A library is nothing more than a large repository of content. This content is jammed inside books. The librarian’s job is to collate this content into meaningful categories (so Art is a family category under which sits Art History, Artists, etc).
The librarian then presents this structure on the Library floor. This is done depending on the Library’s audience. In most public libraries novels are placed up front near the doors, art and architecture are usually hidden away at the back.
A visitor to the Library understands this structure, so if they are interested in Picasso, they would go to the Art area, and search for the Painter. In the index, Picasso could be listed under Modern art, or Cubism, or Artists.
Online, if you have set up your information architecture right, the picture becomes a lot more interesting.
Once we know the path the User is going down, and if your information architecture is done well, relevant content can be presented and brought to the page to help the User get to their destination.
We can display links to inspirations such as Paul Cezanne and Georges Braque. We can display links to the Spanish Civil War that inspired his most famous work Guernica. We can display links to his daughter, Paloma Picasso’s jewellery works; links to Paloma at Tiffany where you can purchase a range of her works.
All this would be handled dynamically, due to the associative nature of the topics that we can place in a well formed Information Architecture. You can’t do this in a library. Most websites just expect the User to work their way through the maze of links without any help. That’s ridiculous.
A good example of this topic based navigation can be seen in the test site “Opera Map” (No longer exists) Also have a look at Visit Melbourne.(Changed considerably since the writing of this article). As you click around, the navigation and relevant links on the page are being added dynamically.
Notice how as you click through the site, relevant navigation appears on the page, providing links to more and more relevant and associated information. Every page is a link to another piece of relevant content that helps further build out the picture.
If a User comes to a Telstra site and clicks on a Blackberry, what do you think they will want to see next? Shouldn’t this next link be a page that displays Blackberry devices, plus links to Blackberry accessories, Blackberry plans, Blackberry FAQs, even alternative brands to Blackberry devices.
Information Architecture should be built in this manner. To understand the user and build a path for their destination.