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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.



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.

    When Shakespeare’s Juliet (Romeo and Juliet II, ii, 1-2) utters the famous line “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” she may have scrunched her nose and changed her mind regarding the name “Institutional Repository.”  Perhaps this word brings to mind that “cold sepulchre” where she and Romeo laid down their lives (“Let’s leave this cold sepulchre for Verona’s warm embrace”).

    Mike Furlough seems to concur in his witty and insightful article “What We Talk About When We Talk About Repositories” from Reference & User Services Quarterly (volume 49, issue 1). As an Assistant Dean for Scholarly Communications for Penn State University and with exposure to multiple digital scholarship initiatives, he should know.  He starts off immediately discussing how he dislikes the word “repository” – primarily because it obscures its meaning and function, and in essence works against it in positioning, marketing, and defining an institutional repository.  The word “repository” conjures up a number of distasteful and unhelpful connotations.  One wonders whether those parties involved in naming institutional repositories bothered to look up what the word meant and implied. defines it as:

    • receptacle (Ok, this is bad.  Trash bins and toilets are receptacles.)
    • burial place (The final resting place.)
    • sepulcher (Scholarly ghosts, anyone?)
    • warehouse (Dusty, never to be seen again.)
    • where things are deposited or stored (deposit as in a bank account?)
    • stockroom (How many cans of Spam do we have left?)
    • store room (Dusty again.)
    • safe, vault (You can deposit but you can’t get out.)

    Repositorium: (I don’t think this sounds any better and sounds slightly like a place for bodily eliminations, such as the the word “vomitorium” falsely implies.) Its origin comes from word “repositorium – meaning “that in which anything is placed.” (Again, laid to rest, not active, dormant.) The word “repositorium” actually means a “place for the storage of valuables, as in an ancient Roman temple or church.”

    Interestingly, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary also defines “repository” as something that “contains or stores something nonmaterial.  Nonmaterial?  This brings to mind a common term used in 2005 for the University of California Irvine Institutional Repository Initiative known as “the black hole.”  It brought fear to many professors that their hard-wrought research would disappear into this “vacuous” space.

    With the initial much-ballyhooed IR hype evidenced in the referenced 2002 paper from The Chronicle of Higher Education as “superarchives” that “could hold all scholarly output,” the Chronicle followed just two years later with “Papers Wanted: Online Archives Run by Universities Struggle to Attract Material.”  Dorothea Salo dared to touch this modern “Ark of the Covenant” (“touch this issue and you will fry”) and reveal its “data comes in but it doesn’t come out” roach motel status in “Innkeeper at the Roach Motel.”  Certainly, Salo’s article tapped into an underlying resonance felt by an accepting and grateful audience regarding the reality of managing an IR.  IRs seem to need more marketing, branding and positioning than is required of other digital libraries and collections.  Defining what an IR is and should be is critical, and as Furlough notes, there is quite a bit of active stuff that is required of a fully-functional IR.

    Needless to say, its “service” aspect is hidden by its clunky and inactive name.  Where is the support and interest that can be seen for IRs when discussing “cloud computing” and “digital libraries?”  I recently attended a seminar by OCLC discussing the phenomenon of cloud computing.  The presenter displayed a gorgeous diagram of what “exciting” resources and services are available in the “cloud.”  All the cool stuff, or “branded” stuff was situated prominently together in this massive visualization map.  However, I noticed that only one item was positioned all by itself in the “cloud map” in the dark recesses of the PowerPoint slide. Oh, what a surprise.  It’s our beleaguered “Institutional Repository.'”

    Perhaps a name change is in order.

    • How about branding it like a product?  Say “Digital Scholar.”
    • How about googling the name? Say “Institoogle.”
    • How about only giving it an acronym with a cooler name?  Say “IDL” (Institutional Digital Library) or “SDL” (Scholarly Digital Library).
    • How about “Salo-izing” it? Say “Roachmaster.”
    • How about adding the cool cloud factor to it: Say “IR Cloud.”
    • If can’t change name, put some hipper connotations to the IR acronym.  Say “IR 2.0.”  We all want to know 2.0 or 3.0.
    • Better yet, say “IRX.”  The X doesn’t mean anything but makes it sound fast and nifty like a BMW with that cool “X” factor.

    What do you think IRs should be called?  OK, folks, keep it clean.

