Disclaimer: This is something that I’m still trying to figure out, so a lot of what follows is still kinda half-baked and rant-y (just your typical kovenjsmith.com post, I suppose). I welcome better-informed opinions than my own…
I often hear museum staff talk about museum websites being places for visitors to the buildings to “plan their visits” and/or to “follow up after their visits.” For some institutions, it seems that this is the primary purpose of their websites. I’m willing to be convinced if someone can show me hard data that proves otherwise, but my gut tells me that this kind of activity rarely, if ever, actually occurs in the way we so often discuss it.
Let me be clear here–I’m not talking about visiting a museum site to figure out what times it’s open, or how to get there. That’s pretty basic stuff, and statistics generally show that these are typically the most-visited areas of many museum websites. I’m also not talking about using a museum’s website to determine whether you’re going to visit in the first place (“They’ve got the Naboo fighter on display? I am so there.”).
No, here I’m talking about what museum staff seem to refer to when they say “plan your visit,” which seems to be something along the lines of this scenario: the visitor figures out ahead of time what he or she wants to see, and maps out the visit, either literally on a map or conceptually (“first we see the Jackson Pollack, then the Naboo fighter”). After this thoroughly-planned-out visit occurs, the visitor goes home, pulls up the museum’s website, and reviews what he/she saw there.
Maybe this scenario really does occur at museums with really large campuses (sculpture parks, for instance), where a visitor really does need to optimize travel time between stops, and advance planning is actually critical. And maybe I’m completely misunderstanding what museum people mean when they say “plan/follow up”–no one has ever been able to successfully explain this concept to me. I hear it intoned all the time, but it’s an activity that seems ill-defined at best.
I feel that often museums still see their websites as inextricably tethered to the physical buildings, as opposed to distinct entities with really only the tenuous connection of the museum brand tying them together. The two are certainly related, in that the same scholarly activities and staff make them happen, but the output and use of those activities as they are manifested inside the building and on the Web are entirely different.
My main worry here is that this continued orientation towards the physical visit in museum websites results in an only slightly more evolved version of the 90s-era “brochure-ware” websites that we so often decry. There are experiences on museum websites that are impossible to have inside the building; let’s stop limiting them arbitrarily by forcing them to be something they really aren’t good at being.
I’m Koven, and that’s one to grow on.