Category Archives: Ch 7 The Library Model

How 19th Century Sexual Transgressions Are Reflected in 21st Century Information Design

There is a story on the website of the Chronicle of Higher Education today about

Emily Dickinson MSS at Houghton Library: Wild Nights!—Wild Nights! Autograph manuscript, in fascicle 11, ca. 1861. MS Am 1118.3 (38b). Gift, Gilbert H. Montague, 1950.© President and Fellows of Harvard College.

the “acrimony” between Harvard and Amherst College which is disrupting efforts to create a comprehensive  open access on-line archive for the  manuscript papers of the reclusive poet Emily Dickinson.  For over a century, efforts to aggregate these papers have been stymied  by the fruits of a bitter rivalry between Susan Dickinson, the wife of Emily’s brother, Austin Dickinson, and Mabel Todd,  who was the first editor of the poems, and who had a long doubly adulterous love affair with Austin. Mabel’s stash of papers wound up at Amherst College while Susan’s heirs sent their holdings to Harvard, where it is considered the jewel in the crown of Harvard’s 19th century manuscript collection at Houghton Library. Now that Houghton is preparing to launch the  online archive and Amherst, which is listed as one among several collaborators, feels  slighted, accusing Harvard of appropriating their assets without sharing the design decisions or access to their own collection. What can we learn from this? Continue reading

Design Exercise: Controlled Vocabulary

Find an example from digital media, legacy media, or the world at large of an information space which is overseen by an authority of some kind who dictates what things can and cannot be called through a controlled vocabulary. For example, libraries control what subjects books are listed under, local governments control the names of streets, and government and industry regulators control the use of consumer-directed descriptors such as “For Mature Audiences” or “All Natural.”  The growth of media aggregators for music, film, and television, and new media artifacts such as video games, is creating new opportunities for controlled vocabularies.

Pick a specific case in which a controlled vocabulary is not enough to avoid confusion (e.g. the many Atlanta streets with Peachtree in the name) and illustrate it with an image and a brief description indicating how it got that way, how people cope with it now,  and what might be done to amend it.

Design Exercise: Media Aggregation

Chose a digital artifact that includes two or more media types (text, still images, moving images) related to the same topic, such as a story on a news site that includes text and video, or a social media app  (such as Facebook, Tumbler, Pinterest) that provides containers for aggregating multiple media artifacts.

Consider: What are the principles of organization? How do you go about locating something that is not recent? What granularities of access are available (e.g. albums, single pictures, a person within a picture)? What legacy media structures are used?

Illustrate a well-designed or poorly designed element of one such aggregation application.

Design Exercise: Labeling for Navigation

From any website of a large and complex organization or information space, such as a news site or a university website, choose an example of particularly good or bad labeling within the main menu system and justify your choice. Are the words chosen for the labels meaningful? Are they at the same level of abstraction? Are they distinct from one another? Is there a hierarchy, and if so is it coherent — can you predict and remember which labels are under which top-level category? How many of the labels are there at any one level? Can you tell where you are in the hierarchy when you are several levels down? Can you reach across the structure easily?  Does the navigation system also serve as a page title?