Scripturient: Sanchita Balachandran on Conservation through Generations

In the latest instalment of Information Professional‘s ‘Scripturient‘ column, guest writer Sanchita Balachandran tells the story of meeting her late maternal grandfather for the first time among the collections of a colonial archive.

Born in Nagercoil, South India and trained in forest management at the University of Edinburgh in the early 1930s, her grandfather’s journey is part of a wider network of relationships spanning the generations, and stretching from the Indian state of Travancore to Baltimore and beyond.

In her column, Sanchita explores the resonances between her grandfather’s work as a conservator of forests and her own role as Associate Director of the Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum; she reflects on the necessary, mundane, often invisible work of cultural heritage professionals; and she considers the complex emotions experienced when “harm and recovery, disconnection and reunion” are entangled in our experience of the colonial archive.

What do we owe to the families and loved ones of the long deceased? How do objects bear witness to our lives, and how is that act of witnessing complicated by questions of power, justice, and belonging?

You can read ‘Conservation through Generations’ (PDF download) here.

New Librarianship Symposium: Scenarios for the COVID-affected world?

On November 18th, I’ll be joining the fourth of the New Librarianship Symposia convened by leading information professionals to explore key issues and new agendas for the COVID-affected world.

The symposia mark ten years since the publication of R. David Lankes’ Atlas of New Librarianship, and offer an opportunity to reinvigorate institutions’ approach to the ever-changing information environment.

In the panel on “Re-imagining the future”, I’ll be presenting a paper on “Mapping the future: scenario planning for the post-pandemic library” (PDF download), drawing on a case study of public library planning in the context of the coronavirus pandemic and America’s widening political rifts.

The paper explores both the use of scenarios, and the benefits of attending to value co-creation, in devising library strategy.

My contribution will be in dialogue with thought provoking papers from Seattle Pacific University’s Michael Paulus and a team at the OCLC library cooperative. We’ll consider what might await for information institutions and the communities they serve; how best to move forward in times characterised by turbulence, uncertainty, novelty, and ambiguity; and what it means to practice strategy at different levels, from the global to the deeply local.

Do join us for the fourth of the New Librarianship Symposia on November 18th, 2021.

SHAPE Education: Schools, Work, and the Adaptation Advantage

The archive from this summer’s SHAPE Education event, organised by Cambridge University Press and the Judge Business School, is now online.

I spoke on the future of work and its implications for education with a panel including Bell Education’s Silvana Richardson, Cambridge University Press’ own Ben Knight, and Heather E. McGowan, author of The Adaptation Advantage.

We were also supported by live drawings from the brilliant Rebecca Osborne.

SHAPE Education: Matt Finch's talk

You can find more about the SHAPE conference series online, and explore the University of Oslo “Schools and/or Screens” scenarios, which I discussed during the panel, here.

Publication of the IMAJINE Scenarios for the Future of European Regional Inequality

The four scenarios produced by the Horizon 2020 IMAJINE project to explore the future of European regional inequality have now been published.

The scenarios explore questions of territorial equality – Do EU citizens have equal rights and opportunities regardless of wherever they live? – and spatial justice – Are different places treated fairly? Is your ability to realise your rights compromised by where you live?

Questions of justice are defined socially and narratively – even when a court says it is considering “the balance of probabilities”, it adjudicates between competing stories told by the parties arguing a case. That means we can’t just run the numbers when it comes to the future of inequality, but must explore how notions of fairness and justice might change in times to come – and what those changing notions might tell us about issues in the present.

As Ursula K. Le Guin put it in the quote we chose for IMAJINE’s epigraph, “We will not know our own injustice if we cannot imagine justice. We will not be free if we do not imagine freedom.”

Each vision of Europe in 2048 offers a different perspective on these issues as they are emerging in the present, and offers an opportunity to reframe the discussion around regional development and inequality. The scenario set includes respondents from a wide range of sectors and institutions around the world, offering further insight into the implications of each scenario.

