Last year, I was invited to give a keynote speech at Aotearoa/New Zealand’s national library conference, LIANZA 2017.
I wanted to realise a long-held dream and present a collective keynote with a number of Australian & New Zealand colleagues sharing the stage, but it wasn’t practical for LIANZA to fly a whole group of us across the Tasman Sea.
In the end, we contrived a way to deliver a unique collective keynote – by taping my mouth shut and inviting members of the audience on stage in an hour-long series of creative, constructive, collaborative activities.
In October, US librarian Justin Hoenke approached me to co-nominate Rachael for the American Library Journal‘s annual Movers & Shakers Award, highlighting professionals who have done exceptional work in libraries around the world.
Today, Rachael was announced as a winner of the 2018 Movers & Shakers Award and her friends & supporters worldwide are justifiably celebrating. From her days back in suburban Auckland to current international glory, including her own individual library keynote in Edinburgh, Rachael is one of the greatest heroes of public librarianship in 2018.
Jerome Rivera, aka @jeromical, is Community Library Manager at Ranui in Auckland, New Zealand. He’s smart and thoughtful and highly accomplished, and one of the sharpest dressers I’ve ever seen. Jerome and his wife Rachael form something of a library power couple: she manages Auckland’s central city library and her teams have been responsible for amazing projects such as specialised services for homeless people and bespoke one-to-one encounters with Kiwi musicians for NZ Music Month. But I’ll have to get to the full story of Rachael’s greatness another time, because today is about Code Brown, and Code Brown starts with Jerome.
You see, being a librarian today is about all kinds of things. Access to information. Bringing communities together and giving them the opportunity to share their skills and stories, or create new knowledge. Offering new technologies and the skills to explore those technologies.
But, as Jerome pointed out on Twitter, when you work in a space like a library which is open and welcoming to all members of the public, sooner or later, you end up dealing with a Code Brown. Read more →
Librarians old and new joined forces to explore their work with communities in new, messy, and productive ways.
Going beyond the vogue for design thinking, the safe, fictional space of “Library Island” allowed us to engage with knotty questions of office politics, limited resources, managerial edicts, and library users who are sometimes airbrushed out of “future visions” – such as homeless people or those whose behaviour might be challenging to staff. Read more →
I went to a Secret Cinema event a few years back and was pretty disappointed – the set design and costumes were fancy, but the opportunities to get involved in the storytelling were minimal. I’d gone to see Casablanca and while it was cool to sing La Marseillaise at a bunch of actors in Nazi uniform, the rest of the “immersive experience” consisted of overpriced snacks and a “casino” barely worthy of a student union’s James Bond night. The Guardian piece captures the extent to which Secret Cinema events are now more about taking your money than letting you step into the world of a story.
This week you can find me over at @wethehumanities, a rotating Twitter account where people working in the humanities get to share ideas, experiences, and stories. I’m using my week to talk about the grey areas between fact and fiction, dream and experience, stories and everyday life – as well as people who cross back and forth over the walls of universities and academic institutions.
Today I’m joined by Natasha Barrett, a British researcher and cultural heritage expert currently studying for a doctorate at the University of Leicester.
Natasha tells me:
I’m researching commercial colonial-era photographs (1860s-1914) of Māori (the indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand) and their taonga/cultural treasures. Essentially I’m looking at the meaning of these photographs to Māori, and how they have been used over time both within and outside of museums. I’m also considering how Māori perspectives can inform the way these photographs are understood in museums. My approach treats photographs as three-dimensional objects. I pay close attention to their material qualities, such as the albums they are placed in, any writing on their surfaces. As well as, the sensorial or different ways people engage with photographs, inlcuding looking at, talking about and touching them.
You’ve returned to academia after a long time working in the cultural heritage sector; what’s it like returning to research and how have your experiences off-campus shaped what you do now?Read more →
Some projects make a big splash right away. With others, it’s something of a slow burn.
Just as the sun sets on this year’s Fun Palaces, I was pleased to see an old programme finally achieving its potential back in Aotearoa New Zealand.
Auckland Libraries have just launched Reading Between the Wines, a monthly book club which tours bars in the central suburbs of New Zealand’s biggest city. Librarians bring a selection of books to the bar for patrons to check out and discuss on the first Thursday of each month.
Heritage is one of the most exciting challenges in community outreach. It’s an opportunity to dispel the myth that the past is staid or somehow divorced from the present. Many public and private bodies hold weird and wonderful archives, unique traces of the generations that have preceded us. Everything we do and dream is rooted in what has gone before, whether we like it or not, and yet the past is not fixed, as we uncover new truths, new ways of looking at those who have gone before us. The strange and beautiful thing about historical narrative and memory is that even a path you’ve already trodden can still change course in retrospect.
