Public Libraries, Police Abolition, and Serving Your Community in a Time of Change

If we abolish the police and reimagine the ways in which our societies cope with disorder, violence, and transgression, what else will have to shift? How radically could public libraries change, if we reimagined the institutions of information as profoundly as we might reimagine the institutions of justice?

I led strategy workshops last month with some very senior librarians in Australia, and at the beginning of these sessions, we gave an Acknowledgment of Country, acknowledging the Traditional Custodians of the land we were on and paying our respects to Elders past, present, and emerging.

We didn’t just speak these words as a formula and then move on. We talked about what it meant to acknowledge country in digital space, when each of us was in a different location, from Australia to the UK. We talked about acknowledging the histories which have led us to a world in which I could speak the traditional language used for generations in the place where I was born, and not make any effort to adapt the way I speak for audiences in Australia, Aotearoa New Zealand, the US, Canada, or many other nations.

We talked about what it would mean for the institutions represented in the workshop not just to acknowledge these histories, or to carry out the work of recognising and remedying them through diversity and inclusion efforts, acts of reconciliation and decolonisation, and so on. We talked about what it would mean for these institutions to become explicitly antiracist.

It was important to talk about this, because for some public institutions, it proves hard to take a stand against injustice. The political environment in which public library services and other organisations operate is shaped by the elected governments which determine their funding and policies, and this can make it challenging for institutions to do the right thing. Read more

Psychodynamic literacy? New column for Information Professional

“Group dynamics are ‘like an iceberg – you see some of the relationship on the surface and then there is also everything beneath the water. There are the explicit, seen, and formal aspects; then all that is implicit, unseen, unspoken, and even unconscious.'”

The second instalment of “Scripturient”, my new quarterly column for Information Professional magazine, is out now.

Iceberg_in_the_Arctic_with_its_underside_exposed
Iceberg in the Arctic, by Wikipedia user AWeith – CC BY-SA 4.0

In this series, I’m looking at how we can push the boundaries of literacy in the 21st century, to encompass new areas of representation. What does it mean to read the future? To read risks? To read the forces that underpin our relationships and drive us psychologically? To read the signs and signals which exist in the natural world?

The latest instalment explores questions of “psychodynamic literacy”. If we were better at reading the forces that shape our relationships, could we rewrite them to get better, happier outcomes?

I talked to two expert practitioners, a leadership coach and a mediator, to find out more. Find out what they had to say in the article (PDF download).

Looking ahead: Circulating Ideas / Public Libraries News

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Steve Thomas of the American library podcast Circulating Ideas and Ian Anstice of the UK’s Public Libraries News. Both conversations were released online this week.

Ian asked me some questions about the COVID-19 pandemic, libraries’ response to it, and what might be on the horizon for our societies and the institutions that serve them.

Like any good foresight practitioner, I sought to offer questions of my own, and provocations more than prophecy. We discussed resilience, anticipation, and both the dangers and opportunities that organisations face during a prolonged, indefinite season of turbulence and uncertainty. I think the points will be useful for people outside of the library and information sector. You can read our conversation at the Public Libraries News site.

Meanwhile, over at Circulating Ideas, Steve and I talked about what it would mean to bring scenario planning and other foresight methodologies into a public library setting, building on my recent presentation to America’s Engaging Local Government Leaders network and a previous academic article co-authored with Rafael Ramírez.

You can listen to my chat with Steve, and many other excellent episodes of Circulating Ideas, at the podcast’s website, and the episode is also available over at Apple Podcasts.

“New adventures in disasterology”: Learning from crisis with Christchurch Libraries

Katherine Moody is a librarian in Christchurch, Aotearoa New Zealand. She and I submitted a piece for the US Public Libraries Magazine at the end of March 2019, and it appears in the current (April/May 2020) issue. 

You can read that text, “Even In The Worst-Case Scenario”, as a PDF download here – but it would be an understatement to say that a lot has changed in the world since we wrote it! 

Worst Case Scenario

To keep the conversation moving forward, Katherine and I had a short discussion about libraries’ experience of crisis over the past year.

Matt:
In terms of our interest in coping with crises and turbulent situations, in understanding the part libraries have to play in these huge upsets: what has been learned?

