Four (or more) reads from 2018

I got through a lot of books this year, so I just want to pick out a few that were especially important to my work in 2018.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Wayne & Shirley Wiegand’s The Desegregation of Public Libraries in the Jim Crow South was recommended by librarians in Mississippi, when I visited the state to run Library Island in April.

The Wiegands’ book is a useful historical study in how public institutions comply with, mitigate, abet, or resist an abusive regime. To really get to grips with this issue, you should follow it with Margaret Stieg’s 1992 article on how public libraries transformed in the Germany of the 1930s.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

My Mississippi trip also allowed me to visit the state’s Civil Rights Museum in Jackson. It’s one of the best museums I’ve ever been to. You can read more about the place in this New York Times article.

the enemy

Collaborating with the Enemy, by Adam Kahane, looks at peacemaking and negotiation work, drawing on examples from Thailand, South Africa, and Colombia. Kahane is remarkably honest about his frustrations and failures, as well as his successes, in projects intended to promote collaboration under the most difficult conditions. It’s well worth a read, to challenge and inspire you.

kottler

I read Jeffrey Kottler and Jon Carlson’s Bad Therapy as part of a Kottler binge earlier this year, seeking insights to borrow from other relationship-focussed disciplines.

For Bad Therapy, the authors interviewed a number of leading practitioners on the topic of their greatest failures. The resulting discussions are brave, humbling, and food for thought in any profession.

What would it mean to focus on one’s failures in this way? What do bad librarianship, bad journalism, bad teaching or curation or medicine or design look like when the practitioner themselves admits to a job done poorly? This book is excellent for anyone interested in professional learning and growth, whatever field they work in.

Being_Mortal

Finally, I was four years late to an encounter with Atul Gawande’s Being Mortala 2014 reflection on the decisions and dilemmas associated with end-of-life care.

The challenges faced in caring for those who are close to death emphasise and highlight problems which we confront in any healthcare setting. These include the limits of the patient’s right to choose, the authority of the physician over those in their care, and quality of life versus the drive to preserve life at all costs.

Gawande’s typically sensitive and personal discussion of these topics reminded me of Sherwin Nuland’s 1992 National Book Award winner How We Die. The challenge that faces us in healthcare is that the same issues Nuland identified more than twenty-five years ago still plague our health systems today.

Gawande – who more recently wrote for the New Yorker about the frustrations of medical software – is a humane and articulate guide to this territory. I’ll return to this topic in the new year.

These were my best reads of 2018. They’ll stay with me, joined by new writers and new volumes, in the year to come.

What were your best reads from the year just gone?

Institutions at Play: Library Island in Perspektiv Magazine

How does a playful simulation help institutions to “see themselves from the outside”, reimagining their vision, mission, operations, and relationships?

In the new issue of Perspektiv, the magazine of Denmark’s library union, you can read about Library Island and its variants.

Whether you’re a fluent Danish speaker, or empowered by the magic of machine translation, you can read Sabrine Mønsted’s article “Library Island: Se biblioteket udefra” here.

Stopping to Start: Allowing for Creation

I visited Vienna’s superlative Jewish Museum on my recent trip to the city. Their exhibitions and programmes are always sharp, relevant, and thoughtfully curated.

Currently, they’re hosting an exhibition on Kabbalah, the esoteric branch of Judaism which has been popularised by various celebrities from David Bowie to Madonna.

I wandered round, learned a little, and made some unexpected connections as well.

bowie.jpg

Read more

What exactly is Library Island anyway?

I’ve spent a fair chunk of the last two years working on something called “Library Island”. You might have seen photos, videos, or social media posts appearing online as university staff, health workers, museum professionals, students, and, yes, librarians take part in this interactive training activity.

Later this year, a free CC-licensed print-and-play kit for Library Island will be released, so that people anywhere can take this activity and use it with their institutions, companies, and communities.

But what exactly is Library Island? Read on to find out… Read more

The Future Sound of Libraries, Revisited: Interview with Martin Kristoffer Bråthen

martinkbrathenToday I’m joined by Norway’s Martin Kristoffer Bråthen. Martin is head of innovation and product development at Biblioteksentralen, the cooperative business which supplies libraries across Norway with collection materials, equipment and services.

 

Prior to that, Martin worked at Deichman Bibliotek, the Oslo Public Library, in a range of project roles. During that time, he wrote a robust defence of public libraries in the age of the e-book in response to a comment by a senior Norwegian arts editor that “digitisation leaves public libraries on the scrapheap of history.”

Read more

#NotEnoughSciFi: Feels, Facts, and Reason

#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.

These days, it can feel as if reason, facts, and truth themselves are under assault. As if the institutions and professions – the academy, journalism, research, librarianship – which have allowed many of us to understand and discuss the world on common ground are beleaguered.

In pop culture, can we find new ways of imagining these figures for the coming world? Do science fiction, fantasy, and the study of our society overlap and can this overlap help us?

I’ve just finished a couple of books which turned out to converge in weird and useful ways: William Davies’ Nervous States: How Feeling Took Over the World and Una McCormack’s production history and critical response to a 1980s BBC TV serial, The Curse of Fenric. Read more

Napkins in Copenhagen: Starting Strategic Conversations

Copenhagen was the last stop on my workshop tour of the Nordic countries. I ran two sessions – a full day for librarians from across Denmark and Germany, plus a half day for Danish library managers. My hosts were Bibliotekarforbundet – the Danish Union of Librarians.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We used a range of methods and techniques, including the Library Island activity, to explore issues of advocacy, strategy, inclusion, innovation, and coping with a turbulent political environment.

Participants discussed the possibilities of an uncertain future with their peers, then began to design practical responses to the challenges they had identified.

At the managers’ workshop, it became clear that tools were needed to support quick, credible internal and external conversations about libraries’ changing role in Danish society. These would be used to build stakeholder understanding of Danish libraries’ mission, and help staff members to see how their work fit into the larger priorities of their organisation. Read more

The Norwegian Library Innovation Exchange @innovasjonnorge

How do you get a whole nation thinking about the challenges which lie ahead of it?

How can you help a community to solve seemingly intractable problems?

Which institutions need to be part of the discussion about society’s future directions?

I visited Norway this week to speak and run a workshop at the national library conference, #biblkonf2018. I asked these questions, and more, with a focus on how libraries might serve the innovation agenda articulated by Norway’s innovation agency, Innovasjon Norge. (You can see slides from the keynote here).

Today I want to focus on one idea, which comes from the work of the British innovation agency Innovate UK. Read more

After Hours lecture at City University London

I’m speaking at City University’s “After Hours” lecture series in London next Monday, 15 October at 5pm.

The series, hosted by City’s Library and Information School, explores all aspects of information in modern society.

In my session, “Your Half-Truths Are Problematic“, I’ll be talking about our relationship to truth, facts, stories, and lies, both on- and off-line.

In 2018, who can we trust with our information, and what information can we trust?

Is there any institution we can rely on in an age beset by digital misinformation?

Are there tools we can use to fight back against those who seek to cloud the truth for their own purposes?

Join me at City University London to discuss these questions next Monday at 5pm.