Institutions

Sites: a pattern of expectation

Lorcan 1 min read

On recent travels, I have been reading Malcolm McCullough’s Digital Ground, an architectural consideration of interaction design in an age of pervasive computing. I was interested to come across this mention of public libraries:

… A livable city is made up of types. Some of these, such as the sidewalk cafe, become valued for all the experiences that have accumulated there. Any institutionalization is purely unofficial. Other sites declare values and expectations more deliberately; a public library does this well, for example. Cultural distinctions in handling these typological elements become sources of exchange and identity in themselves. Particular places are known for their types. New Orleans has its patios, and Brooklyn has its brownstones. [Malcolm McCullough. Digital Ground: architecture, pervasive computing, and environmental knowing. p. 57]

I have always thought that a habitual library user is at home in any library: this is becuase of an institutionalized persistence of ‘values and expectations’. The lie of the land may vary, the size of the collections may vary, but your expectations of any one library will be patterned by your prior experience of others, and how they manifest library purpose and values. This extends to the way collections and services are disposed around the building, and to your sense of entitlement. This is the case in an academic library or a public library, I think.
This suggests two issues.
The first is to do with the ‘declaration’ of ‘values and expections’. We do not have the ability to do this well in a web environment; we do not have architectural, spatial, or other cues. In this context, Bill Mitchell has spoken about the importance of ‘brand equity’ on the network.
The second is to do with familiarity, and, in turn, ease of use. Each library website presents itself in different ways. The digital environment is not consistently patterned. Which is a disincentive for some users.
Each of these issues poses interesting challenges moving forward.
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