Art Museum Visitors

The Information-Seeking Behavior of Art Museum Visitors

Description: Worked with a fellow Master’s student to interview six recent art museum visitors, and probe them about general museum visitation, their most recent visit specifically, and how they access different informational resources about museums (both within the physical institution and online). Our primary research questions were:

  • How do museum-goers encounter information before, during, and after their visit?
  • What preferences do they have with regard to the amount of and format of information?
  • What motivates their visits in the first place?
After identifying research questions, we designed a preliminary series of interview questions, which were tested during one pilot interview, after which we reassessed, modified, and added to our interview questions, which were delivered to six participants whose anonymized identifications are listed as follows:
ID Age Sex Museum Type of Visitor (modified from Booth/Falk, Mousourri, Coulson)
U01 57 F Louvre, L’Orangerie, Jeu de Paume, Musee d’Orsay, Detroit Institute of Arts Educated visitor; unfocused
U02 24 F UMMA General visitor; unfocused
U03 23 M Cloisters Museum New York Educated visitor; unfocused
U04 25 F Art Institute of Chicago General visitor; unfocused
U05 27 F UMMA Specialist visitor; moderately focused
U06 31 M UMMA Educated visitor; moderately focused

The fourth column in the chart above is a categorization of each participant according to visitor-type hierarchies developed by scholars within the field. The Booth/Falk categorization referred originally to the type of information/visit each visitor was seeking – we adapted this according to the types of visits we observed from our interviews to show instead the level of familiarity each user showed with museums, their information, and the resources available through their collections and websites. The second category refers to the level of focus each user described in our one-on-one interview with them: either unfocused (interested in the museum on a general level), moderately focused (aware of and interested in a specific exhibit, but are not solely motivated by that one opportunity), or focused (there for a specific purpose, which often leads them to miss other offerings).

To organize major findings across interviews, we treated each as a case study (as six interviews cannot be regarded as representative of the entire museum-going community). We first pulled general themes, and then assessed the representativeness of each within and across interviews. Differences and similarities were accounted for in the overall themes we encountered in our data collection and analysis: 1.) visitors see museums as leisure experiences, 2.) visitors seek a personal experience with art, 3.) visitors have varying understandings of the museums as a resource, and 4.) visitors have different preferred formats for learning about art.

These findings, the interview dialogue that supports them, are introduced with alongside previous scholarly research findings from field experts. Concluding statements about the importance of user research, and an appendix with our interview template are included as well.

Course: SI 551 – Information-Seeking Behavior

Date: Winter 2012
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