Dots that I haven’t joined yet

I’m momentarily at rest in my beloved Brisbane, with the sun blazing down in December and bushfires on the news and Leila Taylor’s book Darkly to read.

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Taylor’s book, subtitled Black History and America’s Gothic Soul, blends memoir and criticism to explore the places where African-American history, culture, and experience meet the Gothic – from The Castle of Otranto through Edgar Allan Poe to Marilyn Manson.

I’m back in Australia helping organisations to look at their future and imagine what might await them in years to come, using scenario planning. This is a method by which, instead of trying to predict what’s coming, we co-create plausible visions of the future which challenge our current assumptions. Successful scenarios are not judged by whether they come to pass, but whether they trouble, complicate, and enrich our thinking.

And the dots which I can’t quite join yet became visible when I read this, in Darkly: “Gothic narratives were (and still are) a means of working through the discomfort of a changing world through the safety of fiction.”

Which is so close to what scenarios do as to blur the edges of the two concepts. In scenario planning we talk about avoiding the “brutal audit” of a crisis by rehearsing for the things you can’t, or don’t want to, see coming through your current framing of the world.

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Interview with Wendy Catling of Ettamodern.com

I had the chance to interview one of my heroes, the Australian artist and educator Wendy Catling of ettamodern.com, during my recent visit to Melbourne.

Wendy works with digital and photographic processes, particularly cyanotypes, to create artworks which address private history, psychological disturbance, Australian landscapes, and the natural sciences.

The interview comes in advance of a new series of artworks by Wendy which combine narrative, memoir, family archives, and technical experimentation to tell stories of hidden violence, resilience, and renewal.

Viewers and listeners should be warned that Wendy’s work addresses histories of family abuse and domestic violence. Australian listeners affected by these issues can can contact the 24 hour counselling service 1800RESPECT by telephone at 1800 737 732, or online at 1800respect.org.au.

IMAJINE pilot workshops: the future of spatial justice

Our IMAJINE team working on scenario planning for the future of regional inequality and territorial cohesion in the European Union has held its first pilot workshops on the West Coast of Ireland.

Researchers and regional officials joined NUI Galway’s Marie Mahon and myself at the Teagasc Rural Economy Research Centre in Athenry. There, we trialled fast, practical foresight tools allowing participants to sketch roadmaps of the futures which may await them.

The Oxford Scenario Planning Approach, which we’re using to structure these sessions, allows us to identify and develop plausible scenarios which serve to test assumptions and reframe the way participants look at the future. By imagining the most difficult or surprising circumstances a community might face, we seek to develop a playbook of strategies for emergent issues in territorial inequality and spatial justice.

The IMAJINE project continues through 2021 and incorporates Europe-wide foresight alongside deeply local engagement with policymakers and other stakeholders. Stay tuned for more updates.

Can you dig through spaghetti to save a ribbon? @UTSLibrary

A library needs your help — and by helping them, you’ll be helping the world.

A few years ago, the librarians at University of Technology Sydney (UTS) in Australia awarded a creative residency to Chris Gaul, a designer and artist who used sound and visuals to find new ways to bring the collection to life.

One of Chris’ most impressive works from this period was the Library Spectogram, which visualised the library’s collection, organised by the Dewey Decimal system, as a colour spectrum.

 

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Chris’ artwork visualised the collection by representing the number of books under each Dewey subject heading as a colour, with different shades of each colour representing the subdivisions within each class.

What made this truly brilliant was what UTS Library did next: turning Chris’ artwork into a practical tool, an interactive web interface to explore the library collection.

On the UTS library catalogue, the library spectogram exists as a band of colour – “the ribbon” – which you can click to expand the colours of each subject into the subdivisions which they’re shaded by.

 

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The spectrum makes understanding and browsing the Library’s collections more intuitive and engaging. It’s a simple tool which could be used by almost any library with an online catalogue, large or small, in any sector.

In a world where everyone is trying to wow you with the latest digital innovation, it’s a simple, humble, effective tool which offers a transformative experience in collection exploration: the online version of serendipitous browsing among the shelves.

So what’s the problem?

UTS Library is going through massive changes right now: moving to a new building on their Ultimo campus and starting to rethink their discovery services, which could mean moving to a new online home too. The long-awaited project to share the ribbon’s code openly has been deferred by several years.

Plans to release it in early 2018 were delayed until the start of this year, and as 2019 comes to a close, more than seven years after Chris’ original residency, the ribbon is still not out in the world. With the planned overhaul of discovery services, it’s even possible that the UTS ribbon might be lost entirely.

What’s needed now is to find a way for the code which creates the ribbon to be liberated from the UTS online catalogue and shared openly. That’s where you, or someone you know, comes in.

UTS’ Dr Belinda Tiffen has kindly given permission for interested parties to work with the Library to make this happen. This could involve a group of interested students taking it on as a project; it could become the focus of a hackathon; or it could be volunteer work by public-spirited souls who want to give something back to libraries worldwide.

The code uses the functionality of the UTS search engine Endeca to group search results, so there could be a bit of a technical challenge digging through “spaghetti code” to make this happen – but once the ribbon’s code is exposed and shared with the world, any library with an online catalogue could consider making use of Chris Gaul’s gift to UTS.

In an age when university libraries are striving to be open, it would be an act of generosity, sharing digital discovery tools just as freely as libraries wish to share their content.

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At a time when we recognise the need to preserve digital as well as physical heritage, it would ensure that the Library Spectogram doesn’t just become “a nice thing one library had once”, yet another great innovation which is celebrated on social media and shown off at conferences, but ends up on the scrapheap when steps aren’t taken to nurture and sustain it.

