Final Thoughts Before the Buzzer

Reflection prompt: What was the most interesting thing you learned from a class colleague this semester? How did it
change your perspective? Was the content of this course what you were expecting it to be? What would you like to have spent more time learning? Less time focusing on? What was your favorite project or reading you worked on this semester? If you had to eliminate a project or reading, what would it be?

It’s hard to believe this class is nearly over! We covered so much in terms of readings and discussions and projects, it seems like a whirlwind looking back. I can’t pick a single thing as the most interesting or most important. I learned so much from just reading people’s blog posts and conversing on the discussion boards. Sometimes I would have light bulb moments; sometimes I would have the exact same impressions as someone else after reading something; sometimes I would have a completely opposite reaction or interpretation to something. If I had to narrow it down, I would have to say my impressions have changed about the purpose of makerspaces and about creating innovative and participatory spaces in libraries and other cultural institutions in general. Perhaps very naively, I initially thought the arguments were mostly “pro-makerspace” because they were trendy and/or cool and/or it was obvious that people wanted them… and didn’t realize the nuances involved in the conceptualization, planning, implementation, maintenance and evaluation — not to mention the political complexities — of the spaces. I remember reading, I think in Nina Simon’s The Participatory Museum, about how the point of a participatory space isn’t just to make something fun or something people will like or something that will be good enough to gather responses for some ambiguous use later — it should be about capturing what visitors can offer that the institution itself cannot and supporting/enhancing new kinds of learning. Makerspaces shouldn’t be one-size-fits-all; they should be created specifically with the particular community’s needs in mind. Now, I feel like I have a much better understanding of how complex this whole issue can be, as well as a better understanding of the pros and cons on both sides of the argument. I find that I am still, of course “pro-makerspace” but have a more mature view, perhaps.

The content of the course was mostly what I was expecting. I had just finished another version of 287 (The Hyperlinked Library) and we had some discussions about makerspaces (and The Idea Box!); in fact, that was part of the reason why I took this class. I was expecting a similar format, in terms of types of readings, writing regular blog posts, etc.  I love real-life examples (e.g., Chicago’s YOUmedia) so I enjoyed reading about actual participatory spaces and would love to have more of this in the class. Some of the early foundational readings were really great to introduce essential/key concepts (e.g., Ito’s Hanging Out, Messing Around, Geeking Out) but some of the details were a bit dated. I think this is probably somewhat unavoidable, however, as technology and the way we use it changes so quickly.

My favorite project I worked on this semester was probably the Maker Faire or the museum visit; hard to pick a favorite reading but it was probably The Participatory Museum by Nina Simon (linked in the the first paragraph) or Why I Am Not A Maker by Debbie Chachra. The basic ideas in that piece came up so often for me as I explored the connections between maker culture and gender, something I hadn’t really considered before taking this class. The intersection of those concepts is one that I’m excited to continue to learn more about after this semester ends. I wasn’t as interested in the content that seemed to come from a business orientation, although I recognize that it is important to understand these perspectives when analyzing the possibilities for creating makerspaces. If I had to eliminate a reading or project, I would probably pick something that fell into that domain. Overall, I’m glad I took this class and had the opportunity to learn more about participatory culture and innovative learning in libraries and other cultural institutions.

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Don’t Steal My Stuff! iPad Decoy Case and Cord Organizers

For the Maker Faire project, I thought I’d try to tackle something 1) sort of crafty (because I’m not a crafter, at. all.) and 2) possibly useful in terms of both a final product and its application in a library setting. After some browsing online and brainstorming about my library, I struck on a combo of ideas: an iPad “stealth case” disguised as an old book (!) and a cord/charger organizer to go with it. As I’ve mentioned before, I work at an academic library. A huge, endless reoccurring problem for our students is theft. A few times a week, we will have students come up to the desk and report that their laptop/tablet/headphones/charger/phone was stolen while they left it unattended to go to the bathroom. Sure, a brand new iPad left on its lonesome is a prime target for a potential thief, but is it as likely that your valuables will be stolen if they’re tucked away inside a nice looking copy of this 1977 cookbook?

Awesome old cookbook I got at a thrift store

Awesome old cookbook that was languishing at a local thrift store

I don’t think it looks quite as appealing to potential thieves as a new tablet or phone.  Naturally electronics have chargers and cords that need keeping, and I’ve watched countless students fight with tangled headphones and cords as they pull them out of their backpacks. So then I thought – why not make a cord organizer to go with the iPad case?