Katherine:
So much has happened, both personally and professionally, and is continuing to happen, and taking a breath to look back is almost overwhelming.

I think we need to have the mindset – and the strategy – that we need to be prepared to face anything. I’ve been thinking a lot recently about some Crowded House lyrics recently: ‘I’ve been locked out / I’ve been locked in / but I always seem to come back again’. Read more

Debate: Las bibliotecas durante y tras el confinamiento

The fiction of normality has just been exposed by the coronavirus pandemic, so why are we constantly talking of a New Normal?

Normality was only ever a comfort blanket, and one which didn’t even stretch to cover all of those in our society who needed it.

How will we change through, and allow ourselves to be changed by, the crises of 2020 – and those future crises that surely await?

I’m so grateful to Spain’s Ministry of Culture and Sport, and the “Laboratorios Bibliotecarios” team, for hosting this discussion, and tolerating my imperfect Spanish in a really lively debate with Laia Sánchez Casals, Alicia Sellés Carot, Diego Gracia Sancho, and Javier Perez Iglesias.

You can watch the recording, in Spanish, here.

In the Library of Last Resort

I wrote a little while back about the need for escapism in these trying times, and to help with that I’ve released a short “choose-your-own” text game.

There’s songs and robots, plenty to read, a world to explore and a mystery to be solved when you visit The Library of Last Resort.

Photograph of a long corridor of bookshelve apparently stretching off endlessly into a white light at the vanishing point
Picture by Flickr user Rich Grundy – CC BY 2.0

I got the idea a couple of years back, when I was exploring the idea of interactive nonfiction and games where there was the opportunity for the player to surprise the author.

In an earlier incarnation, The Library of Last Resort benefited from the editing of the brilliant Adalya Nash Hussein, and advice from Gersande La Flèche & Rob Sherman. It uses Gersande’s code to create the in-game inventory.

It’s not polished, and I welcome feedback, but hopefully it will provide you with an escape when you need one. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll find a way to surprise me with my own game…

You can play The Library of Last Resort here, or check out my previous interactive piece, A Tear in Flatland.

Real Time – Webinar with R. David Lankes

Today I spoke with leading US information professional R. David Lankes about foresight, strategy, and coping with uncertainty beyond immediate short-term crisis response.

David created one of the first 100 web sites ever, plus the first web presence for CNN, the Discovery Channel, and the U.S. Department of Education. We spoke about what he foresaw at the beginning of the Internet age, the surprises which emerged along the way, and how we might learn from the past when the future is uncertain and unlikely to repeat what went before.

You can watch the YouTube video below, or read more at the Librarians.Support website.

Campbelltown Library Island: Preparing for challenge and crisis

The Library Island immersive training tool was released last year as a free PDF download and has since been taken up by organisations around the world.

Earlier this year, Paula Pfoeffer of the Community Connections team at Campbelltown City Council in Australia ran a modified version of Library Island with her colleagues.

Council workers visited a make-believe island nation to explore responses to uncertain and challenging situations – from climate change events to social unrest, government budget cuts, and the need to meet demands for recognition and justice for the whole community.

Below, Paula explains how the event was run, what the outcomes were, and how it has fed Campbelltown’s response to the Australian bushfire crisis and the emerging COVID-19 pandemic.

It was just another day on Uluibau Island……

In the towns of Juschester, Becstone and Pfefferville, the collections were being maintained and programs and services were being offered to the community. Life was pretty good for the staff that worked at the combined library and child care centre facility.

Then a climate change event happened and there were increasing demands for recognition and justice from the island’s indigenous population. Then the desperate people speaking a language that no-one seemed to recognise migrated to the City. And then the Ministry began to make ominous noises about cutting library budgets……

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Read more

Planning for Uncertainty with R. David Lankes

Next Tuesday, 24th March, at 9am US Eastern Time, I’ll be chatting with American library maven R. David Lankes about how we can plan for the “New Normal” which awaits on the far side of the current pandemic.

R. David Lankes

We’ll talk about foresight, coping with risk and uncertainty, and finding prudent ways to anticipate the world we’ll inhabit during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond.

Participants are welcome to participate in the online chat during our discussion; find out more and join in via the link at David’s website.