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I stumbled upon, as one serendipitously does on the Internet, a wonderful find of a cultural heritage museum with compelling, evocative, and wonderful interactive resources: the Tenement Museum.

The American Immigrant
Its mission to preserve, discover, and convey the storied history of the American immigrant from the late 19th and early 20th century (as well as 21st century programs) resonates with me personally.  My father, an Italian/Polish Jew, arrived in America after WWII from war-torn Italy on a boat like many millions of immigrants to Ellis Island in NYC.  He never forgot that ride and how he cried as a little boy at the site of the Statue of Liberty while entering the harbor and his entry onto Ellis Island.  Here’s a picture of Michele Roberto Heliczer (my father) grinning on the ship upon his arrival to the United States.

So many immigrants came into Ellis Island, poured into the bowels of New York City, with so many poignant and colorful stories.  So fitting was it to house the museum in a 1863 tenement apartment building in Manhattan’s Lower East Side (97 Orchard Street).

The Tenement Museum and its Digital Artists in Residence Program
Interestingly, the Tenement Museum supports an initiative that is called the Digital Artists in Residence Program(DARP), sponsoring online development about historical and contemporary immigration.  DARP has been instrumental in creating some highly successful online interactive resources such as “We are Multicolored” (Making Your Own Flag) and “Five Songs for the Five Points” (Mix a FolkSong.)   I believe the Tenement Museum’s digital mission and integration is shown in how compelling these seemingly simple interactive resources are.  I was impressed by them.  These interactives do not seem to be for a particular age group (thought it does seem for a youngish crowd, with Webcomics seemingly more fitting for the age group) as it is offered as a “Play” option for all visitors to the Tenement Museum.  I like that because often the kid games are supposed to be just for kids and we adults need that interactive fun too!

The three innovative interactive resources covered are:
1) We are Multicolored (Make a Flag)
2) Five Songs for Five Points (Make a Folksong)
3) Immigrant Game: From Ellis Island to Orchard Street with Victoria Confino

Interactive Resource #1: We are Multicolored (Make A Flag)
This is very akin to the wonder inherently seen in Prof. Twidale’s showings of the Victoria and Albert Museum’s World Beach Project and Design Your Own Arts & Crafts Tile.  Users create their own custom flags from a mashup of three selected countries, comment on it and the flag and commentary becomes a record and piece of art for the global “superflag” community of 40,000.  The screen below shows the Superflag – each little square represents a user’s custom flag.  The square I clicked on brought up this user’s particular flag.

“We are Multicolored” also provides an innovative offering called “Symbolism.”  If you click this page, you can identify, group and compare flags by shape, symbol, color, and meaning.

You’ll find interesting groupings of flags such as when I picked flags that stressed a color signifying “land fertility,” often these countries were poor or rural-based. The color “green” also can mean something quite different in one country than another.  Here Ireland’s green means the “Gaelic tradition” (and here I thought it was for leprechauns…)

Here is how one creates your own flag.  First, you are given three choices:
1) Where is your home? United States
2) What other country has affected you? Mexico
3) Where have you dreamed of going? Ireland

It is difficult to be limited to three –  if one has multiple homes, if more than one country has affected you (I’m a mix of Italian, Spanish, Polish, Russian, Scottish, German and Mexican – so that’s a stew), and if you’ve dreamed about traveling the globe.

Then with the 3 flags that come up, you can create your own flag – with options to break up the shapes (loved that one), rotating, and bringing to front and back. Once finished, you can comment on your flag and add it to the Superflag.  It now becomes part of the global project and a statement of individuality.  This is a lot of fun and addicting.

Interactive Resource #2: Five Songs for the Five Points (Mix a Folksong)
This is a wonderfully addicting soundmap (Flash technology) that allows you to mix and create your own urban folksong.  To create your own music from the sounds of the Lower East Side, you can explore and pick different sounds one hears in this area from the map by clicking and dragging the white circles to the colored sound spots on the map.

These colored sound spots represent different categories: field recordings (train, birds, hydrant, men working, manhole cover steam), spoken word, music, and folk songs.  You make your composition by mixing these five tracks, and can adjust the layering of the sounds through volume.  You can also save your mix.  Having grown up in New York City and exposed to the Lower East Side, I can completely relate to the complexity of sounds heard in the urban environment – trains, vendors selling, a musician on the corner, men working, birds and honking horns, voices, and more.  This is a beautiful, succinct capturing of this phenomenon and thus captures the spirit of NYC’s Lower East Side and the color of the immigrant experience.  This is something one can get immersed and lost in.

Interactive Resource #3: Immigration Game

This is a quite enjoyable interactive experience that allows you to become immersed in the identity of a 12-year old boy or girl from Europe and experience the travel and transition to America.  Called From Ellis Island to Orchard Street with Victoria Confino, the tour provides a friendly “immigrant” guide from 1916 (who’s been there and knows the ropes).  This is quite clever and inventive.  Victoria offers advice such as when going on the ship, bring food because the ship food is either horrible or very little and when arriving to Ellis Island, forewarns you of a shoe pick used to pull on the lower eyelids for examination and not to be scared of what they are doing.  If only immigrants could have had her help with these to-do’s and not-do’s before going on the voyage! Here is Victoria Confino:

In an old-fashioned movie theater, an old black and white movie plays, setting the scene of 1916 and identifies your journey as an immigrant.

The journey comprises:
1. Creating an immigrant passport
2. Picking your belongings
3. Going on the voyage
4. Passing inspection at Ellis Island
5. Making choices and experiences in new life in Lower East Side

1.  Immigrant Passport
In choosing my character, I decide to go for a boy, name him Guiseppe Fiorentino from Italy.  It would have been nice to perhaps had more choices from different countries but it was still fine.  I also would have liked to have seen the passport stamped with a sound effect.  Once you input these items, these are handwritten on the online passport including the “date of departure.”  One of the nice features of the system is that there is a visual progress map on the bottom to see where you are, what you are doing, and where you are going.  That visual progress map now contains the photo of Guiseppe, making it more personalized.  Following the red old-fashioned pointing hands is also very well done for navigation.

2. “What will you bring?” is a powerful and poignant exercise.
In this activity, you can only select three items to pack and take with you on your journey.  First, to think you are only allotted three items to take with you from your homeland to a strange country…

This was tough because food and bedding seemed to be critical.  I was hoping Guiseppe had someone with him so I counted on that and picked clothing, shoes, and a toy.  I know my father could bring one of the few items and it was an Italian Dumbo stuffed toy that he held onto for dear life.  It was his trusted companion, and one of the first experiences in entering America was the authorities taking his toy away – nasty!  Here’s Guiseppe’s belongings:

What would you bring?

3. Going on the Voyage
This shows a visual of the ship leaving Europe and arriving to New York City.  Here, Victoria offers that insider information and tells of her experience crossing over.  This is one spot I would have liked to have seen some historical images of immigrants on the ships and what the conditions were like (as shown as in activity – “Passing Inspection at Ellis Island’).

4.  Passing Inspection at Ellis Island
In this exercise, one gets the sense of what it must have been like getting to Ellis Island, the thrill, and then the fear, confusion and overwhelm of the health inspection.  Again, Victoria gives you helpful advice of exactly what to encounter in the entire process.  In addition, images of immigrants entering Ellis Island are intermingled in this space.  You are even asked some questions to see if you’ll pass the inspection.  One interesting idea would have been if you had failed the inspection, what would have happened?

5. Making Choices and Experiences in New Life in Lower East Side
You’ve made it into America and now what is your life going to be like, what are you going to do, where are you going to live, and what experiences will you have?  You enter into “Welcome to the Lower East Side” that has some visuals of your new neighborhood.  Here again, we are placed within a tenement apartment with Victoria describing it and what is is like.  The apartment works as a interactive visual map and you can select numerous choices – such as food experiences, jobs, etc.  This is the place of “enculturation.”

The Immigrant Game is a very enjoyable, profound, cogent, and  visceral interactive experience that I think should be widely emulated.  It brings history to life, makes the museum a real space, brings the visitor inside the experience as if an immigrant walking in his/her shoes.  Though perhaps it could be modified in a few minor areas (might be nice to include at end real images or short stories of say your possible immigrant neighbors that live at 97 Orchard or perhaps as another possible interactive activity), it really is a superb, first-class offering that truly honors American immigrants and makes palatable and real to us their immigrant experience.  Kudos, Tenement Museum.


A museum informatics user test was performed with the volunteer assistance of Margaret Herndon, a 50 year old professional manager who frequents local prestigious museums with her husband, is a general user of the Internet (ex: shopping regularly online and reading news) and only uses museum websites in a cursory fashion, such as to obtain physical site visitation information. The museum website chosen for this usability test was from the Norton Simon Museum located in Pasadena, California ( This is a museum that she frequents on occasion but doesn’t use the website.


Eight user tasks were presented and the tester recorded each of these tasks by paper, by watching, and by using the recording software Jing.

1. “Can you provide me with hours to the museum, and tell me when it is closed or if there are any free days to get in?”