If you think you could help UTS Library to share the Library Spectogram code with the world, reach out to Belinda Tiffen to offer your services and learn more.

#NotEnoughSciFi: To Write Like A Woman

#NotEnoughSciFi is an occasional series looking at works of science fiction and fantasy which I think might be useful for organisations, institutions, companies and communities which are trying to get ready for the shape of things to come. See previous entries here.

Girls who loved the strangeness of pulp SF have grown up and seen that strangeness as a tool for inventing futures where women are free (or become free).

– Joanna Russ

I was excited to discover that Gwyneth Jones has just written a book about the American feminist scholar and science-fiction writer Joanna Russ.

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Are English libraries serious about fighting ‘fake news’?

The upcoming general election is a big one for English libraries, as well as the nation at large.

It’s a serious test of Libraries Deliver, the national campaign to advocate for public libraries which was launched by the UK library association CILIP in association with the US organisation EveryLibrary. I don’t know much about the American campaign, or how it ports over to the very different environment in which British public libraries operate; it’s definitely the sort of moment at which one wishes that the information sector benefited from the attentions of an independent and questioning press.

In the UK, Ian Anstice at Public Libraries News does a great job of chronicling changes in the sector and navigating the fractious debate about public libraries’ future. CILIP’s own Information Professional is always a useful read, but is of course an organ of the library association itself. British librarians will also be found reading the interviews and features hosted by Princh, a Danish company offering cloud printing solutions to the sector. I’ve chatted to the Princh team before, at the suggestion of trusted peers and colleagues, but it’s always felt somewhat strange that such a significant platform for sharing librarians’ ideas is really a marketing campaign by a library supplier, where the library workers offer their thoughts for free and the Danes benefit from clicks, pageviews, and trickle-down prestige which they hope will earn them some money. It’s interesting to reflect on how questions of agendas, authorities, and funding surround the flow of information and news even within the information profession itself.

All of which brings us to the ongoing question of ‘fake news’, or the bundle of phenomena and practices including misinformation, disinformation, trolling, poor information literacy, and general carelessness which get lumped under that unfortunate label. Read more

The Digitalisation of Education: Foresight Work at the University of Oslo

On 28 October, the University of Oslo Media & Communications Department brought together researchers, educators, publishers, and representatives of the tech sector & not-for-profits to begin the work of building scenarios that test assumptions about the future of education in Norway.

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I facilitated an iterative process generating three visions of Norwegian society in years to come, exploring social, technological, cultural and economic change – always seeking to capture factors and possibilities which lay beyond the current framing of Norway’s educational future.

This workshop was only the beginning of an ambitious future-facing research programme at the Media & Communications Department, but I hope to be able to share materials with you in due course.

6 Hot Picks – NZ Library Life

Together with Australia’s Brendan Fitzgerald, I’m in Library Lifethe magazine of libraries in Aotearoa / New Zealand, this month, offering six hot picks and a few reflections on our recent NZ strategy workshops.

You can read our feature here, click on the image below, or check out the complete issue (PDF download) at the Library Life website.

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IMAJINE: The Future of Spatial Justice

I’m pleased to announce I’ll be joining the EU-funded IMAJINE project on spatial injustice and territorial inequality.

Part of Horizon 2020, the biggest EU research and innovation programme ever, I’ll be working with a team of international researchers to design and deliver a participatory scenario-building process across 2019 and 2020.

We’ll be helping interested parties from across Europe to develop and present a set of future scenarios which will challenge today’s assumptions. Our work will complement IMAJINE’s substantial portfolio of empirical research into the geographical inequalities which exist within Europe, building capacity for foresight and strategic action.

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Atomium in Brussels, by Wikipedia user Mcsdwarken – CC BY-SA 3.0

Dream and Deliver 2018

Last year, I delivered a session called “Dream and Deliver” for librarians from across south-west England, hosted by Service Delivery Manager Tabitha Witherick and her colleagues at Libraries Unlimited. (The workshop’s excellent title was Tabitha’s idea).

Tabitha writes:

Dream and Deliver: Finding New Ideas, Developing Relationships, and Making Good Things Happen on a Budget

I had the pleasure of working with Matt on a regional project to bring together library people from across South West England, to provide a workshop packed with creative, practical tips and techniques for strengthening the library’s relationship with the community, empowering staff, and delivering spectacular, innovative, cost-effective programmes and services.

Matt is incredibly easy to work with; he supported me with information to complete funding applications, promotional materials to engage participants and helpful communication pre and post workshop. On the day the participants experienced a highly interactive session. Matt puts everyone at ease and fosters a collaborative atmosphere.

By the afternoon the group were creating new library experiences together, being encouraged to understand inclusivity and diverse perspectives and needs, experimenting and evaluating, all within the safe space that Matt had created for them.

As a result the follow up pledges the group put forward were really inspiring!

But don’t take my word for it, see what the participants said:

‘Matt is amazing! Really engaging, fun and informative. I look forward to using some of the techniques back at the ranch. Great, out of the box thinking, very refreshing. Can we borrow him please?’

‘Matt was really good at engaging everyone and making us all feel a bit special. I will definitely use the practical ideas like the penguin and kinder egg.’

‘A really innovative, refreshing workshop with an inspiring presenter. Lots of things to take away and think about and so many games and ideas to try back at the library. Lots of fun!’

‘It reminded me to look for solutions rather than simply identify problems. I feel renewed – there is a future in libraries!’