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.

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.

Six hours, three sentences for Libraries Tasmania

This September, I spent a day with senior leaders from Libraries Tasmania as part of my Australia/New Zealand workshop tour.

Accompanied by Aussie consultant Brendan Fitzgerald, my task was to help over 20 senior managers to agree an overarching mission statement that reflected an existing strategic plan, plus the full scope of an organisation encompassing archives, a museum, the State Library of Tasmania, and an island-wide public library service.

We set the scene for the mission statement with a series of iterative tasks exploring plausible futures that the organisation might face – and ways of responding if those futures came to pass.

By the end of the day, we had built enough common ground for the workshop participants to agree a wording which framed and articulated their service’s mission in an accessible yet inspiring way: three compelling sentences that could only be found after a solid day of future-facing inquiry.

Libraries Tasmania’s Executive Director Liz Jack wrote:

Throughout the day, Matt kept things moving while still being emotionally intelligent enough to notice when people were feeling uncomfortable, respectfully encouraging them to articulate what they were feeling and thinking.

Comments from participants included the following:

  • Matt captured the context of Libraries Tasmania very well and his in depth
    knowledge and experience of other libraries internationally added value to the
    sessions
  • Matt kept us on track and had a great ability to read the room
  • A great find!
  • Best facilitator seen in a long time; a good understanding of both strategic
    planning and the library field
  • Matt is one of the best. Clever listening and guidance and good subtle questioning of assumptions . . . a paradigm changer and questioner
  • The fact that there was an outcome was a significant improvement to any
    other vision/mission related workshop I have engaged in . . . It could not get
    much better.

Matt’s work has set us up with a mission statement that everyone has embraced and now owns, and the discussion and ideas he generated have laid a solid foundation for future planning and visioning work with the entire organisation.

You can read more at this site’s testimonials page.

New South Wales Strategy & Leadership Workshops

“It was important to us that our participants would gain a greater understanding of how to think about the changes and needs in their own communities and would learn some tools or techniques that they could continue to apply and revisit… essentially building both an awareness of trend monitoring but also the capability to respond with creative local strategies. The feedback from participants throughout the workshops and afterwards has been really positive with many commenting on how they would be able to use what they’d learned straight away with their teams.”

The feedback has arrived from the two day-long strategy workshops which I ran for the State Library of New South Wales this month. The sessions were designed to equip attendees with practical foresight, planning, and advocacy tools; I delivered them together with Brendan Fitzgerald as observer/respondent to the day’s activities.

The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, although of course there’s still much to learn as we explore ways to put sophisticated foresight tools like scenario planning in the hands of information professionals at all ranks, from communities large and small.

“Great approach to strategy and the tools make sense – Worth it.”

“A totally engaging and thought provoking day. A fantastic opportunity to interact with colleagues across NSW libraries and even though we come from very different situations, large and small libraries, the challenges we face have common ground.”

“Great day – Matt a very charismatic presenter and Brendan really well grounded in the realities of Library services. Great to have the opportunity to work with other Libraries and some novel approaches to workshopping!”

“Not what I expected at all. I thought it was going to be a talkfest and I was wondering how I will stay alert after lunch!!But we had short breaks, started on time and were kept connected to our table group and sent around the room to interact with the other groups in the room.”

“It was a wonderful day with practical hands-on information heard and learnt through application. I was very pleased I was able to participate in this. Thank you for hosting this event and bringing someone with Matt’s resume to Sydney for us to all learn from and be inspired.”

“This seminar was one of the most engaging, informative and stimulating professional development activities I have attended. I would have willingly attended the 2nd session.”

“The most valuable and thought-provoking professional development opportunity I have ever attended.”

State Library of Victoria Interview with Peter Miller

I joined multimedia artist Peter Miller a.k.a. Scribbletronics to talk about his work creating art from the digitised collections at the State Library of Victoria.

Our conversation ranged across questions of serendipity and creativity, empathy and respect for historical figures whose images we use, and the sheer delight of experimenting with visual art in the archive.

You can watch the full interview on YouTube.

ASPAC 2019: Australia on the front lines of human crisis

Is Australia on the front lines of the 21st century human crisis?

Societies and cultures live there which have, for thousands of years, considered that the land itself has spirit and agency.

On the same land, Australia has built prosperity from the extractive industries, using technology to remove resources from the ground in a way which has global impact.

How can these values be reconciled? What part do science and technology centres have to play in the debate about our sustainable future?

My keynote for the ASPAC 2019 science and technology centres conference was covered in the Brisbane Times.

Preparing for Worlds We Didn’t See Coming @ ASPAC 2019

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Queensland Museum & Science Centre by Wikipedia user GordonMakryllos – CC BY-SA 4.0

“A long time ago, when I was a child, I went to a Science Centre. Back then, there was nothing like it – a truly hands-on space of adventure and learning, in an age when most museums kept their exhibits under glass.

“On most of the Science Centre exhibits, you turned a crank, hoped to see something awesome happen – then read the didactic to see what you were supposed to have learned.

“Pedagogy has moved on, but so has the world. What happens when you “turn the crank” of science and causality breaks down? What happens when social and natural systems collapse, public trust fractures, and old worldviews reveal their blind spots?

“What would the ‘Post-Normal Science Centre’ look like?”

Next month, I’ll be speaking as the opening keynote at this year’s Asia Pacific Network of Science and Technology Centres Conference – ASPAC 2019.

New strategic plan for Supreme Court Library Queensland

I’m pleased to announce the publication of one of my recent projects, the new five-year strategic plan for the Supreme Court Library of Queensland, Australia (SCLQ).

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Queen Elizabeth II Courts of Law, Brisbane by Wikipedia user Kgbo – CC BY-SA 3.0

The project, which ran through 2018 and early 2019, comprised research, interviews, survey and workshop design, plus co-writing the finished plan with Supreme Court Librarian David Bratchford.

Researching and writing the plan gave me the opportunity to explore one of the most fascinating and challenging sectors of the information profession – the law.

Read more

How Public Libraries Can Help Us Prepare For the Future – The Conversation

Could public libraries revolutionise politics and society by helping local communities to develop long-term foresight?

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State Library of Queensland by Wikipedia users Kgbo – CC BY-SA 4.0

My first piece for The Conversation, “How Public Libraries Can Help Us Prepare For the Future“, has just gone live.

It draws on research I conducted with the University of Southern Queensland’s Kate Davis and conversations with Rafael Ramírez of Oxford’s Saïd Business School.

The article explores the possibility of using public libraries as hosts for deeply local scenario planning initiatives, putting foresight tools commonly used by policymakers, big business, and the military in the hands of grassroots communities.

You can read “How Public Libraries Can Help Us Prepare For the Future” over at The Conversation now.