2. “Can you find any information about any works of Vincent van Gogh?”

3. “Can you tell me what the current traveling shows going on are today, the temporary collections?”

4. “If you wanted to purchase an item from the current featured exhibition of Ingres, how would you do this online?”

5. “From the website, can you tell me who is Norton Simon, why is the collection so important and what the mission and vision of the museum is? What makes the Norton Simon Museum so special? With only using the website, can you elaborate on that?”

6. “Can you locate a floor map for the Norton Simon Museum and tell me where I can find the Asian collection?”

7. “Are there any materials, any guides online to the current exhibits, particularly ‘Portraits After Ingres’?”

8. “Can you locate a piece of art by its material, specifically sculpture? Can you find the European sculpture in the Norton and then locate any sculptures by the modernist Barbara Hepworth?”

User Task One:
“Can you provide me with hours to the museum, and tell me when it is closed or if there are any free days to get in?”

Margaret took a cursory look over the home page and couldn’t locate anything about hours. Looking at the navigation bar, she thinks it has to be under “Visit” or “Information.”

Margaret: “I don’t see hours. There’s something called visitor information.”

She selects “Visitor Information” under “Visit” since it looked like a likely option through her process of elimination. The subject finds what’s required of the task regarding hours but struggles with the next part.

Margaret: “Here are the hours. It is closed on Tuesday. That’s peculiar – normally museums are closed on Monday. This is very hard to read. It is very small and hard for my eyes. I can’t find free time information.”

She continues to scroll up and down and finding it hard to read as she squints. It begins to fatigue her. Finally, she finds text under “Admission Prices,” detailing that first Fridays of the month are free.


Fig 1.  Visitor Information

Observation: The subject wanted to first find that information on the home page. When she could not, she started first by looking at the main navigation bar. The main navigation bar was relied on heavily throughout the test. I agreed with Margaret that is was a bit hidden to not have the words “Hours and Admission” listed since in that same “Visit’ dropdown, “Directions and Parking ” is clearly listed.

She comments: “Anything can go in Visitor Information. Then they should just have one page for all that information.”

Even though Margaret found the hours and admission information from the “Visit” navigation bar, she did not see a section called “Visit” on the home page – even though this was where she wanted to first look. This information is tucked in the lower-right hand corner of the page and is very hidden from view. Interestingly, it lists “Hours” here but not in the dropdown as Margaret had suggested that should have been better worded. Also, this selection takes you to the same “Visitor Information” page from the navigation bar. So, even the “Hours” designation on the home page should be “Hours and Admission.” This is an example of a user showing how even the most basic museum request need of “hours and admission” can be unnecessarily veiled.


Fig 2.  Hidden Visit Option on Home Page

User Task Two:
“Can you find any information about any works of Vincent van Gogh?”

Margaret: “Assume under collections, different choices, European, I guess I could pick European Art 19th century. Well, now it takes me to ‘Highlights’ and no images look like van Gogh. Here’s ‘More Highlights’ and I see a screen of small image icons. It’s 21 pages. This will take a long time. I’m tired.” [Shoulders droop.]


Fig 3.  Looking for van Gogh in European Art 19th Century

Margaret: “So, ways to find van Gogh. There’s ‘Advanced Search.’

Oh, here can type by artist. No results found? That is strange. Well, you can look under artist on this page – browse by and nothing listed.

[User tried to search under Monet and see the function worked. Finds Monet, so looks troubled. Margaret still can’t believe there is way to find van Gogh on here.] It’s not showing van Gogh and went under artist and 19th century and don’t want to go back there.”

“I know his work ‘Mulberry Tree’ is there. I can go by title ‘Mulberry Tree.’ Here it is. That’s strange. They have van Gogh and one of the special things about Norton Simon is they have a number of van Goghs, which is very unusual. I don’t know where else to look. Under gallery, there’s a picture of his paintings. ‘Browse by Gallery’ just gives ‘Exhibitions.’ I don’t know [dejected.] I just have to go to the museum to see the van Goghs.” User gives up.


Fig 4.  Looking for van Gogh under a title work or in the gallery

Observation: This user task was complex and fraught with difficulty, frustration, and eventually ended without complete success. However, this was not a user error but issues with the interface and cataloging options. Since Margaret was a casual visitor to the Norton Simon, she knew that he had collected a significant amount of impressionist art, and in particular, a stunning selection of van Goghs. To not find van Gogh in the collections was not only extremely frustrating for her but an example of a serious flaw in the website. The first flaw was in the “Browse by Artist” option. This should have been an easy to find exercise since it was an alphabetical listing/choices for artists. However, when Margaret searched under “V” for van Gogh, it was not there. Those who put the alphabetical listing should note that often van Gogh is sometimes listed under “V” rather than “G.” Patrons don’t normally think of “Gogh” as last name of Vincent even though “van” is “correctly” alphabetized as a subordinate. When Margaret had to dig deeper and use the advanced search screen, she did not see the little pop-up line selection when she typed in “van Gogh” that offered a choice “Gogh, Vincent van.” It was incredibly small, in bright yellow, and was easy to miss.


Fig 5.  The problem overseen – smart selection “Vincent van Gogh” missed and search by artist is under “Gogh” not “van”

User Task Three:
“Can you tell me what the current traveling shows going on are today, the temporary collections?”

Margaret: “Usually don’t they have them on the home page? [Exasperation, deep sigh.] There’s no home button. There’s no home button on the bottom either.”

Margaret spends a great deal of time looking in navigation bar, using the search option. Tester states to locate another option besides the browser back button. After clicking on practically everything on the page, she finds that the Norton Simon Museum logo is clickable and can go back to the home page with. New lesson is learned.

Margaret: “I didn’t realize that clicking on the museum logo would take you back to the home page. I still want my “home” selection. When I’ve used the Getty and Huntington websites, they both have a home button – because I always like to go back home so that I know where I am.”

User then completes primary task.

“I like the showing of images of the exhibitions. They have two exhibits: Rembrandt and Portraiture after Ingres. How annoying, it’s hard for me to read about them when they keep flashing images on the screen above. I liked it at first that they had the images flashing of the current shows but now they are just flashing images from the Norton Simon collection. How annoying. It’s making it difficult to read.” [Blinks, forehead creases, eyes, squint.]


Fig 6.  “Current Exhibitions” under home page

The tester suggests there is another place to get information about the exhibits. Margaret looks in disbelief, as to say “What more? I’ve already found it.” But she obliges that “nasty” tester and continues to look.

Margaret looks under the “Exhibitions” choice on the main navigation bar. She chooses “Current Exhibitions” and it brings her to the immediate information. This subsequent task is completed with ease and swiftness.

Observation: As a tester, I tried to use words that didn’t simply say “Exhibitions,” since that would have possibly ended the task in one minute or so. Instead, I suggested other words such as “traveling show” or “temporary collections.” This caused Margaret to think a bit and think back that often museum websites post their “hot” temporary exhibits on the home page. This should have been straightforward except for three things – one, there was no home button she was used to in order to navigate to; two, it was difficult to read those exhibits when there were flashing images on the home page; and three, the tester required her to locate the information elsewhere besides the home page.

Many user studies have brought up the fact that no matter what level of Internet expertise, it is most common to go back to the home page to reorient oneself. Margaret was not able to this because she could not locate any home button or home hyperlink. This is not her problem. More experienced users realize that often the logo is what is used as a home page. However, this is not evident to several users, and really should be a choice selection no matter what. The ability to go to the home page is also the ability to reorient oneself in the searching and browsing capacity. Note the fascinating words she said: I want a home button “because I always like to go back home so that I know where I am.” This is psychologically and powerfully telling. I would suggest to the Norton Simon Museum to put a home button/home hyperlink as part of their navigation scheme based on this scenario. Also, when she did finally find the home page and saw that the current exhibits were shown as she thought on the home page, she was disturbed by the flashing images above and couldn’t read or focus enough. At first she liked it because the flashing images or “slide show” went over the current exhibits and included some text. But then the slide show started to show other images that had no context except for being in the museum. This showed how that element made her not want to stay on the home page very long and could signify that information is then missed on the home page. Lastly, she was able to determine that this information could be found under the “Exhibitions” option on the main navigation bar and thus reflected an easy option choice.


Figure 7.   “Current Exhibitions” choice

User Task Four:
“If you wanted to purchase on the current featured exhibition of Ingres, how would you do this online?”

Margaret: “Well, normally you would go to the store to do any shopping. And I love to go to museum stores to shop. So, here’s “Store” [located on main navigation bar] and ooohh… I want to go directly to the store. They just give me choices [dropdown selection of books, DVDs, gifts, etc. then accidently clicks directly again on “Store” and it brings her in. What is not so obvious is that the toolbar looks the same as before but now they are store choices and unbeknownst to Margaret, she in a different website altogether:] It looks like…. They don’t have any. [Moans.] Just want to search the store.”