    Graphic Novels: There’s a Method to My Manga

    Graphic novels and manga have become the new wave of pop culture reading in the United States and is slowly entering into academic curriculum and collections, and all I can say is, it’s about time.  Elizabeth M. Downey in her article Graphic Novels in Curriculum and Instruction Collections describes graphic novels as being “once disregarded as a lower form of literature” that “has evolved into pop culture artifact.”  That’s true but when looking through the lens of U.S. culture (American comic book legacy), not from where this really all stemmed from: the culture of Japanese manga (and of course, spread throughout Asia, as a fellow GSLIS student says Korean manga is the bomb).  I didn’t see the light of day until I took a 20th century Japanese art history course with my wonderful University of California Irvine professor Dr. Winther-Tamaki.  Key to our studies and a much referenced book is Dr. Sharon Kinsella’s Adult Manga.  It’s an art form, a way of life, a complex but accessible visual reader, and a means of communication inherently Japanese (even simply through the style of facial expressions, tone of voice, and grunts).  Its roots go back to the temple scrolls of the 12th century yet modern manga was born in the 20th century and truly emerged within Japan’s national reformulation after WWII.

    Critical to this understanding is that manga is big business and they’ve been doing this a long time.   Publishers, be on alert.  The global manga business is a $5 billion dollar market, U.S. sales in 2005 being $180 million, and yes, 60% of manga readers are female.  Milton Griepp, CEO of stated in 2006 that “books are not a growth business but the manga category has tripled in the last three years.  That gets our attention.”

    Part of this growth in manga and the graphic novel is inherent in our “visual literate” age where as professor Laura Mullen from Louisiana State says “We’re all of the Internet now…we never get a word without an image going with it, so in fact I think this is the direction of our future reading comprehension.  It will include both visual literacy and verbal literacy.”  In “What is Manga?  The Influence of Pop Culture in Adolescent Art,” Masami Toku writes interestingly of a stage of cognitive development that Japanese youth continue to develop over their U.S. counterparts – that is artistic development skills that are naturally inherent in children as well as nurtured.  Japanese youth and adults are more likely to be more visually literate than their U.S. counterparts from their exposure to manga and anime.

    What blew my mind in studying Dr. Kinsella’s Adult Manga is that non-fiction manga is a huge component of Japanese culture.  This fascinated me above anything else.  This can range from textbooks, historical, cooking, sports, business, finance, language, social behavior, and so much more.

    There is Oishinbo (The Gourmet) about cuisine:

    There is historical manga – such as the classic 1994 Berusaiyu no bara about Marie Antoinette and the French Revolution.

    One example of business manga was the wildly successful Manga Nihon keizai nyumon from 1986 also known as Japan Inc. – Introductory Guide to Japanese Economics.

    How about some manga textbooks on electronic circuitry, quantum mechanics, and thermodynamics?

    To use manga-based textbooks and curriculum is not far-fetched in seeing its history. With the iPad being a marvelous medium for graphic novels (seeMarvel Comics on iPad announcement), it seems that electronic manga books (and remember textbooks – key area where Steve Jobs is positioning this device) are not far behind.

    There’s also the serious endeavor of Meiji University’s Tokyo International Manga Library scheduled for 2014 that will contain over 2.1 acres of manga to house over 2.1 million manga related items in its archive.  Now, that’s a special collection I could get into.

    OK, who took my manga guide to databases?  I love relational databases (yeah, right).

    See attached PDF for more fun…

    At our onsite all-day Museum Informatics class on the campus of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, we were introduced to the concept of personas in the design process.  It was quite mind-altering and made a tremendous amount of sense – how critical it was to design an application towards imagined (identifying kinds of people who might use it) personas rather than what seems to happen most in the technological field (and boy, have I seen this!) – designing it for yourself.

    Meg Hourihan in “Taking the ‘You’ Out of User: My Experience Using Personas,”identifies this issue.  It is literally taking the ‘you’ out of the user – a sort of unconscious (sometimes not!) narcissism that if I design this for myself, I’ve designed it for all users.  Hourihan discusses how her startup company Pyra (anecdote: same company that developed “Blogger” software that bought by Google) were developing a project management tool and “assumed we were developing our product for PEOPLE JUST LIKE US, so we could make assumptions based on our wants and extrapolate those desires.