Tools for the iPad case and cord organizers

Tools for the iPad case project

Tools for the cord organizers

Tools for the cord organizer project

For the iPad case I found a tutorial on Instructables.com and for the cord organizers I followed a tutorial on the website Brit + Co. For both projects, I ended up changing the instructions/specs just slightly 1) to compensate for mistakes I made or 2) to try to be a bit more creative.

For the iPad case, I needed to essentially carve out a section of the pages so that my iPad would fit inside and could close all the way without indicating that it was actually inside. I placed the iPad on top of the books’ pages, traced, and started cutting. This took a surprisingly long time (almost 2 hours, split over 2 days).

Pages are cut out to make room for the iPad

Pages are cut out to make room for the iPad

After managing not to cut myself (whew!), the iPad could finally fit snugly inside. When the book is closed, the covers are flat — you would never know that there’s a tablet inside! I also added an elastic strap to help secure the iPad when the book is closed.

Snug as a bug

                           Snug as a bug

Next I started working on the cord organizers. I made three different sizes (small, medium, large) for a variety of needs: the smallest fits my headphones (iPhone earbuds), the medium size fits my earbuds and my iPhone charger, and the largest one fits my computer charger (MacBook Pro). I made the organizers by measuring and cutting various sizes/shapes out of a piece of vinyl, then cutting slits in specific locations that can be used as “straps” to hold the cords.

Medium sized cord organizer + earbuds

Medium sized cord organizer + earbuds

You can’t see it in the picture above but you can in the picture below: I also attached snaps so that the organizer can be rolled and secured (easy to toss into a purse or backback!) and I glued on some pretty lace too. I told you I’m not a crafter, so bear with me…

All three sizes!

                            All three sizes

Overall, the projects took a couple of hours over the course of two days to complete from start to finish. I think this might be a fun project to do at my library as part of a theft prevention workshop. We’ve put up endless signs warning students about theft but inevitably I walk by study carrels that have tablets and laptops and headphones just sitting there, completely abandoned.

I think that some students would likely see the value in having some fun, cheap, homemade decoy covers for their electronics, as it can be a hassle to gather your stuff to take it with you to the bathroom or have to ask someone to watch your things. I’m sure the librarians would appreciate a potential decrease in thefts as well.

Of course, there may be some safety concerns with having to use hot glue guns and sharp blades in order to complete the projects. I never cut myself but it was definitely a possibility as I tend to get a little impatient when something takes a long time.  I think the costs could be kept fairly low overall (things I didn’t already have, I purchased for relatively cheap at a craft store). Staff would have to do minimal prep work to set up and direct the projects. Additionally, both turned out to be fairly straightforward in terms of possible complications and the number of steps.

Now, someone might steal an iPad… but who would want to steal this? 🙂

The finished projects!

     The finished projects!

“Try! Fail! Fix!” is My New Mantra

Prompt: “Never help a child with a task at which he feels like he can succeed.” – Maria Montessori. How do you feel about this quote in terms of your own educational experience?

I hadn’t heard this quote before this week, but I’m glad to know it now and have a chance to think about how it applies to my educational experiences. I won’t discuss my experience in LIBR 240 too much because Sara already did an incredible job describing being in our class — so I will point you to her post called Agency is Terrifying and Exhilarating.

I will say that this quote fits my new-found perspective on my educational experiences now, especially in my library classes and in 240 in particular, but it kind of didn’t fit my experiences for a long time, especially when I was younger. In my elementary, middle school, and even high school years, various teachers (and especially my parents) were incredibly supportive — almost to a fault. I was encouraged to learn, but help was always offered and my positive reception of the help was always inherently expected — with or without my requesting it– to do things the right way or the easiest way or the quickest way, etc. It was sort of a sense like, “this is the way you do it, there are no other ways. If you do it this way and fail, then something’s wrong with you or what you did and failure is a bad thing.” Ok, that might sound a bit harsh. I’m not trying to insinuate that creativity and exposure to a variety of learning experiences was completely stifled, but I feel my education was pretty rigid and sort of “old school”, in that sense. There wasn’t a lot of room to say, “no, I’ve got it, I’m just going to go about it differently.”