She looks under “Books” and “Museum Publications” and gets overwhelmed by icon choices. Margaret doesn’t want to go through all the pages. [Sighs of exasperation.] She finds by accident that the site has a “Search Store” box and types in “Ingres.” She easily finds cards and a special exhibition book.

Margaret: “They should really bring out their exhibit. I don’t really like this website – shopping it. Look, it says it’s an online store. Look, I can’t go back to the museum. I want to get out of there. [Uuuuuh.] I don’t know how to go back. [Face gets read, brows arched, fuming.] I’ll just hit the back arrows. That’s annoying. Navigation bar looks the same. [Clicks by page by page and finally back to museum page.] That was nearly eight pages back. I don’t like that.”


Figure 8.   Museum Store

Observation: Some significant items were noted in this task. First of all, Margaret is an avid shopper and spends most of her money at museum shops when at the museum. She likes to collect books and items from all the special exhibitions she attends – even if she never uses them later. It makes her feel that she has a “part” of the collection or of the “experience.” With its museum website, the Norton Simon should be targeting these eager buyers. However, Margaret’s exercise brings out some inherent defects in the store purchasing experience that could stop someone from shopping online. The three shortcomings included: 1) No home page to navigate back to the museum; 2) No visual differentiation of the navigation bar, the logo, positioning of times to tell the user that he is in a completely different website and that it is only the store site now; 3) Does not feature special exhibition and collection items on the store home page; and 4) Hides the “search store” option in same place as “search site” option and instead should be search within the body of the store site.

User Task Five:
“From the website, can you tell me who is Norton Simon, why is the collection so important and what the mission and vision of the museum is? What makes the Norton Simon Museum so special? With only using the website, can you elaborate on that?”

Margaret: “Let’s see here. I’m going back to the home page. Maybe there is something on the home page. [Finds nothing.] Where is “About?” Should be under “About.” [Looks under “Information” on main navigation bar.] Here it is. [Locates “Norton Simon Bio” on dropdown.] Why is it so special? They should really bring it out. [Looks at additional dropdown menu choice of “Museum History.”] Museum History. Doesn’t tell you anything about mission statement, Poor, very poor information. Just lots of text. They could have mentioned a quote of his here. Oh here. I’ve seen this documentary on in the museum theater. [Bottom of Norton Simon bio discusses documentary on Norton Simon with hyperlink to information on it for viewing in the physical theater space. Clicks on it but cannot be viewed online.]

It’s done by the Guggenheim. It’s very professional. They should really have this here. I should let them know.”


Figure 9.   Hidden Jewel: Norton Simon Documentary

Observation: This was an exciting exercise with much enlightenment and new information given by the user. Here, Margaret has become a valuable resource to the Norton Simon and is actually providing solid re-design information without knowing it – simply being a good Norton Simon aficionado. First, this exercise brought up that the Norton Simon museum does not currently present or offer a mission or vision statement on the website. In addition, it is hard to gleam from all the text what the museum is all about. It would behoove them to change “Information” to “About” and in that “About” section really discuss and show the “aboutness” of this museum and its collection. Margaret noticed interesting quotes within the body of the text that she said she would have liked to see brought out. Most importantly, she recognized a crown jewel that the museum website is not using – a high-toned Guggenheim-produced 30-minute documentary that should be on the website prominently in the “About” section, giving potential visitors a great overview of Norton Simon and the collection.

User Task Six:
“Can you locate a floor map for the Norton Simon Museum and tell me where I can find the Asian collection?”

Margaret: “So, that means… [Raises voice.] I WANT THE HOME BUTTON. [Uses back button again to go to home page.] It’s not here. I think I remember… [Looks under “Visit” in main navigation bar.] There’s no floor map. [Pauses and keeps looking.] Here is something called ‘Gallery Map.’ Oh, that’s beautiful. That really should be on the front of the website. It shows what the museum looks like and what the collections are. Here it is. It is ‘South and Southeast Asian’ and it is in the lower level of the building. [User completes task in efficient manner.]


Figure 10.   Floor Map is called “Gallery Map”

Observation: Again, we notice that terminology is an important navigation and information-seeking item. I used the term “floor map” which is common in museums. However, it took her just a bit of time as she was seeking specifically “floor map.” The name given by the Norton Simon Museum was “gallery map.” This was a bit of a mind-bender, but she selected it anyways. She was astounded not only the beauty of the map, but that it really showed visually the museum architecture, gardens, collections, layout, and mapping captured in one image. She noted that it should be used more prominently by the museum – seemed too hidden. Another fascinating piece that came out of this was again two-fold: 1) Terminology and 2) Home Page Hiding. There was actually another choice to find this map and it was located in the “Visit” section on the lower right-hand corner of the home page as “Interactive Map.” Here we see that even though Margaret suggested that the museum highlight this and put it on the home page, it had, except it didn’t highlight the map and hid it under different terminology altogether – “Interactive Map.” Through this activity, Margaret was able to identify significant flaws that took away from the excellent, interactive floor map that the website actually contained.

User Task Seven:
“Are there any materials, any guides online to the current exhibits, particularly ‘Portraits After Ingres’?”

Margaret: [Breathes heavily.] “Well, let’s see. That should be under ‘Exhibitions,’ then here ‘Current Exhibitions.’ And they have, I will go into that. Well, I don’t see anything. They give me choices – press release, podcasts, and lots of text. I don’t see anything. [Scrolls up and down, heavy breathing.] Now, what was the question again?

I don’t see guides. Maybe under ‘Information,’ under ‘Visit,’ under ‘Education?’ No. There should be something under ‘Guides.’ [Goes through each choice in navigation bar and finds a section called “Multimedia” and finds “Brochures.”]

Brochures? Is that it? Why would they stick it here – under multimedia? Here it is – a brochure on ‘Portraiture after Ingres.’ [Comes up in a viewer in small size with control buttons.] Oh, how nice – you can actually view it like in a book format. [Struggles with control buttons.] Oh, you can page through it like a real book. That’s neat – it makes ‘turning pages’ sounds. Oh, I want to make it bigger – I can’t read it. [Struggles to enlarge and finally does.] Oh, this is really nice. I love it. I can read it – very lovely. Very nice – I love their literature and I can still see it here. Oh, I’d like to print it. There is no print button. At least I can see this here – very nice. Oh, darn, now how do I get out of this and go back HOME?”


Figure 11.   This is a brochure?

Observations: This exercise brought up some frustration by the user. It was interesting to note that the strain of looking for this item caused her to forget the question and task at hand. Locating literature or materials on the current exhibits was not clear. Margaret spent a great deal of time looking at all the options she could figure out. Finally, she discovered “Brochures” under “Multimedia.” She found it confusing to find this under multimedia. This brings up an inherent discrepancy again about how to define – brochures are often thought of in a print or print online fashion and not as multimedia. However, when you use this, it is somewhat multimedia-like because it paginates, makes sounds, is graphic, etc. Perhaps, it more logically should be termed “Interactive.” Also, there are some users who will not understand what the category “Multimedia” is. However, it could be beneficial as a “catch all” for interactive, audio, and video components, but wonder if this term is outdated. This would be interesting to further test. Again, this “brochure” function should be something to bring out more in the website and is too hidden from view. It as well can work as both a promotional device to get people into see the exhibits or for reviewing the material afterwards for better absorption.

User Task Eight:
“Can you locate a piece of art by its material, specifically sculpture? Can you find the European sculpture in the Norton and then locate any sculptures by the modernist Barbara Hepworth?”

Margaret: “Ok, there is a search button but it doesn’t have advanced search. [Goes back to home.] I don’t see anything here. How about ‘Collections’? [Dropdown with choices of time periods and browse options.] AAAH. I don’t like this dropdown. Browse by Artist, Title, Object Type, Provenance… I don’t see it. Here’s Advanced Search. Well, here it gives me artist, title, type, origin? What’s that – oh, origin – that’s different places? [Selects Object Type]. Now that’s strange – I wouldn’t have thought to look this under “object type.” [This dropdown lists the material types and user locates sculpture choice.] What a strange name.  [This brings up 62 pages of small icons of all varieties of sculpture, but finding difficulty narrowing down.] This is too much to look at. What if I wanted to see certain sculptures, modern sculptures? Aaargh. I’ll go back to advanced search again under collections. Oh, I see, I can type in European under Origin and it gives me lots of choices. Oh, I see now I can search for Artist in this search. I’ll type ‘Hepworth’ and see. Oh, here she is. Here are her pieces. Oh, how nice. I really like her work. Yes, that’s very nice.” [User smiles finally, exhibits first signs of user satisfaction – perhaps because she has reached the end of this usability test.]


Figure 12.   Collection “Advanced Search” Option

Observations: Oddly, this task produced the greatest user satisfaction and perhaps the only time I truly saw Margaret smile with contentment. I personally was surprised and thought this would be the most difficult task and one where she would throw up her hands in dismay or at least throw something at the tester. In fact, though it was difficult, she worked her way through and then located the Collection “Advanced Search” option. Here she had some good choices to narrow her selections from once she learned what those were. Once again, we look at issues of terminology. The use of “Object Type” to describe the material or form of art seems very intellectual or too “insider-like.” This threw her off immediately from the choice of “Browse by Object Type” under “Collections.” She only discovered what that meant after looking at this dropdown choice in “Advanced Search.” This exercise pleased her immensely because it allowed her to locate specific items in the collection and give her a sense of “power” and “ease” in accessing the collection.

