Information Flux in the 21st Century

16th Century Chapbook: Object of 21st Century Search

FaustYesterday, I stopped at my local library branch to see if there were any movies on the shelves I wanted to borrow. The movie “Cabin in the Sky” caught my eye. This is a movie from the early 1940s based on a play from the same era; both had all black casts. Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Lena Horne were movie cast members. It was directed by Vincente Minnelli. I was intrigued. I took it home, and began my research on movie, subject, and more. Google, Wikipedia, NYPL’s online catalog and databases served me well, up to a point.

“Cabin in the Sky” led back to Faust. From there I wanted to know about the first published version of the legend. It was a chapbook, I discovered, printed by Johann Spies in Frankfurt in 1587. Oh sure, Dr. Faustus had some interesting characteristics: scholar, seeker of knowledge about many things, including alchemy and necromancy, and the list goes on. And, then there’s that pact he makes with a disciple of Satan, a cool fella named Mephistophiles (sp?) depicted in various forms in different versions. Those tidbits didn’t impress. There was little challenge in finding information about the subject. No, I wanted the object. I wanted to see the actual chapbook. How big or small was it? How many pages? Were there woodcuts? What did the type look like? What was the paper like? Watermarks?

I got as far as excerpts about the chapbook in the book, “The Sin of Knowledge” by Theodore Ziolkowski, courtesy of a Google Books full text search. But, the meaty section following “But none of these earlier compilations were published. It was not until 1587 that…” was missing. Below the page number, 52, was a pale blue banner with text on it that read “Pages 53-54 are not part of this book preview.” The same book had other excerpts that teased. A caption below a big blank space states “Fig. 4. Title page of Faust chapbook. Frankfurt am Main, 1594. Courtesy of The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. (The illustration is identical with that of the first illustrated Faust chap book: Strassburg, 1588).” That was frustrating. A search on Worldcat was frustrating for the lack of results on the Chapbook itself. Beinecke did not appear on my search result list. Sad to see that treasures of this kind are not catalogued. These objects may be too fragile to be displayed briefly, or even to be adequately exhibited, but we should at least know where they exist.

Happily, I will continue my research about this elusive object. I found out I can see the book I mentioned above at the NYPL’ s main branch on 42nd street. I can also shell out $49.95 to own the book in order to see the image of the title page of the chapbook. But, other than a visit to the Beinecke Library, where I could be, at the very least, in close proximity to the object, I don’t think any more research I could do about the object as subject, will completely satisfy. Now, I’ll go watch “Cabin in the Sky.”

July 26, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

New MoMA Website – Where’s the Information Architecture?

Last Thursday my family and I went to the Museum of Modern Art. As is typical for me before a museum visit, I went to the MoMA website to check hours, and to read a little about the exhibit I wanted to see. I was overwhelmed by the chaos on the home page. There were big blocks of color with words on them, but none pertaining to the James Ensor exhibit, or to any exhibit information for that matter. Where was the link to exhibitions? Where was the navigation? Then, the blocks disappeared and images appeared in their place, with a continuous rotating cycle of images and color blocks. I waited for an image of a James Ensor painting to appear so that I could get where I wanted to go. I clicked on the image and went to the page with the information I was seeking, but then I made the mistake of clicking on Exhibitions in the breadcrumb trail. On this page are timelines of the different exhibits. Confusing! Back on the home page, I noticed “Take our Online Survey” on one of the blocks of color. Of course, I couldn’t resist.

It was all coming back to me. The MoMA website’s redesign was launched around the time I went to the Museums and the Web conference in April. Yet, I never took the time to check out the redesign, despite having been to a session at the conference where one of the key members responsible for the redesign spoke.

The redesigned site seems to defy so many of the principles I learned in my Information Architecture course. The main navigation is at the bottom of the screen. There is second level navigation on some secondary pages, but not all. And, those breadcrumbs I mentioned earlier, they seem to provide the only consistent secondary navigation paths. Am I missing something? Are museum websites specifically designed to offer an experience that does not readily accommodate resource discovery? Don’t get me wrong, I do appreciate some of the experience. I liked the online James Ensor exhibit, once I found it. However, when I wanted to return to the main site, I was pressed to figure out how to do so. Lo and behold, that small MoMA logo does link back to the main site.

I don’t think that MoMA was negligent, however. I discovered in the results from my survey on museum website usage that the area respondents most visited was visitor information. So, not surprisingly, this is the first option in the main navigation. Still, my information organization oriented mind craves a traceable taxonomy, even on a museum website. Fortunately, MoMA gave me the chance to tell them so.

July 21, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Digital Youth Media & Technology

I was privileged to be one of those in the know to attend the first annual NYC Digital Youth Media & Technology Festival last Saturday, June 27th. On a warm, sunny afternoon a sea of teens seated at tables in a room at the New School were absorbed in the games they developed, and were demonstrating mostly to each other. Facilitators from various organizations, including Global Kids and the NYPL, were available to help out wherever needed. After talking to one from Global Kids, I went over to a teen from a school in Brooklyn who demonstrated her game. I was very impressed with her poise, her knowledge of the subject, and her presentation of the literacy skills used in the game, so much so that I forgot the theme of her game.

The presentation portion was the Playing for Keeps Challenge. Three groups of high school students presented games they conceived at after school programs held in three NYPL branches. The first group showed an amusing, clever video to demonstrate their anti-drug themed game. The other groups did a great job of walking through their games on posters. Again, I was overwhelmed by how engaged the students were in their projects. They seem to connect to the subject matter in ways that they would not by writing a traditional report.

I am doing a lot of homework these days to support my interest in how games provide a different and possibly better way to learn. I am currently reading James Paul Gee’s book What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy. The chapter that I am reading now on “Learning and Identity…” illustrates through the example of a character that the author developed in the game, Arcanum, the identities at stake in this role playing game. According to James Paul Gee, first there is the virtual identity, the player as character, then there is the player’s real world identity as a player of the game, in this case player as character. Finally, there is the projective identity; the player projects his identity on the character and the player considers the character a project in the making.

I am beginning to see how games engage players and teach a different type of literacy, and how with the right games players can learn traditional K-12 subjects, as well as contemporary social issues, in this recursive way. It reminds me of Electronic Literature, and what I learned from Katherine Hayles book. While reading that book and discussing it in my Information Architecture course, I suspected there was a connection between that genre of literature originating in digital form and electronic games. We, as humans, are forming new modes of understanding by interacting with these digital born constructs.

July 4, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment