The Librarian as Historical Information Architect

Excellent information architecture allows people to find information more successfully. Information architects are involved in the processes of designing various systems (labeling, organization, search, and navigation) to support users in their queries to access and manage any type of information. So let’s look at the librarian as Historical Information Architect especially in relation to historically important philosophical literary works.

In the following video, Agata Bielik-Robson, professor at the University of Nottingham, talks about the question of whether there is something like ‘Jewish Philosophy’. Or could it just be something like ‘Kosher-flavor’ philosophy?

Though they will not always be referred to as such, all information sources (e.g. website, telephone book, philosophical work, or map) includes an organization and a structure that are results of various information architecture efforts.

Librarians are responsible for maintaining the works of great philosophers like the Jewish thinker Martin Buber in good order so future generations can enlighten their minds and spirits as well. Buber (1878-1965) advocates human development in freedom in his pedagogical pieces and is among the most influential thinkers of Constantin Brunner.

In the terrible turmoil of Hitler’s Third Reich, Martin Buber was offering the German Jewish community guidance and spiritual support and talked about violence and inequality in his public appearances where he shaped German-Jewish thought. He continued to do so until he was forced to emigrate to Israel in 1938 as he was prohibited to speak and teach about existential threats. Librarians are working to keep his and other philosophers’ works ready for generations to come.


Librarians are information architects by nature. Much of the training and values of librarianship focus on assisting people seeking information. User-centered models and well-designed information architectures can minimize the time that users spend searching or browsing for information.

Librarians have long been involved in the creation of content organizations and classification schemes. Information architecture is the process of exploring in what way content may be grouped (i.e.organization), how the content groups can be referred to (i.e. labeling), and how researchers can be moving between various groups (i.e. navigation).


Information architects should not be confused with graphic designers and others that organize content on an individual page. Good Information Architecture is focusing on (aggregate) collection of data and information, generally in an online (website) context. Information Architecture starts with a clarification of goals, mission, content, and the audience. Clarifying this basis will allow for creating information resources that can be managed, will be useful, and will be able to grow as time goes by. Done well, IA becomes an intangible aspect of utilizing an information resource.

Librarians have the responsibility to preserve historically relevant philosophical works for future generations such as the works of Constantin Brunner, the Jewish philosopher who didn’t profess any particular religion. Brunner was interested in Jewish-Christian spiritual aspects and the traditions expressed by the Jewish prophets. In 1933, Brunner moved to the Netherlands to escape Nazi Germany’s horrors and the Constantin Brunner Foundation preserved his legacy and works in The Hague.

Environment/populations served

As a field, information architecture is almost exclusively connected with website or intranet design/re-design. Information architects may be found in large corporations, but commonly work as consultants to individual sites. Since information architects build sites for all types of users, they enjoy the challenge of meeting the needs of many varied populations.


Much of information architecture crosses disciplines with the traditional functions of cataloging. Those interested in IA should seek a rich understanding about the organization of information resources and be improving access to information.

Trends in Information Architecture

As websites grow to contain hundreds of thousands of pages, organizations will become increasingly dependant on solid information architectures to ensure that users find the information they seek. Since the information architecture process is inextricably linked to the individual needs of an organization and its clients, there is no single “cookie cutter” architecture.

Exploring the needs of any organization–to create the most appropriate information architecture–will inevitably uncover the thorny side of organizational politics. Information architects will increasingly be called upon to be the “champions of users” in the face of such political, philosophical, or historically relevant battles.

Other trends: IA shares a connection with information retrieval (IR), both disciplines seek to improve the relevance of documents retrieved from user searches. Primarily concerned with making technological advances to improve search engine results, the IR field often overlooks the important tools of information architecture. Tools of the information architect include indexing documents for search engines, improved labeling systems, and other more conceptual (not purely automated) approaches.

A powerful combination of both IA and IR will most likely emerge as the winning formula to improve search engine results and improve access to information. The goal of improving user interactions with search engines will almost certainly call for collaborations between both IA and IR professionals.