Conclusion and Readings
In “Come on Down! A Game Show Approach to Illustrating Usability Evaluation Methods” by Michael Twidale and Paul Marty, the authors demonstrate the quality of material and insight that can be produced from quick or rapid usability testing. Though the game show testing methodology was not applied here, it still demonstrates the efficacy and profoundness of what emerges out of even simple, face-to-face user testing. Twidale and Marty comment on “the remarkable robustness of user testing and that any test is better than no test. This is demonstrated effectively in the user test with Margaret Herndon. This brief and informal user testing provided significant findings that would be highly beneficial to the Norton Simon Museum enterprise. In actuality, it would be cost-effective.

Margaret herself brought out changes that the museum should do in its website to promote itself – the hidden Guggenheim documentary on Norton Simon, the redesign of the Museum Store highlighting special exhibit items, and the observation that the “Floor Map” with too many names should be a big piece of the website. In an additional article by Twidale and Marty, “Lost in Gallery Space: A Conceptual Framework for Analyzing the Usability Flaws of Museum Web Sites,” the authors stressed the use of scenario presentations or questions, in high-speed format, to facilitate locating top-level usability flaws and patterns. A fascinating result of this user test supported their findings. In each task, particular flaws were brought to the surface quickly. Many of these were semantic-based, others were orientation-based and some were quite insightful in their blatant “errors.” One of the several usability issues mentioned by Twidale and Marty is the characteristic of “museum professional” mindset in designing websites. This is observed in controlled vocabulary lingo, such as Norton’s use of “Object Type” when Margaret was trying to find an art piece by material. Again, the authors emphasize what seems to be common sense but so terribly overlooked in seeing the value of usability and its cost-effectiveness over the expenditure on website design without it. They state succinctly that “not analyzing for usability can mean users will fail to discover and appreciate this rich content…” Through the user test, Margaret found these rich resources, such as the Interactive Floor Map, the unused Guggenheim documentary on Norton Simon, the Paginating Online Brochure, and the powerful Collection Advanced Search Screen. By performing such a fairly simple and inexpensive usability test, the corresponding results were provoking, essential, and, of course, usable.

Parry, Ross, et al., “How Shall We Label Our Exhibit Today? Applying the Principles of On-Line Publishing to an On-Site Exhibition,” in J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds.). Museums and the Web 2007: Proceedings, Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics, published March 1, 2007. Consulted March 11, 2010.

The LIVE!Labels Project:

A seven-month partnership between the University of Leicester and Simulacra with three UK museums (New Walk Museum and Art Gallery, Dinosaur Gallery, and National Space Centre) resulted in the production and evaluation of a digital, wireless, editable and dynamic labeling system (with web-based authoring tool) for on-site museum exhibits called “LIVE!Labels.”  Ross Parry and Mayra Ortiz-Williams of University of Leicester and Andrew Sawyer of Simulcra presented their findings on their dynamic labeling system in this paper.

The “Enduring” Museum Label:

Imperative to the process was first to understand the historical context and heritage of labeling. The curatorial practice of creating and displaying text-based labels originated from two Renaissance European cultural traditions – the use of emblems (combining image with motto/legend) and classification (combining image and explanatory text).  With the growth of collections, came the impulse to classify.  In the Age of Enlightenment and scientific systematic order, exhibition labels were placed in museums at the end of the 17th century for “a museum had a collection, but giving order and meaning to this collection.”

The Traditional Museum Label honored in LIVE!Labels:

The over 400-year practice of exhibit labeling has been considered the primary curatorial means of communicating its exhibits to its audiences were its labels.  Textual labeling is thus a heavily studied, structured, formalized and entrenched tradition.

Ross Parry and staff respected this tradition, and instead of completely wiping out exhibit labels or turning them into touchscreens or multimedia devices, designed LIVE!Labels as simply labels placed next to or nearby exhibits.

Key Design Requirements Included:

  • Not to disrupt curatorial practice but for the label to blend in, be “powerful but polite,” be ambient with gallery environment.
  • Ability to easily modify and change labels including remote updating capability.
  • Ability to incorporate user-generated content and tags by phones, mobiles, and websites.
  • Provide remote and automatic/timed label updating.
  • Reduce cost and impact on existing IT and on printed labels.
  • Ability to modify and change labels based on time-driven.
  • The 6.4 x 10.4 slim LCD “labels,” with built-in wireless that connected to a web-based content administration system, would be placed next/near to object.

Triggers and Generators of LIVE!Labels Content:

Ross Parry and team named events as “triggers” and authors as “generators.”  Generators could be not only curators, but visitors and approved third parties.  Triggers to the system could be time-, news-, event, and visit-driven.

Four Concepts of Generated Content Could be:

  1. Contextual – new, different, changing information about the object
  2. Promotional – highlight events, services related to object
  3. Directional – direction to related objects and themes
  4. Responsive – highlight visitor responses to object

The Museum Sites Tested:

In testing the system, the team identified three museum types that would provide a range of response.  At the New Walk Museum and Art Gallery, the labels were placed next to objects in their German Expressionist exhibit with updated and blog-like entries from the curator.  At the same gallery, the labels were placed next to dinosaur objects with the activity being children submitting postings of their interpretations – i.e. “curator for the day.”  Finally, at the National Space Center in Leicester, labels were used to give daily updated information on Near Earth Objects next to exhibits.

The Results:

The results from the trial were interesting and varied.  Statistics showed that 50% did not look at the labels, with only 20% reading the labels.  Only 20% could identify the labels as “live.”  Most visitors said it did not “change” their experience and almost all said it did not make the museum experience negative.  Interestingly, those in the science museums expected the labels to be touch-responsive compared to traditional art museums.

References cited in article:

Callery, B. G. and R. Thibadeau (2000). “Beyond Label Copy: Museum-Library Collaboration In The Development Of A Smart Web Exhibit”. In D. Bearman and J. Trant (eds.). Museums and the Web 2000: Proceedings. Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics, 2000. Last Consulted January 25, 2007.

In this study, Carnegie Mellon University Libraries, the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History participated in a joint collaboration to create a “Smart Web Exhibit” (SWE) prototype in order to provide targeted and timed information online to a varied user base. This was in response to the modern-day dilemma of the limit of collection objects that may be exhibited at one time which then limits label copy, thus reducing the museum visitor’s learning and understanding of these objects.  SWE would provide the accessibility of digitized archived material, with ability to select based on level of interest.

DeRoux, K. (1998a). Exhibit Labels, Some Basic Guidelines for Small Museums. Alaska State Museum, Bulletin no. 5 (summer). Available, last consulted January 25, 2007.

DeRoux, K. (1998b). Basic Techniques for Making and Mounting Exhibit Labels. Alaska State Museum, Bulletin no. 6 (fall). Available, last consulted January 25, 2007.

McKay, T. (1982). “A Hierarchy of Labels”. Exchange, a newsletter published by the Wisconsin Historical Society 24, no. 4 (July/August), available, consulted January 25, 2007.

These articles referenced within “How Shall We Label Our Exhibit Today? Applying the Principles of On-Line Publishing to an On-Site Exhibition,” address the orthodoxy and practice of proper museum exhibit labeling. Parry and team reference DeRoux several times throughout the study.

Other references:

Nina Simon.  ISO Understanding:  Rethinking Art Museum Labels. Museum 2.0 Blog (March, 3, 2007).  Available at

Though not referenced within the study, Nina Simon from the Participatory Museum, once again brings clarifying thought to the issues of rethinking and re-invigorating the art museum label.

She identified four key ways in which museum labels of today can be modified:

  1. Labels that instruct you where and how to look.
  2. Labels that answer the stupid questions in our heads.
  3. Labels that expose the curator’s thought process.
  4. Labels that tell contextualized stories and involve visitors.

In the Hunt Museum Design Case Study, I appreciated their design focus which was instead of showing “gee-whiz” technology, embedding that technology so that the it blended within the museum space – in particular, and I believe critical – in protecting and presenting what they called the “ethos” of the museum. I believe it is important to know what your museum is as one crafts exhibit spaces, exhibitions, technology, and events because they become extensions of the museum and carry its spirit. In the article, the authors called this also the “intimate link between the exhibition design and the actual location of the exhibition in situ in the Hunt Museum.” Here in the “Re-Tracing the Past” exhibit at the Hunt Museum in Limerick, Ireland, the team wanted to stay close and emulate not only the museum but John Hunt’s set up and study room. That was quite fascinating in their attempt to recreate John Hunt’s study room and the secret room in the created Study Room and the Room of Opinion. What was vitally stressed was understanding a museum as a “place.” Their concept of place was stressed as extending “the concept of physical space so that it encompasses not only its structural, geometrical essence, but also the dimension of its experience by human actors.”

