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Designing information systems

12 February 2018   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Gus MacDonald
Designing information systems

Christine Urquhart et al look at the design of information systems and services using case studies and offer analysis, design, and creative solutions for effective information systems, as their book is published.

INFORMATION Systems: process and practice attempts to bridge some of the gaps between discrete areas of ­research that information professionals could use to design useful and effective information systems and services. We take a holistic view of information architecture to ­offer you a critical analysis of library and ­information service architecture with discussion of methods, tools, ­techniques, and trends. However, we are not just discussing information ­architecture in terms of content management (what information is offered). We are also interested in the ways people might use the ­information, and how libraries can organise what they do – the process architecture – to ­deliver services that fit the needs of users. Libraries are good on the “what” of service delivery but not so good on dealing with the “how” questions of service delivery, or even justifying why libraries do what they do – and how all their different ­services fit together.

Communicating across silos

As a group of authors and editors, we have diverse areas of research and teaching interests, covering information retrieval, health information research, knowledge translation and evidence-based practice, information behaviour research, systems analysis and business process analysis. Our teaching and research experience has helped us realise that there are problems with communication across ­different silos. For example, information ­architecture within the library and ­information science field has often been the study of content management. Information seeking may be accommodated for navigation tools, but the activities, processes and workflows that might accompany an information systems architecture may be less obvious.


Information behaviour research often seems separate from research on the design of information systems. The context that is so important in information behaviour research may come into personal support and services to support the information systems (hence much of the work on information literacy) but information behaviour research may not contribute directly to information systems design as much as it could. Information behaviour research does often focus on information seeking, and less attention is given to the use of information, and the processes involved in using information. Within library and information services themselves, the library assessment literature discusses performance measurement and change management strategies, but there is little published on ways of looking at the process architecture of a library service, and whether organisational aims are met.

Systems thinking

This book belongs with the design and ­architecture theme of Facet’s iResearch series. We are trying to encourage students and practitioners to do some systems thinking about the possible connections that can be made for design and practice. Information professionals graduating from Information or Knowledge Management, or Information Studies or Information Science degree schemes may find themselves working at that point where technology, people, and information meet. It’s interesting – but also challenging and requires integration of much that may have been learnt on different modules during a degree scheme. We often focus on what information should be provided, but sometimes forget how the information work gets done – the workflows and the business processes.

Our aim is to provide a critical analysis, with supporting case studies of library and information service and systems architecture – in a very broad interpretation of the term architecture. As the book belongs with the research series, we have emphasised methods of enquiry wherever possible, to help students and practitioners choose suitable methods for their own investigations.


We were aware that the book required some stitching together of the chapters, to help readers appreciate some of the connections. That is why most chapters have commentaries to provide some cross referencing to other material in the book, as well as further information on the approaches described in the chapters. For example, we do not aim to be another book on information architecture, but we refer to some of the advice given by leading practitioners. We cannot discuss in detail how to do object-oriented analysis and design, but we consider some of the methods, such as use cases, that can be used to help in discussions about system design by ­designers and users. Similarly, we show how business process analysis methods operate, but for further advice, there are other textbooks and websites that should be used as well. We have also used the introductions to each chapter to help readers appreciate how a particular chapter fits into the structure of the book.

We start off, as might be expected, with an overview of information architecture, and then move to methods of taxonomy testing (with case studies). Next, Sally Burford discusses her research using grounded theory on doing web information architecture in large organisations. After that we move to methods and techniques for process analysis and what ‘use cases’ and a process architecture involve.

The next three chapters provide more detail about process modelling and process mapping, with lots of examples and a comparison of two published studies on process mapping in academic libraries. Next, Fernando Loizides and Aekaterina Mavri examine the design of online semi-structured documents, such as academic articles, and how to design interfaces that help users to evaluate quickly the information in those semi-structured documents.

Design for this type of document triage requires combining research in information behaviour and human-computer interaction. The next chapter is a contrast, as Karen Colbron discusses three Jisc resource discovery projects that are all different, but each emphasises user experience, or information behaviour (or both). Next, Catherine Burns and Adam Euerby discuss design for a global community of practice for those with shared interests in social action research (UCP-SARnet), an organisation based at Arizona State University.

The following chapter by Cristina Vasilica and Paula Ormandy discusses design and evaluation of an online patient support group for renal patients, where co-creation of information was vital and activity theory contributed to understanding how information might lead to better patient ­outcomes. The final two chapters continue the health theme. First, there is a chapter on the research evidence on design of ­systems for clinical data capture, and ­clinical document architecture and information exchange. The final chapter examines how systematic reviews are produced and the software tools that may help improve workflows.

Systems analysis techniques

We believe that there is something for everyone in this book. The case studies and examples are taken from academic library projects, special collections, and health information research. We have examples of designing structures for online communities and communities of practice that should provide ideas for anyone who wishes to support informal (or social) learning.

Much has been written about the importance of strategic planning in libraries but there is little written on how to analyse how the library activities actually map to the mission of the organisation or the needs of a community. Producing a process architecture or process mapping requires the cooperation of library staff and stakeholders, and incorporates advocacy naturally. We have emphasised the contribution of research evidence, and describe a range of research, testing and evaluation methods that are not usually found in library and information science texts on research methods. These methods – systems analysis techniques – should help to analyse the problem and at the same provide the solution. Analysis, design, and creative solution for effective information systems – what more could you want? IP

Book Information

Christine Urquhart, Faten Hamad, Dina Tbaishat and Alison Yeoman discuss a holistic interpretation of information architecture, offering methods, tools, and techniques that may be used when designing websites and information systems. The editors argue that information architecture for libraries has largely been the study of content architecture and that, on the other hand, library assessment literature has dealt with performance measurement and change management strategies.

Information Systems: process and practice is published by Facet Publishing this December. ISBN: 978 1 7833 0 2413. £64.95, £51.95 to CILIP members.

Published: 12 February 2018

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