4 Quick Questions with Ann Arbor District Library’s Josie Parker

Today, we’re joined by Josie Parker, Director at Ann Arbor District Library (AADL), an acclaimed US public library service in Michigan.

Josie1.jpgAs Josie approaches her seventeenth year with the organisation, she took a little time to answer four quick questions about her journey with Ann Arbor – and what’s next for the Michigan library.

How did you get started at AADL and how has the organization changed during your time there?

I have been Director at AADL 16 ½ years. I came to work at AADL in 1999 as the Youth Department Manager. The Library was a very traditionally organized public library institution that had suffered a financial scandal leading to imprisonment for one administrator, and the eventual resignation of the Director.

I had been promoted to interim Director during the end of the upheaval, and was later offered the job. I took it without intending to be in one library most of my career, and yet, here I am. It is an awesome library and the community is very supportive financially, as well as, politically. We are able to take library services in many directions sometimes stretching them beyond recognition. We consider that a positive outcome.

What’s your proudest career achievement so far?

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I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe

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Well, that’s it for the current stint in Australia. We’ve achieved so much at the State Library of Queensland (SLQ) and University of Southern Queensland (USQ) since I came over for the initial 12-month residency in January 2016.

I’ve a few more gigs in London before Christmas, and then some exciting announcements to make going into 2018. Watch this space.

Hard to pick out highlights from the past two years, but among them I’d say:

But really there’s been too much to mention. (Like the roadtrip. The roadtrip!).

You can see some highlights here:

Thanks to everyone who made these projects possible and worked hard to let our teams explore all things wondrous and strange.

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Where Do We Dream Ourselves Next?

My review of Darran Anderson’s book Imaginary Cities is up at Australian literary journal The Lifted Brow.

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Anderson’s grand literary tour of urban environments that never were, from citadels of myth to more manageable fantasies of the kind you’d find in Walt Disney’s EPCOT centre, challenges our vision of what cities could be in 2017 and beyond.

In my review for The Lifted Brow, I link Anderson’s work to projects taking place around Australia, giving local context to his epic global account of the urban past, present, and future.

Read ‘Where Do We Dream Ourselves Next?” at The Lifted Brow.

DNAInfo

I surfaced from my holiday to hear that Joe Ricketts, CEO of the news sites DNAInfo and Gothamist, has closed both enterprises a week after staff decided to unionize with the Writers Guild of America.

The abrupt move has shut down the sites entirely, so that even archived news stories are now unavailable.

I only wrote a couple of times for DNAInfo, but they were a place of welcome for me in New York and gave me valuable experience putting together local news stories through words and pictures.

Both the pieces I created for them, on New York-Presbyterian Hospital’s Reach Out and Read programme and the NYC Kids Food Festival, explored projects at the junction of literacy, culture, play, health and wellbeing – a place I still work today with Australian organisations like Metro South Health Board and the Griffith University School of Allied Health.

I’m grateful to the DNAInfo team for the kindness and collegiality they showed me on my visits to New York, and hope that all of their reporters and editors move on to better and brighter things.

All Things Good and Strange

I love TV, and I don’t think I watch enough of it.

I’d watch more but it’s so slow*.  You can spend weeks of your life trying to hammer through season after season of just one show.  In Douglas Coupland’s 1993 novel Microserfs, characters “blitz” movies by watching videos on fast-forward with subtitles switched on.** My friend Katie, equally impatient, listens to audiobooks on chipmunk speed, but I don’t think I could sustain either approach for a full season of TV.

I watch television to get ideas for work. TV shows and community experiences like the ones I design have a lot in common. You need a central conceit which draws people in, and on which you can hang a series of recurring episodes. Action-adventure, problem solving, and play are closely entwined. This year’s non-speaking, musical keynote was inspired by dialogue-free sequences in the TV show Legion.

The teams I work with are pretty explicit about this link between TV and the events we run. The working title for Ann Arbor’s Wondrous Strange event was ‘Weirder Things’.

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Stranger Things is a difficult one for me because I’m not super into it, and that makes me feel bad. It’s so popular, I feel like I’m missing something. Like I’m out of touch. It’s doubly bad because I grew up immersed in – and totally in love with – the late 80s/early 90s world of Stephen King novels and pirate horror movies on VHS.

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It’s the Tyrell Corporation Comedy Hour!

On Friday, 20th October, I was the guest storyteller at Brisbane improv troupe Big Fork Theatre’s “Cool Story Bro“.

At “Cool Story Bro,” the guest storyteller shares tales from their past, based on audience prompts, which then become fuel for improv sketches by the troupe. It’s an interesting format with roots in the work of the Upright Citizens Brigade, which has been home to the likes of Amy Poehler, Donald Glover, and Aziz Ansari.

You can watch Tina Fey doing this kind of storytelling here:

I’m no Tina Fey, but I did my best. My stories came from the audience call-outs “cats”, “whales” (or “Wales”), and “first kiss”. As always with these things, it was entirely terrifying & nerve-wracking right up until the moment you stepped on stage and just had to do it.

I’ve been getting all excited about memories lately – how they blur the bounds between fact and fiction, how they might be shared or transplanted between us. And I like challenging myself to get out of my comfort zone.

I found stories from my life and told them messily and honestly, with plenty of detail for the improv troupe to riff off. In turn, they made skits about talking meteorites, a school for nervous possums, and TV cookery shows. It was fun to see your experiences reworked into something that preserved only the vibe; details warped and reworked into new contexts, themes you hadn’t spotted in your own tale coming to the fore.

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Postcards from the Future: Behind the Scenes at Wondrous Strange #notenoughscifi

Imagine letting your community dream wildly of the world to come.

Imagine collaborating on a future history spanning millennia.

Imagine turning public space into something that was wondrous and strange.

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As part of our time-travel themed festival of weirdness, storytelling, art and science at Ann Arbor District Library, we asked visitors to write postcards from the future.

We collected over 80 tales stretching from 2018 to the year 5000.

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The Fall of Box City: Havoc, chaos, and sheer delight with @ChaniTheunissen

A special guest joins us on the blog today. Chantel Theunissen, Children and Teens Librarian, Koraunui Stokes Valley Community Hub, and editor of New Zealand’s Library Lifetells us how she orchestrated havoc, chaos, and sheer delight to commemorate the closure of a temporary library in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Let me start off by saying all of my favourite things I’ve done at work (and in life really) haven’t been planned. Read more

Cool Story Bro at Big Fork Theatre

I tell stories and I always want to push myself to develop my storytelling skills. New challenges, new audiences, new ways of getting a tale onto the page or stage or screen.

I’m interested in memory, too: how we make it, preserve it, remake and share it.

Tonight I’m embracing both of those things with a session as guest storyteller for Brisbane improv troupe Big Fork Theatre.

Big Fork run a series called “Cool Story Bro”, where a storyteller recounts tales from their life in response to shouted audience prompts. Those stories then become the basis for skits improvised by the performers.

You can join me and the Big Fork gang at Cool Story Bro this Friday, 20th October at Hands On Art, 150 Enoggera Terrace, Paddington.