What was also quite innovative and bright was hiding/embedding the technology within everyday objects, including 19th century ones, that created a nice interplay. The picture showing the extensive and messy technical guts behind the curtain of the hidden technology reminded me of the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain. One can see by the pictures within the article that the visitors seem to be quite engaged and “comfortable” in these areas – free to explore. The ability to open and explore the “Cabinets of Curiosities” hearkened me back to our study of Wunderkammern (“Cabinets of Curiosity”). I remember visiting the Rijksmuseum in the Netherlands and it had on display cabinets of items that were collected in those years of Wunderkammern – and the irresistible urge to open them and explore. At the Hunt Museum, visitors can open “Cabinets of Curiosities” without being reprimanded and hauled off by a security guard! It seems apparent from the article the exhibit was a success and I always find comments from visitors/users the most telling, such as: “getting away from the mundane textbooks,” “context merge with interactivity,” and most wonderfully, “it really brought the past into the present.”


1. The Bowers Museum:

2. Penn Museum:

3. Mingei International Museum:

The museum websites chosen fall into a category that can be defined as multicultural or world cultural heritage museums. Their primary focus is on cultures that are non-Western, and experiencing that diversity.

The primary museum website employed comes from the Bowers Museum located in Santa Ana, California that I have visited several times. Comparable museum websites chosen include the Mingei International Museum in San Diego, California (which I have visited) and Penn Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (which I have never visited). The Spurlock Museum would also have been an excellent choice, but did not realize this till after making my selections. However, this has provided me with the impetus to employ this exercise before going to the Spurlock Museum for the first time during Spring LEEP on-campus session.

In choosing seemingly comparable types of collections, I looked also at the various museums’ mission or about statements that they had posted on their sites. These mission and vision statements clarify their “world cultural heritage” collection positions. The mission statements were generally found under the “About” category.

However, on the Bowers website, there is no defined “About” category, but instead “Information” is used at the end of the navigational bar. This is then offered within a selection called “History and Mission” as the vision to “celebrate world cultures through their arts” and the mission to “enrich lives through the world’s finest arts and cultures. On Mingei’s website, “About the Museum” is located strategically at the end of the navigation bar. It highlights its mission in large text as “dedicated to the understanding and appreciation of ‘art of the people’ (mingei) from all cultures of the world. On Penn’s website, “About” was located outside of the navigational toolbar and in a small grouping of text selections on the upper right of the screen. In this, the Penn’s mission is stated as “the research, collections, and dissemination of knowledge, advances understanding of the world’s heritage.”

Even in this seemingly innocuous exercise of locating and defining these museums websites in order to describe their genre similarity, location and description of that information resource is different.

The following describes the use and analysis of the primary museum website of the Bowers Museum with comparisons to Mingei and Penn; with some commentary on issues of functionality, usability, and usefulness “sprinkled” throughout; and in regards to the possible usage of the websites for visit types and some discussion related to the readings that is interwoven in the commentary.


Generally, before making a physical visit to the museum, you usually want to see what the hours are, the location, parking and general logistics plus what’s in the collection, what’s currently on exhibit and any special events that are occurring. There is a need to know the “aboutness” of this museum, what’s in it, what could be intriguing, and how to plan to get there and visit it.

Paul Marty’s article “Museum Websites and Museum Visitors: Before and After the Museum Visit” utilized a survey about museum websites in relation to physical visits. He identified that the sites were used in a “complementary” fashion and acted as a “bridge to connect their pre-visit and post-visit activities.”

To get a sense of what the Bowers museum is and its collection, the home page has large images that transition every 5 seconds that illustrate and describe their special collections. Directly on the website and viewed in a passive way, I can see that the following special collections are being exhibited: Masks of New Guinea, Headhunter Art of the Pacific Islands, a coming exhibition of Secrets of the Silk Road, and the Gold of Troy (interestingly enough on loan from Penn Museum). I see on the home page that they have programs, you can shop, join it, and they have a special “Kidsmuseum.”

However, to dig deeper, I have to go under the selection “Art” to see their other collections, and particularly their permanent ones. The “Art” dropdown from the main navigational bar includes “Permanent Collection” with additional dropdown of “Collection Highlights, Conservation, Collection Blog, and Digital Collection” as well as “Exhibitions” with dropdown of “Current, Upcoming, Past, and Special Exhibitions.” However, when selecting exhibition options, only short amount of descriptive, with one central image and dates is provided. Once cannot see the extent of the diversity of the exhibition offerings here.

For a sense of what the permanent exhibitions are, the page “Collection Highlights” is of most value for a pre-visit overview. On one page in simple and chunked layout is a quick overview of the permanent collection. I can see quickly that it includes Native American Art, Art of the Pacific, Art of Africa, Pre-Columbian Art, South American Ethnographic Collection, Art of Asia, early American and Local Paintings, and all types of Decorative Arts.

I also take a peek at “Events” on the main navigational bar to see what other things might be happening and of interest. “Event” is strategically placed on the navigational bar after “Visit” and “Art.” The dropdown divides those choices as “General, Family, Members Only, and Calendar.” It seems like too many choices and eventually I get to the standard “Calendar” which provides a whole month with hyperlinked activities that can be clearly viewed.

Now that I have decided to visit, I select the most prominent and obvious choice “Visit” from the main navigational bar. The dropdown includes “Hours and Tickets, Direction and Parking, Book Your Event, Dining and Shopping, and Tours.” Somehow, I would prefer “Book Your Event” under Events rather than a visit choice. The hours and pricing are clearly labeled with a link to purchase tickets online. The directions and parking page needs a bit of help. It posts a Google Map that shows its location locally off the I-5 freeway. However, for those who are not locals, one doesn’t have a sense of where in Orange County the museum is situated. The page also uses large numbers that have no meaning to label location, transportation and parking information. It looks like something you have to do in sequence, and it is not. There are no additional visuals, pictures or maps for the parking and for what the museum building looks like.

The “Dining and Shopping Page” is a little strange. The picture of the restaurant is very abstract and doesn’t give a sense of the location or of people in it. The menus have to be downloaded rather than clickable. However, it is beneficial that the menus are included at all. The emphasis seems to be more on catering, renting space over individual visitors. Strangely, there is no information or pictures of the Museum Shop under this category. There is already a separate “Shop” choice in the main navigational bar that takes you to a full-bodied e-commerce store. They should drop “shopping” from the “Dining and Shopping Page.” A little disconcerting clicking throughout the various “Visit” pages is that sidebar information and buttons are offered that don’t relate to the content – such as pushing joining the museum or placing menus and advertising space rental in the museum hours location.

The oddest thing that is missing for my pre-visit preparation is that there are no floor maps, museum illustrations or actual concentrated pictures of the museum itself. This left a sort of ambiguous feeling as to what this museum is really like.

Mingei Museum: Unfortunately, the Mingei website adheres to some poor early conventions of website design – the torturous and useless intro splash screen that does nothing else but force a user to click each time before going to the site. This should go the way of the Dodo Bird. In essence, the website acts more like “brochure-ware” more than the Bowers website, yet there are two distinct additions that are better than what the Bowers offers – a more detailed collection overview and a separate collection website called “” (with the added distinction of also being saddled with a splash screen as well).

The navigation and organization of the website needs some help. The calendar choice is offered twice, under “Visit” and oddly under “Exhibitions.” The “Collections” choice on the main navigation bar gets me into a dropdown of their particular permanent collections – Mexico, India, China, Japan, Indonesia, Africa, Pre-Columbian, Middle East and American. Each collection page is filled with some representational images that are clickable. Each of these brings up its title and basic attributes. Viewing the “Exhibitions” choice under the navigation bar provides choices of current, past, future, traveling and the odd calendar choice. The “Current” page is very minimal in its information and provides a mini-list of the exhibits.

One usability element that comes up for the entire website is its propensity to use very small typeface. This is not beneficial for online viewing or for older patrons. It is perhaps used due to some design logic that small typeface means “prestigious” or “high-design.” Again, this reflects that “brochure-ware” mentality.

Descriptions of future exhibits are very slim and non-compelling. However, the past exhibits choice brings some advantages that are lacking in its website and in comparison to the Bowers. When selecting a past exhibit, there is extensive write-up on the collection plus clickable featured objects.

After having looked at the collections and exhibits, I turn to the first choice on the main navigation bar “Visit.” It’s a bit of a mess – combining its location page in San Diego, its other museum space in Escondido, and completely out of nowhere – tours, private events, calendar and subscribe. It is a hodgepodge.

There is really only one page that works for visiting and it is the location page. Here is quite a bit of small type with location, hours, pricing and a short description of the museum with an actual photo of the museum exterior. The map choice is another hyperlink off of this page and should be a choice under “Visit.” The page is also unfortunately littered with more calendar information and numerous hyperlinks that instead should be choices off the main navigation bar. There is no floor map provided as well.

