Experiencing Documents

Publication Title

Journal of Documentation

Publication Date


Document Type





museums, transactions, documents, numinous, reader response, Rosenblatt, John Dewey


Archival Science | Collection Development and Management | Library and Information Science



– The purpose of this paper is to invite further consideration of how people experience documents. By offering a model from Reader Response theory – Louise Rosenblatt's Transactional Theory of Reading – as well as examples from research on numinous experiences with museum objects, the author hopes to open further avenues of information behavior studies about people and documents. The goal is to incorporate more aspects of lived experience and the aesthetic into practice with and research of documents.


– Theoretical scope includes Louise Rosenblatt's Transactional Theory of Reading, John Dewey's concepts of transaction and experience and lived experience concepts/methods derived from phenomenology.


– Rosenblatt's Transactional Theory explicates the continuum of reader response, from the efferent to the aesthetic, stating that the act of “reading” (experience) involves a transaction between the reader (person) and the text (document). Each transaction is a unique experience in which the reader and text continuously act and are acted upon by each other. This theory of reading translates well into the realm of investigating the lived experience of documents and in that context, a concrete example and suggested strategies for future study are provided.


– This paper provides a holistic approach to understanding lived experience with documents and introduces the concept of person-document transaction. It inserts the wider notion of document into a more specific theory of reading, expanding its use beyond the borders of text, print and literature. By providing an example of real document experiences and applying Rosenblatt's continuum, the value of this paper is in opening new avenues for information behavior inquiries.