My sister went to a Montessori school for a while and had a very different education than I did. In some ways I’m sort of envious of her memories and experiences! Failure, for me, was scary and frustrating and it meant that I wasn’t up to the task or I just wasn’t smart enough to figure something out. I felt like failure was personal and it reflected on me, not my understanding or production of something. My sister took failure and ran with it. It wasn’t as scary to her — it became a tool for her to adapt to and learn from.

Now, I’m proud to say I fail on a regular basis. As Sara mentioned in her post, learning how to code and write in programming languages in 240 is terrifying and exhilarating. You should expect to make lots of mistakes and you should expect for things to not work.  You should also expect to feel amazing when you learn from your mistakes and something does work! I’ve felt so dumb… and then felt like a magician during some amazing light bulb moments! Having to figure something out on my own is still sort of scary for me — but I’m slowly learning that it’s okay and, in fact, it can make me feel really good.

I took another version of 287 last term called The Hyperlinked Library (I think some of my fellow classmates were also in that class). It was an amazing environment in which to learn. Our teacher, Michael Stephens, promoted a sense of safety and security as we were allowed to “think out loud” and share imperfect ideas, imperfectly, sometimes. I never felt afraid to make mistakes in that class, mostly because I knew that they would be examined as an example of growth, not something to be ashamed of or penalized for.

My confidence in my ability to think and write and express myself has grown so much since I started library school — and I think Montessori’s quote really explains why. My professors, on the whole, have not been helicopters or bad cops or dictators. They’ve been supportive, encouraging, and dynamic. They’ve deliberately challenged me, left me little gaps in which I’ve had to think for myself, encouraged me to close that space and fill it in with my own thoughts and ideas and words and mistakes — not just duplicate copies of their own. I’ve grown so much in a personal and professional sense because of this. My education here hasn’t been “repeat my words verbatim, it will be on the test”; it’s been “here’s what I think, what do you think?” It’s been collaborative and creative and incredibly freeing.

It’s like for the first time I’ve been explicitly told: your ideas are valid. You are valid. If you think you can do it, do it. If you think you can’t do it, make a mistake. Learn from it and do it again. It’s okay.

Back to this week. It was really interesting reading about the new options for teaching kids about technology and coding, including some lists of amazing resources for first-time learners. I wish I would have been introduced to coding/programming or even basic technological tools a lot earlier in my educational career. I was particularly struck by the Life with Raspberry Pi: Sparking a School Coding Revolution article by Chad Sansing and the idea that “using tools like the RPi to bring the Maker movement into libraries and schools is a powerful way to combat academic passivity”. Bingo. “Academic passivity” is a perfect way to describe the purgatory of learning that I lingered in for so many years in my various schools. Only in the last few years have I really felt like I’ve created a legacy of work that I’m proud of and passionate about, one that hasn’t always come easy but sure feels good.

I smiled when I read about how the kids were basically chanting as they were working, “Try! Fail! Fix!” I love this! I wish I been taught this mantra as a child. At least now I can use it as an adult. 🙂

Thoughts on YOUmedia… and Some Inevitable Thoughts About Gender

Prompt: What types of participation are happening at Chicago’s YouMedia Digital Media Lab? What struck you from the report about its first year in action?

I first read a little bit about YOUmedia in another class and thought it sounded pretty cool… but then moved on to other things and never followed up with reading more about it! I’m glad we had the opportunity to read this report and really dive into the context and circumstances of this particular makerspace.

Some responses:

First of all, reading Teens, Digital Media and the Chicago Public Library  about the YOUmedia Digital Media Lab made me want to move to Chicago and work there or just do that kind of work somewhere! The report felt energizing and invigorating to read – I’m glad a place like this exists. YOUmedia is not perfect, of course, and I appreciated the authors’ discussion of some shortcomings, but it is an interesting example of one way that a makerspace for teens in a library setting can be conceptualized. And it just sounds like plain old fun to be there and hang out and/or do stuff.

