Guest post: XXUnmasked at Auckland Libraries

I’m pleased to announce that Auckland Libraries’ XXUnmasked media literacy project for teenage girls has just won an award for community outreach. This week on the blog, Tracy Dawson of Parkes High School Library in Australia reports on the project led by Ali Coomber of Auckland Libraries and Dr Pani Farvid of Auckland University of Technology.

XXUnmasked – double the power, not the standards!

Something that always amazes me is when young girls say “I’m not a feminist.” When any woman says it, actually. I remember several years ago, in my previous guise as an English teacher, talking to a group of top senior English students studying what was then called 3 Unit English in New South Wales. We were discussing the brilliant Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and despite that horrific and unsettling story of the loss of female identity, voice, independence, none could see the value of feminism.

Now when feminism is often seen as a dirty word at the same time that all-pervading media images of women are more blatantly misogynistic than ever, how do we help our young women avoid being active participants, let alone passive observers, in their own diminution? Read more

VALA Remixed: Ten Magic Words for Australasian Libraries and their Friends, 2014-2016

Last week I gave a keynote at VALA in Melbourne. It’s a biennial conference for people who work in galleries, museums, and libraries. The text below builds on key ideas from my speech – you can see a full video at the VALA website.

TARDIS on the Powell Estate, graffiti;ed
Think of the public library as the TARDIS on your streetcorner…a local gateway to human knowledge and dreams

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Finding Library Futures, 5: “I Was Elected To Lead, Not To Read” – Thoughts On Library Leadership

Part 5 in my series on Finding Library Futures.

In my travels, I’ve met some incredible and inspiring library leaders. Managers and specialists delivering incredible stuff: people like Hamish Curry, the Melbournian library superhero who gets kids making Ned Kelly armour in his library, or Adrienne Hannan in the New Zealand capital Wellington, a children’s and youth specialist whose role outside traditional management structures gives her freedom and flexibility to innovate. But sometimes libraries’ own bureaucracy impedes them: sometimes, even when the media, local communities, and local politicians, too, are supporting libraries’ attempts to be audacious, internal process can be an obstacle. So – here’s three thoughts on a style of leadership which will let libraries be the sword-hand of literacy and the major cultural player they so clearly ought to be in the new Information Age.

1. Library leaders need to be librarians.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not talking my role out of existence – outsiders to library service have a value in stirring the pot, bringing in new ideas, cross-pollinating between librarianship, education, theatre, creative writing, marketing, etc – but I truly believe that the people at the head of a library organisation need to have walked the floor, stacked the shelves, held their own on a desk shift, and put contact plastic on a few books in their time. Read more

Finding Library Futures, 2: We Built This City – Embedding Stories in a Community

In part one of this blog series, I took a look at TimeQuest, the citywide programme which I devised for Auckland Libraries’ school holiday programmes – an opportunity to embed storytelling, adventure, and literacy into the life of an entire city.

The TimeQuest team created a simple storyline which all Auckland’s library branches could use as a leaping-off point for their own activities over the holidays. We might have been imposing a half-dozen lines of text, but there’s a real difference between this imposition and the various ‘One Book, One City’ programmes which have gained ground around the world.

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Finding Library Futures, 1a: A Love Letter to Auckland

Auckland Libraries - Timequest
Auckland Libraries – Timequest logo

I wrote the recent Auckland Libraries school holiday programme TimeQuest as a love letter to the city – a science fiction romance with time-travelling heroes using libraries to save the heritage of New Zealand’s largest conurbation. Creating the activity, I thought about what I might go back in time to save from Auckland Libraries. My experience with both the library system and the city itself was intense, challenging, and ultimately rewarding – but along the journey, there were days where I might not have been sad to see Auckland blown into the time vortex!

Even in those toughest times, I found things to make me cherish the city. Places and people and even items on the library shelves. In one such case, it wasn’t a book, but a song. A song which belongs to pop culture in general, and Auckland in particular: that Australasian underdog which is still only slowly recognising how awesome it is and how much greater it could yet be.

