Column: Is literacy on the decline?

If browsing has replaced reading what does this mean for storytelling?

If browsing has replaced reading what does this mean for storytelling?

This was a question the Maple Ridge Museum faced recently during a redesign of its website.

The website redesign has been done with the purpose to make more stories and exhibits available to the public as both an educational resource, and for viewing pleasure, as the physical buildings currently can only showcase about eight per cent of the collection.

There is no denying that the Internet has changed how we view, comprehend and interpret stories, however, the way information is displayed has become somewhat limited: it is now a vast array of visual teasers.

Think of the last article you read online – was there a sidebar with links waiting for you to click and be taken down another rabbit hole?

In the design of today’s hypermedia, there lacks the application of pacing; the pause to digest what one has just read.

The single-column scrolling page has become the solution for any kind of information.

Yet we know that most readers’ attention will drift, and that the number who reach the end of any story will be a tiny fraction of those who began.

The intensive reading, which was once applied to books, seems like a fantasy in the face of digital reading. Nowadays, each story is networked, shareable, part of a feed, and tagged.

Where does this leave us when wanting to tell stories online? How do we evoke and impact?

Perhaps it is not solely based on strictly reading content– the scope needs to widen and include a mash-up of different techniques to apply to different users as without emotion, it is just information.

Yet, the story cannot be its own objective: it has to be about bringing something to life. The process of entwining all of the different elements into one piece to actively engage the reader, and not have them drift, is complicated but can be done.

This was one of the museum’s goals in having a more “user friendly” and accessible website: to attract new users but to also engage them.

So for the user who arrives at the website only searching for visiting hours to the museum, the site now opens itself up to further stories.

Through the use artifacts, along with archival and photographic material we are hoping that the “pause” between scrolling will allow a break for the user to be able to identify with the information on a more personal level. Getting an up-close look at artifacts will act as our version of online narrative, which is a main component of visiting the museum in person; our guided tour – to hear the community’s story, but to place it in a larger historical context.

Take a moment to view our new website at mapleridgemusem.org

Allison White is curator with the Maple Ridge Historical Society.