The participatory profiles, categorized as Socializers, Readers/Studiers, Floaters, Experimenters, or Creators for the purposes of the study, sounded familiar after reading Ito’s “Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out.” I appreciated the discussion of how these participatory styles interacted with 1) teen freedom of choice (e.g., choosing how to spend their time in the space, options of activities/workshops to participate in, etc) and 2) the actual layout of the physical space as determined by the equipment and the staff. The map graphic on page 26 that showed where certain categories of participators were most likely to spend time in the space was a great visualization of data that may seem convoluted at first. I also enjoyed reading about the students’ relationships with staff members and the roles that staff members played in 1) facilitating engagement or 2) just hanging out and talking. One teen mentioned the feeling that “the adults who work there respect teens” and many others mentioned this same idea. I wish I could have known more about the staff (e.g., backgrounds, prior experiences, perspectives) beyond what was provided in the report.

I was also struck by the number of teens who commented that YOUmedia made them feel safe and also gave them a feeling of belonging, perhaps incorporating that “affinity space” mentality that encourages teens to be bold and honest about what interests them and share that with others. A number of teens also highlighted the importance of agency and choice in terms of deciding how they spend their time at YOUmedia. Teens are encouraged to focus on their interests and aren’t forced into doing anything just because someone else is doing it. I remember loving these sorts of opportunities as a teen and can see why this would be a well-liked component of YOUmedia. However, the authors of the report do point out:

“Here is the conundrum: Privileging teen choice seems to incentivize the teens with more ambition and advanced production skills, who navigate their way more often to the high-profile learning opportunities. Because most teens who are novices do not reach advanced levels of skill, they are unable to take advantage of the opportunities such skill affords for participating in signature projects. […] Can the degree of teen choice be modified to encourage more commitment and consistency from teens who are less inclined to participate in structured learning activities while also retaining the sense of freedom many teens appreciate about YOUmedia?” (quotes from page 49)

This sounds like a huge, interesting question. The nuance in finding that fine line between modifying teen choice and maintaining teen freedom to choose is probably quite complicated when you look at it from a logistical, real world perspective. Do you ask teens how to do it? Do you ask colleagues? Do you read other makerspace evaluation reports? Do you try things until they work? I’m looking forward to learning more about possible answers to this question.

Lastly, I was struck by the role that gender (as always) seemed to play in the description and confirmation of the participatory categories and how the teens identified as one particular role. The study authors shared that “more than half of Readers/Studiers are male” (p. 27), “eighty percent of Floaters are male” (p. 28) “three-fourths of the Experimenters are male” (p. 28) and “eight-six percent of Music Creators are male” (p. 29) while “more than half of the Socializers are female” (p. 27) and “half of other Creators are female” (p. 30). For a program that has been incredibly successful at serving under-served African-American teen males, this isn’t surprising, and of course, is terrific. I’m glad to see that half of general Creators were girls, but what about those girls who are interested in music? Or who are maybe interested in moving into another participatory profile but aren’t sure how to do it? I couldn’t help but think of the continued gender divide that we’ve encountered in our other readings regarding makerspaces and makers in general. Is it our society as a whole, in the way gender-based socialization works that tends to (more likely) inhibit girls and (more likely) encourage boys to get their hands dirty and get involved, to become “makers” at least in the ways that we seem to conceptualize and study “making”? Of course, this is a stereotype and not true for everyone and every context across the board, but it’s a stereotype that seems to sort of ring true in the data. I can’t help but feel that the participatory categories are still inherently “tiered” or discussed in order of importance — being an Experimenter or becoming a Creator the epitome of making and is inherently more important or more valuable than being a Floater or a Socializer.

Heather discussed this idea earlier in the term – why is having a non-tangible experience (having a good conversation with a mentor or thinking of a new idea, for example) seemingly not as valued in our culture — or adequately captured when we measure and evaluate success — as it is to produce a tangible thing that other people can view/interact with? In the profiles of teens highlighted in the report, I felt like the authors discussed the participatory profiles like “Girl X went to YOUmedia to make a personal post on her Facebook page and socialize with her friends. Boy Y went to YOUmedia to record a music track with lyrics that he wrote and also talked to a trusted adult about prospects of building a career in the music industry.” In Kayla’s profile (she’s a Reader/Studier), the language used is “Despite her lack of participation…” in order to describe the benefits she’s gained from spending time at YOUmedia (p. 28). In my view, she is participating! She’s choosing to be there, she’s doing her thing on her own terms, she’s talking to people or enjoying the presence of other people. But inevitably, it seems, equal levels of attention and recognition aren’t given to her for her “limited” contribution or personal experience in the space. Who produces the majority of products that YOUmedia can point to as youth-generated content? I think it’s unlikely that staff will record casual conversations or show a slurry of Facebook posts at review meetings — they’ll show a video montage someone made using YOUmedia’s equipment and software. I’m reminded again of Chachra’s “Why I Am Not a Maker” article and some of the thoughts I had about gender and the history of making in my post High Culture is for Everyone, or Why “Hands On” Isn’t a Dirty Word.