Penn Museum: Perhaps picking the Penn Museum was not a truly fair comparison – being a much larger collection, larger square space, and its position as an academic museum on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania. There seems to be a greater budget and likely greater academic and global support. However, it does fit the concept of museum type examined.

There are many outstanding elements that can be seen off the home page, and already it can be seen that this website has much to offer. The home page highlights in newspaper fashion key aspects it wants to advertise. An advertisement space promotes a lecture series called “Great Discoveries of the World.” The Collection of the Americas is highlighted with text describing how the image present represents one of 400,000 objects that can be viewed online. A Youtube video is offered.

The main navigation bar consists of “Visit, Exhibits, Programs, Research, Archives, Collections, Publications, Support” and a Search box. Tabbed spaces below highlight upcoming events, news, latest press releases and new books. The dropdown selections for the main navigation are numerous. The exhibit pages give very detailed information about each as well as being populated with imagery. The collections pages are fully documented with text and have been tagged. It also offers a Flickr Gallery Highlights page, though still not populated. Its use of cloud tags can help users see what’s popular among visitors and allow them to quickly view the top items that may be of interest.

Under the “Visit” option on the main navigation bar, the items are the dropdown have been wisely chosen – “Events Calendar, Hours and Admission, Directions and Parking, Museum Map, FAQs, Accessibility, Group Discounts, Tours, Museum Shops and What’s Nearby.” Its “Visit” choices are superior to the Bowers and Mingei.


The Bowers does not actually have computers available to use the website on location. I believe their use of technology is used more minimally in an attempt to not distract from the collection itself, and any technology used is employed such as LCD screens for events or partially lit-up or touchable transitional spaces. Therefore, it is not integrated as an element to use during the visit. However, if looking at the website, the parts of the website that could be employed might be perhaps the “Join” or “Learn” options on the navigation bar. I might be so enthused after visiting the museum that I would want all the detail on how to join, support or volunteer. However, the Bowers already has membership applications and strongly markets i.e. pushes this in both a verbal and visual campaign on-site.

I might like some learning activities related to the collection while I am there. However, there are no interactive options but some curriculum resources. Even to perhaps get more information on the artifacts does not work for on-site because their “Digital Collection” is not working or hasn’t been built yet.

Mingei Museum: There is absolutely nothing of worth off the Mingei Museum to use during the physical visit. Also, no computers are set up to be part of the museum space or work as information resources. A physical brochure would actually be of more benefit to the user than this website. Under “Education” on the main navigation bar, there are absolutely no learning resources that can be used at the visit or even prior.

Penn Museum: Since I have never been to the museum, I do not know how integrated computer access is onsite. I would assume that there may be some due to it being an academic museum and its use of some technology on its website. There are quite a number of educational resources that could be utilized while onsite. Its very extensive archive and research section could be accessed when working on a paper or report at the museum.


In the Marty study, 69% of those questioned would visit the museum website after visiting the actual museum. That is a huge amount. Perhaps the greatest use I would put to website use after a visit is to look more in-depth at the artifacts and collection information that I have seen. I want to know more. There are some objects and information that intrigued me and I’d like to know more. I want to see the object up-close and get a sense of it and see what I missed when I was there. I’d like to listen to the videos that were played in the exhibit theater spaces. Yet, the Bowers website lacks these critical elements.

As Paul Marty states, a key post-visit activity is the desire to see the artifacts online. Again, the “Digital Collection” is offered as a choice but has nothing in it. There are no details or extra pictures of any of the collections. There are no audio or video offerings. Additional learning options are some print-based curriculum for students or dates to return to the museum for lectures (that are frequent). This part does intrigue me as a post-visit user. Now that I have seen the collections, what interesting lectures could I attend? Movies and documentaries are also presented in the main auditorium and those may be of interest. I might want to shop online for something that reminds me of that exhibit. I’d also look at the “Events,” “Calendar” and “Home” page again to see what’s coming up that would lend me to return.

Other statistics from the Mary study regarding online resources after visiting museums reference the desire to have research materials and archives. That is non-existent here. Also important were programs, tours, special events, and current and future exhibits of which the Bowers website does an excellent job promoting and displaying. The study suggests that for both pre- and post visits, the quality of images and graphics is high. The Bowers uses visuals extensively and they are of high-quality. However, some of these are used out of context and none are used in an image collection database. Visuals of the museum space, floor plans and exterior are missing. Above all, the study suggested quality of information. The Bowers presented well-written concise summaries online but lacks any depth on its collection, artifacts and learning resources.

Mingei Museum: To reiterate the point that has been made about the Mingei website, is its use after a visit is limited to its static offering – one can view the calendar, see samplings of past exhibits and of the current one, and perhaps plan for a coming exhibit. Even shopping is awkward. The “Store” choice has a dropdown of categorized items you can purchase. However, one has to continually go to the home page to look at different categories, such as books or home décor. The store should be its own separate page.

One promising addition is a “Search” option located on each page. Where the Mingei tries to break out of brochure-ware is in its offering of its “See-Mingei” collection. Unfortunately, this operates as a separate website and is not prominently located for a user to see or access. However, the “See-Mingei” project is an attempt by the museum to offer a more interactive presentation of its objects. A global map is clickable, and if I click on the “Middle East” area, it brings up a list of object view by material. Then, these items are viewed in a slide view or clickable mode with brief descriptive text.

Penn Museum: The Penn Museum has quite a number of resources that makes it invaluable for a post-visit. Again, its research, archives and searchable collections are quite impressive. This is a “working” museum website. Its use of Web 2.0 technology, Youtube, Flickr, clouds, tagging, and the like enhances its currency and its activity usage. In addition, the Penn offers its own special online exhibits that can be visited from home. The Penn website far outstrips the Bowers and Mingei on its resourcefulness and use for post-visit activities. However, I do like the Bowers’ focus on activities and events at the museum that would draw a user back into the physical space.


Though the Bowers website is beyond “brochure-ware,” and it gives a sense of the strong visuals, collection highlights, and many activities of a very active and dynamic museum, it cannot in any way replace visiting the actual museum and does not really extend itself enough for someone who will never visit. One gets a taste of the possibilities but most of the action and information is on-site. The Bowers is such an incredible resource not to be shared. Perhaps because it started out as such an intimate, “secret” museum (that has recently received national accolades by its acquisition of prestigious traveling exhibitions), it has stayed conservative in its online presence. Part of this, which I am aware of, is that there is little budget for this expense. I found out that it was literally ONE person who the Bowers has used for all their exhibition design spaces.

They pride themselves on being a learning museum with the on-site activities and its children’s museum, but it still needs to break out of the small-community mold in order to present its collection and exhibition offerings to a national and global community. It is really is a jewel of a museum and has offered incredible exhibits, and its website does not significantly convey that enough or offer these items nor space for access.

Mingei Museum: It is fair to say that the Mingei website cannot in any fashion take the place of an on-site visit. However, it does give a taste of its collection, its specific mission to be a collection of the “art of the people” (mingei), and its attempt to use an interactive collection component to present some of its international artifacts.

Penn Museum: Penn comes closest to attempting to be either a replacement for an on-site visit or at least an approximation to that in offering access, education and learning, research, online activities, and collection viewing. It’s a meaty website not for the faint-hearted or for someone just wanting to get a quick hit of information. However, the website demonstrates what museum websites should portend to be – not just means of promotion, but those “complementary” extensions of the physical space.

In Teather’s paper “A Museum is a Museum is a Museum…Or is it?: Exploring Museology and the Web,” there is the discussion of moving from “object towards information” and that “technology can help all of us see new relationships between objects.” There is also the discussion on Duncan Cameron’s classic article “The Museum: A Temple or Forum?” and the desire to move from temple to forum mode. The analysis of these multicultural museum websites demonstrate that the use of online technology can and should enhance our relationship to the artifact, which more importantly brings us to our relationship to the culture, to others, to the world and to ourselves as humans. I take issue with the separation of “temple” and “forum” for museums and this plays into online museum spaces as much as physical. It is in the museum space that one can find liminal, sacred or differentiated space that takes us out of the norm. It would be unwise to eliminate this basic essence. And it is imperative and useful to inform. I contend that museums and museum websites can be temple forums – places whereby we suspend ourselves to receive and become informed. A beautifully designed (within and without) museum website with structured and populated information and resources can act as this “temple forum” and thus act as Marty says in “complementary” fashion to the physical museum.

Terminator scanning environment from movie The Terminator, 1984.

“…[W]hat we conceive about our business is not sufficient to fully understand all the effects that are actually happening in and around our business…[W]e are completely unable to perceive of all the dynamics of our business environment because our conception limits our perception. Our accumulation of, and intense focus on, our knowledge controls what we believe. And, what we believe controls what we are able to see. What haven’t you noticed lately?”

Quote by Mark Federman, Chief Strategist, McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology, University of Toronto, Information Highways Conference 2003, Keynote Speech delivered March 25, 2003,

Environmental Scanning and Scanning for Disruptive Innovations are Fundamental:

At the beginning of our Current Topics in Collection Development course, we were provided with some absolutely key fundamentals – the nature of environmental scanning and disruptive innovation.  So key are these concepts that they surely should be the primary practices that libraries (and library schools for that matter) should use in ascertaining collection development as well as the institutions themselves.

