Art information use and needs of non-specialists: evidence in art museum visitor studies
Smith, Martha Kellogg
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Digital and Web technologies have created dramatic changes in art museum information systems which have in turn invited an expanding diversity of non-specialist art information seekers. Research is needed to support the organization of and access to basic art information content, and the vocabularies which frame this content, for the use of general audiences, whether they are using gallery-based or online information resources. The purpose of this dissertation is to explore the information needs and behaviors of non-specialist art viewers in order to contribute to the improvement of these information systems.The dissertation uses qualitative meta-analysis to examine the empirical findings of a purposeful selection of studies of adult visitors to physical art museums in order to better understand: (a) the beliefs and assumptions about art information that visitors bring to art museums, (b) how visitors process information in the galleries among the artworks using physical, emotional, cognitive, and socially shared interactions, and (c) how visitors use museum-supplied information. The research question asks: what do art museum visitor studies tell us about the types of information---visual, contextual, interpretive---that adult art museum visitors seek and use as they interact with artworks in museum settings?A conceptual framework of the types of information and information behaviors used by art museum visitors is developed from this meta-analysis of empirical evidence and from the cross-case comparison of interpretive behavior models created by art museum visitor researchers. The framework outlines of the types of information---visual, contextual, and interpretive---that museum visitors use in combination with their information-gathering behaviors of artwork description, analysis and identification, and interpretation. The framework carries implications for museum information system design, including the creation of subject access to art information resources appropriate to the varying levels of art knowledge of general audiences. The framework also suggests areas for further research into non-specialist art information needs and uses.
- Information science