Two years ago I visited Auckland in New Zealand for a six month contract as Service Development Adviser to the city’s libraries. My brief was “to push the boundaries in how our large public library network creates innovative programmes for children and young people […] to inspire others to experiment and learn from the experience of working in fresh, even unexpected ways.”
During my stay, Auckland celebrated its 2013 Heritage Festival, an annual “opportunity for everyone, locals and visitors to Auckland, to celebrate and remember our past and discover our heritage.”
With my Auckland Council hat on, I looked for ways to make the past thrilling, and immediate, and to create opportunities for each neighbourhood library to take responsibility for devising and delivering inspired, playful programming.
A trip to Chromacon, the city’s festival of illustration, led to a meeting with British expatriate artist Nicola Brady. Her drawing of a crumbling present-day Auckland was the perfect inspiration for a time-travelling heritage event.
Nicola’s doomy vision provoked questions: What if we made our heritage programming about both the future and the past? What if we turned it into a dynamic mission of rescue, with participants making their own choices about the value of history?
TimeQuest was born: a season of cultural programming for the school holidays, with a heritage theme and an overarching narrative:
Auckland, 2379. It’s the end for planet Earth – a red sun burns in the sky and the ground is parched of life.
The last survivors are preparing to leave for a new home on the other side of the galaxy, when the scientist Maia completes her greatest invention – a time portal that can take you to any moment in Auckland’s history.
Her plan: to send you back in time to recover the best books, art, and objects from New Zealand’s past. Time has run out for the planet Earth, but we can still rescue the best of our heritage and take it with us to our new home.
Where will you go – and when?
What will you choose to save?
Time Quest – Raid the past to save the future.
For me, it was important to create a storyline which respected New Zealand’s bicultural past and future. If we were going to imagine a postapocalyptic science fiction setting, it would be one where Māori identity was front and centre. Our defiant genius hero would be a Māori woman and a scientist, who invited TimeQuest participants to make their own decisions about the value of heritage, rather than accept some dusty authoritarian imposition.
My Auckland supervisor, Peter Thomas, is a Māori public servant with extensive experience offering guidance and representation to government bodies working in New Zealand. He helped us to choose the right name for our rebellious female science-hero, and also took me through the process needed to approve the use of a quote I’d found at Auckland Museum, which became the motto of TimeQuest:
“Haere mai, e tai, kei te wera te ao”
“Come and see, the world is going to be burned”
These were the words recalled by an eyewitness to the 1886 eruption of Mount Tarawera, a violent natural disaster which decimated communities. I had seen the quotation in a display on volcanoes and earthquakes at the Auckland Museum, and saw it as a symbol of our programme’s link between an imagined future and authentic historical accounts. Peter helped guide me through the sensitivities around using a quotation in this way.
To balance out the gravity and drama of our programme, we also created an alternate promotional image which was friendlier and more cartoony, for TimeQuest events featuring younger children.
Having established our storyline, we wanted to be sure that local communities would create their own events and not just copy some central voice of authority. We wanted local stories, local histories, local art, and local play – so rather than create a prescriptive centralised programme, we created a resource pack with eight model activities to serve as inspiration for local librarians to devise their own versions.
Auckland’s librarians ran with the inspiration they’d been given and came up with sessions such as these:
Time travellers from the year 2379 are on their way to find out information about the culture and life of the tweens and teens of today. They’ve asked us to make a teen’s room that they can teleport to the future. Help us to design and decorate a representation of what a teen’s room looks like in 2013.
Life in 2379 is rather bleak. With the sun burning out, life on earth is dying. The time travellers have come back to 2013 to gather enough knowledge and resources to save the future generations. But they will need enough sustenance to do this. Tweens and teens will be asked to investigate the vitamins and minerals humans need to keep healthy and strong. They will then be blending up some fruity concoctions for the travellers to take back with them to help them save the world.
Time travellers, to slow the sun and save the future you have been asked to bring back to the future Maui, the Māori hero of How Maui slowed the sun. Listen to the story and help Maui to catch and slow the sun again by making your own fishhooks and ropes.
Over the last couple of years, I’ve watched with pleasure as participatory, local, and lively approaches to culture and creativity have spread. For me, the most promising model for a decentered, participatory approach to the arts in local communities has been Fun Palaces, the British event co-directed by the Kiwi-raised Stella Duffy from an original 1960s idea by Joan Littlewood and Cedric Price. If it’s true that the neighbourhood public library is the gateway to all human knowledge and culture, then Fun Palaces are a beautiful fit for libraries’ swashbuckling cultural mission.
Earlier this year, I was a consultant on the new Write and Draw Your Own Comics, created by the talented Louie Stowell and a range of brilliant artists for the children’s publisher Usborne.
Some of the activities in the book got field-tested by the kids and teens of Auckland, New Zealand, during my stint there last year and I can vouch for the finished work as being pretty freakin’ awesome.