The emergence of the digital librarian

digital librarian DXC Blogs

Could a new Dewey decimal system become a key part of the digital content transformation?

Every day, huge amounts of text, video and unstructured content are uploaded onto corporate websites around the world with sensitivity to local languages and user experience.

Having worked with many of these corporate behemoths, I find that the architecture can often be described as “random acts of content.” But this is part and parcel of meeting the need to “feed the beast” known as social media and content marketing.

History tells me that everyone touching the content management system (CMS) fancies herself to be an information architect in her free time. So what the customer sees as output often looks like a patchwork quilt of disconnected documents and datapoints.

Enter the digital librarian!

My first experience with this job title came when I was developing an enormous content library of enterprise technology-related white papers, webcasts and videos to be used for lead generation and data insight purposes.

In the early stages of the project, we thought the process could simply be done by support teams if given the proper tags and taxonomies used for site navigation. But this “inside-out” thinking results in an information architecture that’s sensitive to the needs of the digital marketing team, but not necessarily to those customers looking from the outside-in for actionable information and insight.

Enterprise information stewards may argue that UX, web design and content marketing teams can meet customer needs by developing interfaces that permit users to get from point A to point B efficiently. Unfortunately, it’s not all about interfaces.

What digital librarians add to the mix is an understanding of how users search for and consume 21st century content, and how they navigate the now-digital library.

As with the original Dewey decimal system, it’s not just about finding an orderly way to “put books and magazines on library shelves.” The deeper purpose of the system is to add logic to the process of finding information.

In retrospect, the Dewey decimal concept of “relative location” and “relative index” seems so archaic. But in reality these ideas still have relevance in the digital world, despite the seismic changes in the meaning of “library shelves.”

So in addition to organizing digital shelves to store data, the New World librarian understands the myriad of directions content consumers might be coming into the content search and setting.

As anyone who has developed content architectures and “digital content journeys” knows, the process is rarely linear. Imagine a bricks-and-mortar library in which each book has a Post-It note saying, “People who liked this book also liked “X,” found halfway down aisle #4.” This collaborative filtering strategy is one backbone of the digital librarian’s work.

While most enterprises outside the media industry don’t depend on eyeballs to drive direct revenue, they still benefit from websites that provide the user with a pain-free content search-and-gathering experience. As I said earlier, excellent navigation is of absolutely no use if it only serves to take the user to a wasteland of unusable or outdated data or content.

The role of digital librarian will increasingly serve as the key person in the convergence of content architecture, content quality, content volume and connective tissue between what might, to the naked eye, seem so disparate.


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  1. Really interesting. Some 30 percent of Amazon sales and 80 percent of Netflix content hours are due to their recommendation engines. Collaborative filtering is becoming a staple application for the data scientist. How is the role of the digital librarian impacted by this kind of intelligent automation?

    Liked by 1 person


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