Jane hired me back in January 2016 for a residency intended to develop staff, challenge convention, engage the wider community, and showcase the organisation’s creative practice. Now, more than a year later, we’re looking back on a successful stint embracing libraries, communities, and partner organisations across Australia’s Sunshine State.
In my final week with the State Library of Queensland, I managed to squeeze in a short discussion about what digital technologies might mean for communities in rural and regional Australia.
I spoke with Donna Hancox of Queensland University of Technology and Tyler Wellensiek, who works on coding & robotics initiatives for the State Library of Queensland.
Check it out:
During my time in Brisbane, I’ve been working with the School of Allied Health at Griffith University to push the boundaries of what’s possible when training occupational therapists.
We’ve used play, storytelling, and even delicious cake to explore the skills and values of therapists in both real and imagined community settings.
You can read about these collaborations over at Library as Incubator, in my piece “The Gentle Art of World Domination“.
What is the professional benefit of play? When is it better to impose an objective, and when should we learn through experimentation and happy accident? How can we “fail better” without wasting valuable resources?
In this month’s Library Life magazine, I explore these questions through an account of the Library Island project I’ve been developing during my time at the State Library of Queensland.
Could it be that our next innovation challenge is to break down the walls between fact and fiction? Could story-based, open-ended play be as valuable for professionals as for children? Could it be physical, low-tech, and improvisational as well as digital?
Sometimes these wayward dreams take the form of a caveat.
Blindsight, by Peter Watts, is a creepy and troubling space opera which follows a team of explorers dispatched to investigate an alien craft in the year 2082.
Watts shows us a post-scarcity Earth which is suddenly threatened by vastly superior technology; he sends us out into space with a group of weird souls who have been granted talents which estrange them from humanity; and then, far from home, he forces them into a confrontation with creatures that are smarter and more adaptable than we.
Watts is known for dark explorations of the posthuman future, and for giving his stories endings which offer little reassurance, but Blindsight merits special mention for the way in which it leaves you doubting the value of all we hold dear in the human condition.
I came across Watts’ book after reading Steven Shaviro’s Discognition, a book which aims to conduct philosophy through the exploration of science fiction. At one point, Shaviro writes:
…the nonhuman entities with which we share the world – including, but not limited to, our tools – are active in their own right. They have their own powers, interests, and points of view. And if we engineer them, in various ways, they “engineer” us as well, nudging us to adapt to their demands. Automobiles, computers, and kidney dialysis machines were made to serve particular human needs; but in turn, they also induce human habits and behaviours to change. Nonhuman things must therefore be seen as…active agents with their own intentions and goals, and which affect one another, as well as affecting us…
Shaviro’s argument that we must begin to understand our behaviours and attitudes through the viewpoint of nonhuman actors – not just everyday tools but the robot, the alien, the artificial intelligence, the monster – is something I’ve also seen explored in the art education practice of Sean Justice and even the way farmers relate to their self-driving machines in the 21st century. We tried to capture some of these relationships in the State Library of Queensland’s Ozofarm Initiative, which invited local communities to devise their own sci-fi farming scenarios using small robots.
That’s a worthy goal with clear benefits for our digital future, but I don’t want to stray too far from Watts’ bleak vision. His book isn’t a Luddite take on our future, it’s a cool-headed refusal to bet on humanity’s own heroism.
Not only does Watts neatly sketch the potential for human conflict even in a world where our material and energy needs have been met, but Blindsight does a great job of challenging our faith in precisely the capacities for imagination and awareness which allow him to write such a compelling novel.
So anytime you need your hope for the future tempered with a healthy dose of scepticism, this thoughtful reality check is the book for you.
Sometimes three sentences are a good day’s work.
I’ve been helping library leaders to refine an elevator pitch for the work State Library of Queensland does with public libraries.
RAPL, the Regional Access and Public Libraries team, has a range of duties – from administering grants to delivering professional development, fostering peer-to-peer networking, and setting industry standards. RAPL staff also promote literacy and wellbeing for children under five years old, support the digital skills of senior citizens, and advocate to local government on libraries’ behalf.
How do we condense that into something that is clear, elegant, brief, and compelling?
Well, here’s what we came up with:
Our scope, our goal, our offer:
Queensland has over 300 public libraries and Indigenous Knowledge Centres in communities from the desert to the reefs, from the mountains to the Torres Strait.
Together with local government, we ensure all Queenslanders have access to great public libraries that help communities thrive.
We advocate for public libraries, support their collections, their staff, and their programmes, and we share their successes.
Does your organisation need help telling the story of what you’re about? What you’re doing? What you have to offer? Do you want to change that story for the better?
I have extensive experience in working with institutions and communities, identifying their accomplishments, their goals, their current ways of working – and then helping them to find new, effective approaches. I listen and observe, then work with you to plan and execute the changes we have agreed on.
I help people and organisations – from publishers and media productions to healthcare providers and state bodies – to create new programmes and partnerships.
Would you like to strengthen your digital and physical offers? Your strategic vision? Or the way you explain to outsiders your history and mission?
Could your organisation benefit from professional development sessions that are unique, playful, and effective?
By listening to staff, clients, and stakeholders, I spot opportunities to make a difference and tell stories which help to shape and sustain innovation.
For the remainder of 2017, I’ll be working on community engagement with the University of Southern Queensland, after an extended stint as Creative-in-Residence at the State Library of Queensland.
You can read more at www.mechanicaldolphin.com/about – which gives you an outline of what I can do for you.
Take a look, and drop me a line if you’d like to work with me next year.
I’m the special guest at next week’s QUT Literary Salon at the Menagerie Bar in Brisbane’s Kelvin Grove.
Writers from Queensland University of Technology will be sharing stories on the theme “Upside Down”.
Come and join us next week, Wednesday 12th April from 6.30pm at the Menagerie Bar, 22/8 Carraway Street, Kelvin Grove.
Some nice feedback from a recent professional development session for library staff in Moreton Bay, Queensland.
Project officer Karen Hewett from the town of Noosa evaluated an Innovation in Libraries training day run by State Library of Queensland together with Moreton Bay Libraries.
“If you have already had the pleasure of hearing Matt present, you will know to expect the unexpected. He had us replicating cocktails to find a solution to stop the world ending. Using a pack of playing cards with STEM careers on them, we managed to do just that.”
Sounds a bit far out? Here were the practical and applicable insights Karen took away from the session:
“We could easily replicate this activity in the branches during a team meeting. It would take about 10-15 minutes. It really cemented the concept that no matter what is thrown at you, if you look at it creatively you will find the tools to solve the problem.”
“Library staff constantly think on their feet to meet customers’ changing needs. It really made me appreciate the diversity of our team and how each of us has specialised skills making the collective team adaptable and resourceful.”