Whew. I didn’t mean for that to come off as a rant, although maybe it did. If anything, thinking about things like this just makes me want to learn and read and think more about gender and creation culture.

Participation is Political

Prompt: Nina Simon recently posted a five year retrospective about how her feelings have changed since The Participatory Museum was published. Did it change any of the conclusions you initially took from the book?

Nina Simon’s recent post really helped to solidify some thoughts I’ve had in the back of my mind over the last few weeks, and sums up what I think I was trying to explore in my last few blog posts. That sum of those thoughts is — as Simon writes —  participation is political.

I took a “Participatory Museum Exhibit Design” course a few years back on a whim. It was an interesting class, taught by an interesting professor who had years of experience running her own museum exhibit consultation and design firm, a woman who had worked with loads of museums and other cultural institutions in various capacities. In the class, we used a similar kind of textbook and plotted out our ideas for getting people to participate and interact in a variety of museum settings.

Everyone in the class was a white, American, graduate student, except for one man. He was not American (if I remember correctly, he was from Uganda), he was a bit older than everyone else, and he repeatedly had to remind everyone that not everyone was a white, American, graduate student. Working with him was an eye-opening experience, in terms of better understanding how conceptualizing participation and channels of participation can definitely vary when you consider the perspectives and experiences of people other than just white, American, graduate students.

Simon writes in her recent post that she used to conceptualize “participation as a design tool–a wrench that could be turned to reach certain goals in a cultural setting. As a designer, I wanted to present participation as ‘value-neutral'”. I saw this thread running through The Participatory Museum. That was rather the central focus of this other class too: how do we use exceptional design to effectively engineer a museum exhibit/setting in which all people, regardless of background or circumstance, will feel so emotionally or intellectually overcome that they will be compelled to participate or interact with said exhibit/setting? There was little discussion of the huge possibilities of variability due to cultural differences or actual values surrounding participation, except for when our wonderful classmate helped steer our boat in the right direction. Then we would have some wonderful discussions.

When you value diversity of thought and opinion, effectively “challenging the traditional assignment of knowledge authority”, as Simon suggests, you open up a can of worms: a can that could be incredibly liberating for some people and incredibly uncomfortable for others. Thinking about why and how the chance to participate is either offered or refused to a visitor might be a bit more complex than just considering design elements. A visitor might feel like she has the right to participate, or she might not; she might be comfortable with the setting and tools at her disposal, or she might not; she might feel that there are no repercussions to her participation, or she might not. As it’s been said, museums (and other cultural institutions) do not exist in apolitical vacuums. The discrimination, privilege, perspectives, and values we experience and perpetuate outside of the museum walls get carried in right alongside us when we step through those doors. Staff members, institutional culture, and design elements hold up a mirror to the politics of our lives; the museum itself is a political body that can “advocate for empowerment and social bridging” or do none of the above.

Reading The Participatory Museum, I feel like I was slowly slipping again into that “design is power” mode of thinking that Simon points out as somewhat exclusionary, yet trying to harmonize those ideas what I had learned about the power of politics and perspectives in museum exhibit design. Offering someone a pad of paper to write with is a political choice; offering someone a digital camera to operate is a political choice; offering anonymity is a political choice; offering publicity on a website is a political choice; offering the museum up to the community as “advocate” is a political choice. Using the word “inclusive” is a political choice. Identifying a particular mission statement and a particular reason why you want to encourage participation in your space, on your time, for your purposes, is a political choice.

The dynamic of power relationships between communities and institutions is political. Personal experience, lived and defined, is political. Participation is political.

Continued Musings on Participation…

The academic library where I work has no interactive or participatory spaces at all. Not a single one.

The art museum where I volunteer has no interactive or participatory spaces either. There is an iPad for visitors to view photos of items on display in front of them because the display is visually insufficient for viewing the items adequately (don’t get me started on this one…) However, you can’t do anything but click on the image on the screen. Can’t zoom in, even.