It is a technique that institutions and businesses should incorporate in their models.  I was quite struck by the Environmental Scan postings on the 5 OCLC staffed blog “It’s All Good.”

Environmental Scanning, Part 1

Environmental Scanning, Part 2

Practicing “unconscious environmental scanning:”

To say it struck me was to say it struck me like lightning.  What grabbed me was that I had practiced “environmental scanning” in my former business life without even knowing there was a formality to it.  In my previous life, I was a designer and product manager for the likes of Microsoft, Adobe (formerly Aldus), K2 skis, and others.  When I was designing, defining, re-designing, or coming up with a product, my colleagues thought I was crazy because what did I do?  I didn’t go to the drawing board, or read reports, or spend time in my business ivory tower, or spent inventive times in my head.  I broke out of the inside world and went outside.

“What should we be concerned about trees?”

This reminded me specifically from the blog of a comment of a librarian while the OCLC staff person gave a presentation on “environmental scanning:” Why should a “library organization…be concerned about trees?”

Practicing “Terminator” pattern recognition scanning:

Terminator scanning biker dude from movie The Terminator, 1984.

I went into environments to see what people did, what environments looked like, what was happening and watch that dynamic.  I told them I was looking for patterns and trends.  And where I got my greatest feedback oddly enough was in shopping malls and stores.  Oddly, I despise these venues and never go I can stand it.  But this venue allowed me to witness what was trending – watched people, how they acted, what they wore and carried, what stores were popular, what was trending in those stores, particularly book, music and clothing stores.  Each store provided me with a window on trending and interests.  (Even color palettes were devised in these spots!)

Disruptive Innovation:

Environmental scanning was also critical in identifying disruptive innovations or the trending of them (Netscape’s introduction of an internet browser that Microsoft rejected until it stared them in the face; Google vs. search engines, publishers, writers, mappers, online and software corporations, libraries (including disintermediation-),

From Hunt’s The Disintermediation Era, cc Creative Commons/Flickr

…should I say anymore?) This ability to practice environmental scanning provided me with the ability to design or re-design products relatively successfully, and most importantly to me, responsively to the users.

OCLC Environmental Scan:

“It’s All Good” blog points to how the OCLC produced their own wonderful OCLC environmental scan as “internal communication of external information” but fortunately the Board of Trustees posted the scan publicly.  This was done in 2003 (and unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that one has been done currently) and it still holds weight.

The environment consists of landscapes:

“Landscapes” were defined as social, technology, researching and learning, and library.

Within the Library Landscape, scans were made of the following categories:

  1. Major trends, the Social Landscape:
  2. Major trends, the Technology Landscape:

In context, social, economic, and technology landscape scans were done that identified the following:

Social Landscape:

  1. Self-service: moving to self-sufficiency
  2. Satisfaction
  3. Seamlessness

Economic Landscape (It would be nice to see this updated for surely the 2010 economy is vastly different from the 2003, but the trending is still helpful):

  1. Slow economic growth worldwide
  2. Worldwide education and library spending
  3. A silver lining—shared infrastructures
  4. Funding for the public good

Research and Learning Landscape

    1. Reduced funding
    2. Proliferation of e-learning
    3. Lifelong learning in the community
    4. The changing pattern of research and learning in higher education
    5. Institutional repositories, scholarly communication and open access
    6. New flows of scholarly materials

    Technology Landscape

    1. Bringing structure to unstructured data
    2. Distributed, component-based software
    3. A move to open-source software
    4. Security, authentication and Digital Rights Management

    “Outside-in” approach:

    Wonderfully, this in-depth environmental scan does what is termed in the blog – “outside-in.”  ‘Outside-in’ takes a very broad view of the environment and is intended as a long view of the world.  This is contrast to what often libraries tend to do, which is “inside-out.”

    Local library example of a misconceived “outside-in” approach which is more “inside-out” (Mad Hatter anyone?):

    I see a fair example of this in my own local library in Tustin, California.  I think they believed they were doing an outside-in approach in tearing down their original library and putting a new one in, but I believe the redesign has failed, and continues to fail due to not continuing to view the patrons within the library space.  The library has all the high-tech look and outer design – the library is modeled after mid-century clean lines, big windows and steel construction.  The space is open and airy.  Meeting rooms have been created.  A whole section of computers with printing capabilities has been added.  A huge section for children with playful seating has been devised.  However, its collection….uggh!  Where are the books and resources?  Most of the lovely steel shelving is devoid of items.

    Collection, you say? What collection? Environmental scan, please:

    It looks like Fahrenheit 911 took place here.  The concern about space and the shelves may be occupied by 8 books.  It this an idea for aesthetics?  Not only are the books depopulated, but the magazines, DVDs and CDs.  I couldn’t believe this.  The Tustin library had a popular and large collection of DVDs, CDs, magazines and a diversity of books.  When in the old library, DVDs were checked out in mass.  Also, paperbacks were hugely popular. I couldn’t even find these.  Oddly, they must have thought that the biggest consumers of their library were children because over half the library consists of children books – significantly more than the adult and reference section.  Having done environmental scans on the library, there were only 2 children in the huge children’s book section and they weren’t reading any books but playing with the furniture or on the fun-looking computers.  In the adults section, I found families and adults crammed in spaces.  The computers were all used up, the largest body of people were the magazine readers who were now crammed into a dark small spot with fewer magazines, several patrons were scanning the book aisles with glazed eyes and confusion, a couple of young people were in the private meeting rooms working on homework on their laptops, and the checkout line was long and huge at a small little counter staffed by one person.  Interestingly, they placed the Information Desk completely at the back of the room and it was used non-stop because patrons, including young ones, couldn’t find materials – including myself.  I’ve not gone back to that public library because I find it empty and useless, and surely they did not design it by doing a proper environmental scan.  They should probably call it the Tustin Children Library to be more accurate, with a small play area for adults…

    Libraries need to practice environmental scanning:

    So, it is wise for all institutions and corporations, but most particularly for libraries in this rapidly-changing information/technological environment, to practice and implement environmental scanning.  It can be fairly inexpensive or free compared to expensive research studies.

    Simply look, watch, and listen.  How profound is that?

    When I came across this article and video, I could not help thinking about ebook readers filling a niche by being helpful for the visually impaired and disabled.

    Suffering from glaucoma and an English Lit major, Virginia Campbell could not properly read, write and use a computer until she got an iPad.

    Watch this wonderful video and read the article:

    And here is Virginia’s limerick:

    “To this technology-ninny it’s clear
    In my compromised 100th year,
    That to read and to write
    Are again within sight
    Of this Apple iPad pioneer.”

    This shows how the iPad (including eBook readers) can open a whole new world for the disenfranchised. I have seen how the iPad would be perfect for my elderly and disabled relatives – including my mom who has visual impairment and can only read large-print books, and my brain-damaged sister who really wants to use a computer but is too hard for her still).

    Now this is what I call exciting.

    First of all, Nicole’s incredible dialog blog write-up is phenomenal, in regards to the Cushing Academy’s issue of eliminating ALL books from their collection.   Great points.

    Hidden Factor of Why Cushing Story Loses Some of its Juice:

    I think one of the interesting aspects of this issue can be found in one of the responses to the article  – the fact that there is a well-used public library right down the street that students often use.  It’s always important to what… do proper environmental scanning, and realize that there is another library helping to supply the 20,000 book void that Cushing Academy created:

    The posting comment by Shoshanna Silverstein:

    What they don’t mention here is that the public library is literally right down the street.  Students at Cushing can walk to Ashburnham Public Library in less than 5 minutes from the center of their campus.  Cushing having a library is almost unnecessary if you take that into consideration.”

    Very powerful and illuminating point and fact.  So important to take the whole environment into context, which sort of strips this story of some of its potency.

    Frankenstein says “Books Bad, Fire Good:”

    What I find slightly horrifying is the statement by the academy headmaster James Tracy: “When I look at books, I see an outdated technology, like scrolls before books.”

    He also thinks it is wiser to spend $50,000 coffee shop that will include a $12,000 cappuccino machine.  You know, coffee is a far more important investment than those out-of-date books… oh, also “gotta” have some $42,000 on three large flat screen TVs…  Personally, it would be better to spend that $100,000 and give 200 students iPads.  That would be creative marketing and applications to the academy would flood in.

    Liz Vezina, a librarian at Cushing commented, “It makes me sad.  I’m going to miss them. I love books. I’ve grown up with them, and there’s something lost when they’re virtual. There’s a sensual side to them — the smell, the feel, the physicality of a book is something really special.”

    Why is it that so often that those who want to be hip and up on the new wave or the latest technology, don’t realize that you don’t throw everything out like the old was all bad and that technology is all good.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that there can be a blend of offerings within the library space, complementary even.  In fact, if books are going the way of manuscripts and scrolls, then they might want to hold onto them as investment if books go the way of rarity.