You can download the IMAJINE scenario document as a PDF from the project website – and there’ll be further updates and expert responses at the IMAJINE homepage as the scenarios are rolled out over the coming months.

Circulating Ideas: Scenario Planning With Reading Public Library

Bronwen Gamble, Executive Director of Pennsylvania’s Reading Public Library, appeared with me on the American library podcast Circulating Ideas to share our experiences of scenario planning during a pandemic.

Reading Public Library, PA – Image Courtesy of Berks County Public Libraries

You can listen to the show, or check out a transcript, over at the Circulating Ideas website.

Aesop’s Animals: Truth, Science, and Fable with Jo Wimpenny

What scientific truths lie behind the millennia-old collection of moral tales we know as Aesop’s Fables? Do the stories tell us something about real-life animal behaviour? How do our myths and metaphors match up to the realities of the natural world?

Zoologist Dr. Jo Wimpenny‘s new book Aesop’s Animals explores all of these questions, linking ancient stories to the latest research into animal behaviour, and challenging our assumptions about the animal kingdom.

Jo and I spoke on the eve of the book’s launch.

We might think we know what Aesop’s Fables are, but was there even really a historical Aesop? What do we mean when we talk about “Aesop’s Fables”?

An exact answer isn’t possible: Aesop’s Fables stretch back to something like two thousand five hundred years ago, which we know because certain ancient scholars of the time mentioned the fables in their writing. Those scholars certainly thought there was an Aesop, though it’s a disputed point; a lot of modern historians point to inaccuracies in descriptions of him, which suggest there may not have been a single author who bore that name. Today there are hundreds of fables attributed to Aesop, but some of these may have been created later, building on the existing tales.

The standard view is that Aesop was a slave, who might have been Greek, Turkish or Ethiopian, who created little moral fables, moral messages. They weren’t about animal behaviour, and they weren’t based on science, because science as we know it didn’t exist at that point. They used animal and mythological characters to communicate moral teachings.

The story goes that Aesop won his freedom by being a master storyteller – that he used his wit and intelligence to entertain and educate people, impressing those in power into granting him his freedom.

The basis for my book is less about whether Aesop was a real person, and more about this very real collection of stories which verifiably does date back to the ancient world.

Read more

I’m Your Man: Memory, Desire, Artificial Life

I just caught up with Maria Schrader’s excellent new movie I’m Your Man (Ich bin dein Mensch), which came out in the UK last month.

Archaeological researcher Alma (Maren Eggert) is cajoled by her boss into serving as a participant in a scientific trial. Using interviews, studies, and brain-scans, a team of designers will create a lifelike robot intended to be her perfect companion. The result is Tom (Dan Stevens), an English-accented android programmed to meet her every emotional and physical need. Tom will live with Alma for three weeks, at the end of which she’ll write a report informing the decision on whether androids like him are allowed out into German society.

Read more

Reimagining the future of urban-rural balance

How will Europe’s urban-rural balance shift in years to come? In times of uncertainty, when tomorrow may not look like today, how can researchers and decision-makers best explore future relationships and dynamics between regions? In addition, how can such speculations be related back to pressing questions in the here and now?

In the new issue of the Regional Studies Association’s online magazine, IMAJINE‘s Marie Mahon and I share our experiences using scenario planning to explore the future of regional development in Europe, and answer the question: why are serious researchers spending time dreaming of futures which may never happen?

Read more in our article, “Reimagining the future of urban-rural balance: using scenarios to explore territorial inequality”.

Learning from futures you didn’t see coming? Scenario planning, education and the (post)pandemic world at CO:RE

It was my privilege to join the University of Oslo’s Niamh Ní Broin and Steffen Krueger at the website of CO:RE, the Children Online: Research and Evidence project funded by the European Commission, to write about last year’s scenarios for the future of Norwegian schools.

These explored different contexts for the digitalisation of education in Norway, considering how the relationship between learners, digital devices, and educational institutions might shift in times to come.

You can read our piece, “Learning from futures you didn’t see coming? Scenario planning, education and the (post)pandemic world”, here.