One of the biggest takeaways for me from reading up to this point in Nina Simon’s The Participatory Museum is the idea that planning a participatory experience in a cultural institution shouldn’t just be about whether or not people like something, or whether or not it will be fun, or make them laugh or cry or whatever. Or whether you can really consider something “participatory” when you install an iPad with a few still photographs on it.

A visitor used their finger! They participated, right?

How many people touched that iPad? Which pictures did they click on? How long did they look at the images? Did they say anything to their neighbor when they clicked on it? Did they have any questions about the item they viewed?

We don’t know.

This expanded perspective on what constitutes participation has really had an impact on me. So often I’ve thought of participatory experiences has having limits in a way —

yes, but no one will do it if it isn’t fun
yes, but we should do this just because it’s trendy or it’s provocative?
yes, but people won’t do it at all or will do it “wrong” (yikes, there’s some bias for you)
yes, but we’re going to have to deal with the trolls or the people that ruin it for everyone else
yes, but it’s going to cost money to build and maintain and eventually take down when no one does it anymore.

It already sounds depressing and more effort than it’s worth when you frame it like that. Who wants to participate in something that already sounds so… ugh?

Simon suggests that crafting participatory experiences should also really be about capturing what visitors can offer that you cannot offer or cannot create on your own. Playing a game shouldn’t just be fun. Writing an answer to a question with some cool markers on a big whiteboard shouldn’t just be fun. It should be meaningful. It should help people to learn. It should the cultural institution and staff and larger community to learn. Learning outcomes are important.

Moment of honesty here: I hadn’t thought much about participation in cultural spaces from such an equitable viewpoint before. I’d thought about possible benefits for the institution and possible benefits for the visitors, but never really about both as existing in a sort of real-time, symbiotic relationship. Institutions and people need each other! And they need to work together for things to happen. Many of the trends discussed in The Library of the Future report are looking towards a future where this symbiotic relationship not only grows, but is supported and nurtured.

So now you as an institution have all of this additional information supplied by the people that decided to come visit you. While you’re putting out new markers by the whiteboard every other day, are you thinking about whether information that you’ve collected meaningful? Does it matter? Does it have some end purpose? How will you use it to enhance and enrich your space, your mission statement, or your outreach? Because otherwise what are you collecting it for? Additionally – what is the payout for the visitor? What does your visitor get out of it and you can offer her in exchange for the content/opinion/effort she is offering you?

In thinking about one of the prompts this week: “What makes a great reflection question? Think of some questions you’d like patrons to your library to answer”, I suppose those sorts of questions could be asked of visitors, in a way. If I should choose to participate in something, maybe I should be asked what I got out of participating or why I chose to do it in the first place. Often when I’ve offered a response to something, like “fill out this questionnaire about what you liked about the exhibit and stick on the corkboard! Great, thanks, bye!” I’m not asked why I decided to even offer feedback at all. Don’t you want to know what tipped me over the edge to decide to participate, to get involved?

I filled this out because the exhibit was so powerful I had to say something
I filled this out because your marketing campaign was really annoying and I had to come see it for myself because I couldn’t escape seeing ads for it everywhere
I filled this out because I think my opinion matters
I filled this out because I think that YOU think my opinion matters and you’re going to do something meaningful with it that will have meaningful consequences for me, this institution, and the larger community

What would I say? I’ve never been asked.

High Culture for Everyone, or Why “Hands-On” Isn’t a Dirty Word

First, a quick few thoughts on “Why I am Not a Maker”:

I stumbled across Why I am Not A Maker during the first week of the semester after reading another article for class. I posted the link on the general discussion board and it inspired some really interesting conversation. Chachra’s perspective is one that surprised me at first (not a maker, what?!) and then deeply resonated with me (her discussion of how maker culture is “deeply rooted in the social history or who makes things– and who doesn’t”). She talks about gender, especially how we have traditionally affirmed and celebrated things made by men as “real things” and things made by women as “women’s work” (she uses the example of caregiving). Chachra discusses how maker culture today is still heavily “informed by the gendered history of who made things, and in particular, who made things that were shared with the world, not merely for hearth and home.” I’m fascinated by the conclusion she draws: this sort of culture tells us that artifacts are important, and people are not.