    It wasn’t until Hourihan discovered the work of the originator of personas for software development – Alan Cooper’s “The Inmates Are Running the Asylum: Why High-Tech Products Drive Us Crazy and How to Restore the Sanity” that the fallacies of these assumptions were tested and came tumbling down.  When her team actually developed the personas during pre-beta development, they found out – WHAT?  – ”Not only were the personas not all like us – our personas wouldn’t even be able to use the system were were building for them!”

    Hourihan wonderfully elaborated on mistakes and boy, are these good:

    • Mistake 1: We chose flashy technology over accessibility.
    • Mistake 2: We assumed users would be more impressed by a robust interfact that couldn’t use than by a less elegant application that they could use.
    • Mistake 3: We thought we were the primary persona.

    Developers and designers, listen up.  These 3 “mistakes” or should I say “critical observations” should be part of your daily mantra when designing and designing for personas.

    Alan Cooper in his online journal on “The Origin of Personas” discusses how he actually play-acted his personas:  ”…I would engage myself in a dialogue, play-acting a project manager, loosely based on Kathy, requesting functions and behavior from my program.  I often found myself deep in those dialogues, speaking aloud, and gesturing with my arms.  Some of the golfers were taken aback by my unexpected presence and unusual behavior, but that didn’t bother me because I found that this play-acting technique was remarkable effective for cutting through complex design questions of functionality and interaction, allowing me to clearly see what was necessary and unnecessary and, more importantly, to differentiate between what was used frequently and what was needed only infrequently.”

    When I was put in charge of re-designing Microsoft Money in 1995, I had no idea that the play-acting I was doing for my personas was actually a formalized protocol.  When we selected users for the usability testing, we attempted to gather persons that covered the gamut of who we were targeting this product for – from young to old, from inexperienced to savvy, from someone storing their banking stuff in shoeboxes (me too!) to those who were diligent about their budgets.  We also had them run through several scenarios to see how they liked the software.

    I was struck by these users and how distinctive they were.  I particularly was effected by a grandmother who told me so much about how well the interface was working – no computer experience, wrote checks by hand, and she got it and loved it right away.  I also took away from that usability test getting into these types of personas and while I was designing, think, “What would Grandma (not mine!) think, want, do or what would College Student do, etc.”  I had no idea that I was designing for personas, but have to say it was highly successful.

    Part of this is that you respect the personas.  I think there is evidence of creating a bad persona or putting down a persona and I can’t think of any better example than Microsoft Bob.  Some or actually many of you have maybe never heard of Microsoft Bob (and those of you who do, I can hear your screaming).

    Kim Goodwin from Cooper (Alan Cooper’s company) calls this “Taking Personas Too Far:”  I recently heard about a Web design agency building “persona living rooms” that are furnished and decorated according to the personas’ tastes and filled with magazines the personas read.”  Microsoft Bob was a major bomb (perhaps the biggest bomb in Microsoft software history) that took a persona too far, too literally, and was based on a denigrated image of a persona.  Voted 7th in PC World Magazine’s top 25 worst products of all time, Microsoft Bob was designed as a “user-friendly” Windows interface and applications for the average Joe (or average Bob) who was computer-naive or intimidated.

    And this is where Microsoft looked down upon the user – the average Bob – the idea of this hapless, perhaps dumb and confused person – who needs 16+ horrible animal and animated object guides to help them in an interface that is within a room.  That was Microsoft’s greatest sin on Microsoft Bob – disrespecting the targeted user, dumbing him down from a sense of technological and academic superiority.

    Research was not based on fact and real-world but on high-paid Stanford academic professors and researchers telling them this is how new users behave and what they want.  NOT!  Alan Cooper speaks of this when he describes true persona development, calling it counter-logical:  ”I suspect that this is why they originated in practice rather than in the laboratory or in academia.”  With all its high-paid tomfoolery, Microsoft Bob was an insult to all users everywhere.  Even the name “Bob” was insulting to “Bobs” everywhere, as if they were dullards. (Microsoft paid Nike-famous ad agency Weiden & Kennedy to come up with that name.)

    Here’s nicely written bit about Microsoft Bob called “The Bob Chronicles,” irreverently and accurately calling it “The amazing true story of the software that DIDN’T change the world.”

    Lesson learned (we hope!).

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