Balancing accessibility and familiarity: offering digital media loans at the museum front desk

This paper examines the nature of the staff–visitor encounter in relation to the challenges presented in supporting museum visitors with varying competencies in adopting new technologies. In particular, the paper examines the organisation and operation of a museum's front desk, and addresses the highly contingent, interactional accomplishment of loans and dissemination, more specifically the conversation and the interaction between the front desk assistant and the visitors concerning a potential iPod loan. Based on 18 hours of video recordings, the paper focuses on the offering sequence and shows that participants orient to at least two aspects when making/receiving offers of an iPod loan: (1) the acceptance or rejection of the offer and (2) questions of familiarity; e.g. whether or not the iPod can be treated as a known item. These aspects are inherently related, and participants may choose to align with the terms of familiarity while disaligning with the offer, and vice versa. The study shows that museums are faced with a great challenge, as well as a great opportunity, in supporting visitors when adopting new technologies.

Tidsskriftet Museum Management and Curatorship

1. december 2013