Who’s Art Nouveau?

We recently had to analyse online information literacy tutorials according to Olof Sundin’s typology of approaches: source based, behavioural, process, and communication based. I chose Who’s Art Nouveau? by the Leonard Lief Library and Lehman College Art Department at CUNY.

This instruction comic fell very much into the process category, but shared elements of the communication approach. It follows the story of Francisco who needs to impress his tutor to get an internship by creating a poster inspired by Art Nouveau. Unsure what Art Nouveau is, Francisco first turns to Google but realises everyone else in the class has done the same thing and that his work won’t stand out. His friend Liz suggests he go to the Library to find some ideas. He becomes overwhelmed by how much information is in the Library and despairs. He then falls asleep and meets Hector Guimard, one of the founders of Art Nouveau, who takes him on a journey to Paris and Brussels and New York to think about the origins of the movement. The information journey they go on explores: finding background knowledge; contextualising the topic; focusing the topic;   comparing and contrasting sources; and forming a perspective on the topic.

Menu cover for Fox Hill Golf Club in art deco style
From The New York Public Library: http://on.nypl.org/2AWkr8l

In terms of process, the comic depends heavily on narrative, placing the user at the centre of the story, dwelling on his feelings and emotions, such as overwhelm and despair. There is a linear process that seems static, despite the time travel device, going from background reading to focusing a topic etc, with emphasis on the user becoming aware of the different of the parts of the process. There is some mention of sources, such as encyclopedia articles, but these are set very much in the context of the user’s need to find background information and avoid feeling overwhelmed. There is no mechanistic or systems based training here; it is all pretty conceptual. The scope here is thinking about the task, rather than a straight forward this is how you do a literature search. It even ends with a finished product, rather than simply documenting the search process.

The comic does depart from a process approach in some key ways: it is very contextual and subject specific. It immerses the reader in the art context. There are also some nods to the authority of sources with Hector Guimard and Gustav Klimt used as sources of information, rather than a librarian or tutor. Indeed, a comment on scholarship is passed when Klimt disagrees with something Guimard has said about his work. It has a further social dimension in that Francisco goes to the library at the suggestion of a fellow student and it is his friends who wake him up from his dream so he can start his work. His final piece of work is displayed for his peers and tutor and he basks in their praise for the work.


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