I do think that when you address gender stereotypes, you are at risk of sounding like you’re perpetuating them. She talks about equating caregiving with women and making with men — not women who code or men who are caregivers, although these are most likely less common roles, statistically speaking. To be sort of reductive: yes, I’ve seen “teach girls to code! ” programs at the library and no, I’ve never seen a “teach boys how be good at caregiving!” type of program. The bigger point she’s trying to make is one to carefully consider, however: how people are assigned value based on whether or not what they make is assigned value.

A second round of thoughts:

After reading High Culture Goes Hands-On, my initial reaction was “please no! This is the antithesis of everything I believe and hold dear!” but it did get me thinking. In the article, Judith Dobrzynski examines what she describes a dangerous “multitasking” of cultural institutions (specifically art museums here), in terms of generating more participatory experiences that are “shedding the very characteristics that made them so special”; in other words, those elusive elements that make art museums “speak to the universal.” She uses the supposedly universal example of the “thrill of standing before art” — which yes, can be a thrill and no, not everyone has had the opportunity to experience in an art museum — and then lists a few famous artists who are all (wait for it) white men.

To me, this sort of language evokes an assumed cultural attitude or expected standard for a certain type of respectable experience: an elevated, contemplative, “pre-approved”, “high culture” one, perhaps one that requires you to be mostly quiet and think fancy, complicated thoughts and then spend $17 on a panini in the museum cafe.

Honestly — I’m just not that interested in this type of experience. Or, for that matter, in continuing to perpetuate the assumption that this type of experience automatically trumps any others that do not match this supposed standard.

Why can’t participatory experiences be elevated? Contemplative? I think they can be and they are.

Dobrzynski (disdainfully, in my opinion) discusses trends in some museums to focus more and more on participation and inclusion, including inviting people to have some input into the collections, exhibits, etc. She writes: “Shouldn’t those decisions be left to the experts? If not, what do they do? Why study art history?”

Isn’t that another way of saying to the general public: Don’t think — let us tell you what to think or at least frame your thinking in a particular way? I mean, goodness. Yes, of course it’s important and valuable to respect expertise and knowledge in a particular subject area. But to me this gets a little too close to the line of: you can’t let someone who doesn’t have an art history degree actually have an opinion about art.

Remember Chachra’s point about culture where artifacts are important, and people are not?

I just don’t think the way to secure the future of museums and other cultural institutions is going to be the $17-panini-complicated-silent-thoughts experience.

I think it’s going to be the what-do-you-think-and-what-do-you-want experience.

I love this section from a post by Nina Simon on her Museum 2.0 blog where she addresses (white) privilege and museums:

“The ‘temple for contemplation’ construct is the most damaging myth about museums in existence today. It doesn’t match actual visitor behavior (most people visit museums in groups and self-report that their social experience is one of the top three reasons for their enjoyment of the museum). It doesn’t match visitor motivation (John Falk’s extensive visitor identity research has shown that ‘spiritual pilgrimage’ fits a small minority of visit motivations). It doesn’t match arts engagement preferences for active, social experiences. And yet it looms in the popular culture, preventing would-be participants of all backgrounds from discovering the ways that a museum visit can fulfill other identity-related needs.”

Some people will identify with Dobrzynski’s perspective on the future of museums; some people will agree with Simon and the perspectives discussed in The Participatory Museum (I’m definitely the latter, probably obviously). I think what connects stakeholders (regardless of our views) is that we want to support the cultural institution itself. For various reasons, we think it’s important and we want it to continue to survive and thrive. I think the best way to do this is to hold on to whatever we recognize of ourselves in that place and celebrate it, stretch it out, make it last, preserve it, offer that same opportunity for others to do the same. For some of us, this is easy as we already see ourselves reflected there in that space (e.g., member of the dominant culture or group); for some of us, this is a challenge due to cultural and social circumstances we didn’t create. What is a cultural institution if not a place where culture is shared? Yet too often it seems to be a defining divisive factor in terms of representation, inclusion, and availability of participatory opportunities. In order to survive and thrive, cultural institutions need to embrace every warm body that walks in through that door. We need to think about who has been explicitly (and implicitly) invited in and who hasn’t — and what we allow (or invite!) people to do once they’re here.