community and about each other. Last year, my wife Susan and her friend Takako had so much fun searching for codes in parks and neighborhoods. Even while wearing masks and maintaining social distance, they met old friends and new, and rebuilt a sense that we’re in this together and we’re going to be okay. The game helped people through the dark days of the pandemic, and left us with treasured stories and memories of Ann Arbor.

Q. You reference a lot of interesting books in this talk. Can you share a list?

Morville: Sure. You can scan the slides or go deeper on Goodreads.

Q. How can a library make information discovery more equitable in the short term?

Morville: Public libraries and some academic libraries already create a more level playing field by providing open access to physical and digital collections and services. Reference librarians are invaluable in this regard. On the Ann Arbor District Library project, one of the patrons I interviewed was blind. She used the library every week but never used the website, and she sung the praises of the reference librarians who made her use of the library possible.

Q. Can you suggest approaches you’ve found to be effective, and non-threatening, for encouraging cultural change?

Morville: There’s wisdom in that question. Threat is inherent to change. Sometimes it’s real. There are winners and losers. Often it’s imagined. We learn to love the new way and will never go back. My best advice is to ask a vegan. First, they’ll tell you not to use that word due to the hostility it engenders. Second, they’ll tell you to “focus on making behavioral change much easier, so that less motivation is required.” That’s why I’m a fan of plant-based meats, eggs, milks, and cheeses; plus cellular agriculture. Awareness isn’t enough. We must make it easy to do the right thing. Environment eats information for lunch.

Q. Do we need to change politics as well as culture? For example, the Library of Congress Classification is used for discovery system searches in libraries. Congress legislated to prevent LC from changing “illegal aliens” to “undocumented persons.” So politics interfered with knowledge sharing and inclusiveness.

Morville: Yes, although I see politics as an extension of culture, so if we hope to change the constitution of our elected officials, we must first strike successfully at the root of belief and behavior.

Q. I’ve always found the library community to be supportive and visionary. But sometimes we can’t get out of our own way. You hinted at that with your experiences at the Library of Congress. With that in mind, what do you believe is our highest purpose? Is it restructuring catalogs? Is it embracing library as community space? Is it supporting open-source sharing?

Morville: The whole of the library is greater than the sum of its parts, so we must avoid the temptation to focus on a single facet. That said, I believe the library is an act of inspiration architecture. Access to information is vital, but the root is culture. A library teaches us that we all benefit when our most valuable treasures are held in common. That’s a lesson our culture desperately needs.

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