Vision for Space

Pirtle’s Café is a well-established community hub in East St. Louis. In addition to serving ice cream, Mr. Pirtle has created a space for community members to visit, commiserate, and converse.  Many changes could be made to Pirtle’s, but above all else it is most important to preserve the community that Mr. Pirtle has put so much effort into building.  We analyzed this through careful observation and documentation of the existing space, with effort put toward finding solutions for integrating technology holistically into the existing scheme. The focus is on enhancement, not revision. Our involvement with Pirtle’s will span several semesters, and is separated into several sections, encompassing different stages of work.

Short Term

Cigarette shop
The primary goal for the 2010 Fall Semester was to prepare the space for reconstruction, so that future classes can design, furnish, and install a computer lab. As such, our work focused on stripping the old materials from the inside of the room to prepare the surface for refinishing. This was accomplished over several trips, and left the space clean and ready for insulating, wiring, and resurfacing, after which the next class will take over the reconstruction in a future semester.

Ice cream parlor
The primary goal for the 2010 Fall Semester was to install 4 computers in the space in the front room of Pirtle’s Café. To simplify the process of installing and using the computers, we built and installed a custom counter against one wall in the space previously occupied by spare freezers. These computers will function on a trial basis, allowing Mr. Pirtle to gain experience with administering a small computer lab, and providing the perfect observational setting for determining the information needs of community members. Observations from his experiences will directly drive future work in the adjoining space that was the cigarette shop as the computer lab is constructed and installed, and allow future classes the benefit of knowledge on the ground.

The intended audience for this installation comprises Pirtle’s Café regulars, entrepreneurs, and community members living in nearby transitional housing. The installation will have to meet the diverse information needs of these patrons, and the process of customization and iteration will provide valuable information to future workers at this site.

Long Term

Our long term vision for Pirtle’s Café is the construction of a large computer lab and cyber café targeted at entrepreneurs, small business development, and community education. The results from this semester’s work and the knowledge stemming from the ice cream parlor installation over the next several months will allow future sections of LIS 451, in cooperation with Mr. Pirtle, to put together a long-term plan for sustainable success.

As noted above, there are many possibilities for change at Pirtle’s Café, but any changes must integrate seamlessly into the existing organizational scheme. That said, here are some suggestions that may be appropriate for the development of Pirtle’s Café over the long term.

  • Install more accessible electrical outlets for patrons’ use so that more people can charge phones, use computers, etc.
  • Install a counter or coat rack where people could keep their coats and bags in the winter time and thereby allow patrons to stay longer.
  • Add benches, umbrellas, and tables outside the café to make the sidewalk more “useable” for patrons.
  • Add a bulletin board to broadcast and advertise community information and events.
  • Other aesthetic recommendations include dry erase boards, a wall for projector use, a projector, private booths, lighting improvement, interior painting, a public scanner and printer, and floor improvements

Much of what happens next will be contingent on Mr. Pirtle’s findings and the availability of funding for future 451 sections.  These sections should also pay attention to upgrading and maintaining the computers in the parlor side of Mr. Pirtle’s building.  It would be a good idea for them to create a rubric or metrics for Mr. Pirtle to evaluate the use of his new computers (which programs are popular, what needs are there left to meet, how patrons use their time online at Pirtle’s, etc.).  From this information future groups will be able to effectively design a streamlined cyber cafe next door to the ice cream parlor.

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