    Where’s the ebook waiting list?

    Some of our other articles written on ebooks in academia seem to demonstrate the lack of interest by students.  Some of this is because of proprietary issues, cost issues, lack of exposure issues, and the list goes on.  In the Princeton report, students actually were given Kindles (that sure makes a difference) with course/textbook material – most thought that it lacked proper annotation facility that occurs with paper models.  I mean if a school was going to hand out a Kindle, or better yet, an iPad, I’d take it.  Of course, with Google Edition, we can now download Google Books collections on our computers.  I still believe the market for ebooks in academia will be in textbook and course material.  That would one of the best offerings for electronic books.  In particular, ebooks based in certain areas, such as the sciences would benefit from updated electronic books as well as technology-based areas.

    Give me a format, give me a standard!

    Ok, I just had to throw in this Afghanistan PowerPoint diagram – it’s too good. Please substitute verbage above for ebook formats…

    Part of the problem in building ebook collections is the dizzying array of choices of readers, and formats.  I mean at least the International Digital Publishing Forum is trying to push for one standard – ePub, yet the reality is that there exits over 50 different ebook formats.  This is also likely why libraries haven’t taken a huge plunge into this area nor why users are not going “ga-ga” for ebooks.

    iPad and Google Edition:

    I do think that the iPad will being to make a dent into interest in eBooks.  I mean, there were more iPads sold in 1 month than Kindles for an entire year.  I mean, witness the English lit major and 100-year-old woman, having glaucoma, who already has read two books in one week on iPad, Of course, Kindles are better for your eyes and interestingly for your sleep than iPads.  Yet, I can’t help but think that Apple and Google will be playing big-time in the ebook arena with iPad and Google Edition.  It will be interesting how ebooks eventually play out in academic and public collections, or will we be seeing ebook rentals on the horizon?  Now that’s a whole other can of worms…

    When a player like Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak joins the advisory board of DeepDyve, it sends a signal to the Internet community that this must be something “hot.”  The “Woz” (why do some tech leaders get names like this – especially from Apple – “Tog,” etc.?) saw the possibilities of this search engine that crawls what is known as “deep web,” or what is not indexed by search engines.  We often think when we use Google, we are tapping into a lot of material.  However, what is so fascinating is that according to a study by the University of California, Berkeley (, traditional search engines only index .2% of the Internet.  .2%!  That means that 99.8% is not indexed and resides invisibly in the abyss of the “dark web.”  The goal of DeepDyve is to mine the data in the deep web and make it accessible to research.

    DeepDyve was founded by two scientists from the Human Genome Project (designing a system for pattern-matching data).  Chris Sherman from Search Engine Land (  comments enthusiastically on DeepDyve’s “genomic researcher” bent (vs. computer scientists and linguists that base search strategies on text and keywords) on setting up “sequence” search strategies, such as indexing words but also computing the “factorial combination of worlds and phrases in the document and uses some industrial strength statistical techniques to assess the ‘information impact’ of these combinations.”  DeepDyve primarily covers scientific, technical and medical research.  With its KeyPhrasetechnology, one can enter up to 25,000 characters – meaning one can also cut and past paragraphs to search for.  A big boon – a user does not have to rely on just an abstract or title to ascertain whether the article is fitting or not.  DeepDyve allows the user to read the full article before buying it.

    The DeepDyve article rental plan sounds a lot like Netflix but with a twist – rent viewing time and if so desired, buy the article.  The plans include:

    • One time rental cost of 24 hour article viewing: .99/per article
    • Silver monthly plan: 9.99 for 20 articles to read for 7 days
    • Gold monthly plan: 19.99 for unlimited articles for unlimited time

    A problem for researchers with DeepDyve is that in reading the article in its Flash-based proprietary viewer, users cannot capture that information electronically or through print.  If users want to copy any material, it’s down to writing on paper.  Another problem is that publishers that have signed up veer more toward the scholarly societies over for-profit publishers.  What a surprise – Elsevier is not a player.  Certainly, DeepDyve can augment research by providing relatively inexpensive access to those devoid of the free richness of databases and electronic journals found on university campuses.  That is often the shocker when leaving a university – suddenly devoid of those lovely journal and database resources.  Not even alumni get a piece.  However, one alumni association has taken it on.  The Caltech (California Institute of Technology) Alumni Association recently hooked up with DeepDyve ( to provide their alumni discounted DeepDyve memberships.  Now, that’s a start.

    The iPad as New Forum for Digital Textbooks?

    Probably the deal that has gotten me most excited about the possibility of really good digital textbooks has been the introduction of the iPad.  Needless to say, Steve Jobs has made no bones about going after the digital textbook market, and all I can say, is go for it.  I suppose iTunes is a bit of a music cartel, but I’ve been relatively happy with that drug of choice.  I can only assume that iPad would be a hit with college students in portability, visuals,touchability , and multi-functionality.  When you’ve seen what can be done with graphic novels, magazines or an interactive that could appear as part of a digital textbook on iPad (such as Marvel Comics, Popular Science Magazine, and The Elements), one sees that the iPad is a disruptive innovation  in the world of textbook publishing, perhaps even more so than typical e-readers (like the iPhone was for smartphones).  The cost for some of these is still drug pushing, but how sweet it is.  Another complementary aspect to a digital textbook in iPad is the ability to use its Voice Over feature, which reads the textbook out loud to you.  In addition, it is published in the open book platform,ePub.  Though the iBookstore is not stocked with digital textbooks yet (McGraw-Hill has already signed up), it will be interesting to see what textbook publishers develop this summer for its fall lineup.

    It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad World:

    In the posting “The Complex World of the Textbook” from the Disruptive Library Technology Jester blog, a very complex portrait of the textbook “ecosystem” is presented.  Complex indeed!  My mind is swirling.

    DLTJ identifies the US GAO as publishing a report called College Textbooks: Enhanced Offerings to Drive Recent Price Increases. They identify a diagram that illustrates this complexity called “The Typical Life Cycle of a College Textbook.”

    The 2005 diagram provided looks like this:

    Only 5 years later, the diagram should look like this:

    OK, this is an actual U.S. government diagram describing the Afghanistan war situation (and it doesn’t include the opium drug market unfortunately for comparison and for fitting analogies), but you get the drift – it’s getting more complex.

    On a side note, this diagram came from a complex PowerPoint demonstration.  I learned in our job talk exercise, that more on PowerPoint slides is not necessarily better…

    Drug Cartel/Market Analogy

    Andrea James writes thoughtfully and powerfully in her article “Prescription for consumers challenging academic textbook cartels.”  Again, we get to the drug analogy, and how fitting it is.  This reminds me of Wayne Bivens-Tatum’s lively article “Dealing with the Pusher Man.”  She compares the textbook publishing industry to the prescription drug racket.  This analogy is quite fitting too in that some folks have tried to get their prescription drugs in other countries, similar to students purchasing European or Asian versions of their textbooks for cheaper prices.  She references this analogy in Dr. James V. Koch’s report in that –

    • faculty=physicians
    • textbook publishers = drug cartels

    and add…

    • textbooks= brand-name drugs
    • textbook salesmen = drug pushers and dealers


    Her statistics on textbook publishing blow my MIND!  Here are the ones that really make a play:

    General: In 2006, 4.9 billion spent on textbooks, nearly 2 billion of that on used.

    Faculty: 1 of 2 don’t know textbook costs.

    Publishers/booksellers:  FIVE CONGLOMERATES CONTROL 80% of TEXTBOOK PRODUCTION, FOUR WHOLESALERS HOLD TEXTBOOK DISTRIBUTION (particularly used books), and operate 35% of college bookstores.  They then operate as cartels to present re-importation from non-US markets, remove used books, rapidly changing/modifying editions (that could mean just changing some exercises or making a pretty cover), bundle, fix prices, and other nefarious practices.

    Institutions:  Almost all profit, receipt of government financial aid will ironically increase textbooks costs, and looking at rental ebook systems, but which will possibly destroy used book market.

    Students:  80% of students are buying required textbook, 67% are purchased used textbooks online, and often students are stuck with mainly high-priced means of obtaining textbooks (except sometimes looking for drugs, oops, I mean textbooks in Europe and Asia online).  A big player in student textbook purchasing behavior is Amazon.

    Open Textbooks:

    One remedy for this includes open-textbooks (Open Textbooks, Open Source Text, Flat World Knowledge, Wikibooks, and also is CNX to develop math materials and CAPL that offers visual media for elementary schools).

    Digital Textbooks – Rentals and Effect?

    With digital textbooks, which seem to operate as timed digital rentals, the ability to have currency and portability is enhanced, with the promise of cost reduction (again, there is the promise, but we have to see).  Of course, digital textbooks add to the complexity of the whole textbook market in that it will eat into the used textbook market as well as forcing textbook publishers to modify their offerings.  I wonder if some aspects of digital textbook publishing might enter the cartel-like aspects of digital serial publishers?

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