This song, set on Takapuna Beach, alludes to the death of songwriter Don McGlashan’s brother at the age of 15. In it you find pop, melancholy, honesty. It belongs to specifc people, and specific places; it speaks of birthday parties and city politics, but also reaches out to touch something beyond everyday life. In four minutes, it gives me everything I love in a piece of art.

So…if you were on Auckland’s TimeQuest, saving your cultural heritage in the face of apocalypse, what one item would you rescue from your library?

Finding Library Futures, 1: TimeQuest – A Scientific Romance for Libraries

Auckland Libraries - Timequest
Auckland Libraries – Timequest logo
This school holiday season has seen Auckland’s library branches join forces to deliver a programme of activities built around a single citywide storyline, “TimeQuest.” Working with the city’s Service Development advisers Anne Dickson and Danielle Carter, I wrote the short text which frames the whole season:

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.

Where will you go – and when?

What will you choose to save?

TimeQuest – Raid the past to save the future.    

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Busy week, lucky country

It’s been another busy week out here in Central West New South Wales.

On Monday, I interviewed the Australian comics creator Pat Grant for the New South Wales Writers’ Centre. You can read Pat’s comics Blue and Toormina Video online. Pat and I will both be teaching courses at the Centre later this year – Pat’s on Graphic Storytelling and mine on Storytelling for a 21st Century Audience.

Time Travel Detectives poster

Talking to Pat was timely, because I’d just arranged for Sydney’s superlative comic store Kings Comics to send our local library a vast selection of comics on sale-or-return, which we then allowed the public to choose from in a series of all-ages workshops which I ran to determine our new collection. (Kings mistook me for Doctor Who, too, which only endeared them to me more).

Tuesday saw the kick-off of Time Travel Detectives, an immersive role-play programme for 5-12 year olds which invited local children to enter the Parkes Library Time Travel Lab and venture back to 1873 to prevent a time-lost Justin Bieber and his strange minion creatures from changing history and taking over the town.

The event included two new artworks by the Melbournian artist Peter Miller, Spirit Box and the Life Projector, which became Victorian scientists’ devices for detecting the time-travelling intruders – with Peter and his wife Wendy taking on the roles of rival 19th-century inventors battling to outdo one another. Read more

“Deep, Deep Down” – Carol Borden on Danger: Diabolik

I’m writing this at the end of a successful evening with Auckland Libraries, hosting a panel discussion on censorship and literature with Craig Ranapia, Karen Craig, and Dylan Horrocks.

The event took place at the Method and Manners art space on Auckland’s Upper Queen Street, its interior provocatively dressed for the occasion of a fringe art festival exploring sexuality, power, and performance.

This seemed the right moment to reblog an article by one of my favourite writers, Carol Borden, who edits The Cultural Gutter but also posts her own writing at Monstrous Industry.

In “Deep, Deep Down”, Carol writes about Danger: Diabolik, Mario Bava’s amazing, psychedelic 1968 adventure movie, as the most vaginal action movie that I have ever seen…If we had a lesbian cinema that took Danger: Diabolik as its starting point, I, for one, would be much happier. More car chases, cat burglery, groovy soundtracks and fewer women crushing on their therapists, therapists concerned about the ethics of their crushes on their patients and cuts to waterfalls.”

I love the way Carol politicises and repurposes pop culture here, much as she did in her Superman piece which featured here during our Dark Night season. And the thought of a ladytastic, catburglarish take on adventure cinema also chimes with a short film I worked on in my student days – Fear: Frantik – which flipped the genders on Diabolik-style antiheroes.

Fear Frantik PosterThe movie never got completed but you can read the script for the parody short here…a rare piece of Finch juvenilia:

Fear Frantik Script

For more on Auckland’s fringe festival exploring sexuality and its representation, read my post from earlier this week – or come along to Alleluyah Cafe on Karangahape Road tomorrow night, Wednesday 14 August, from 7pm for more readings and performance!

Still pushing boundaries: creative discomfort, adventure, and change in Auckland and beyond

Well, it’s been another busy old week in Auckland, bookended by presentations to Auckland Council’s Democracy Services team and the Rotarians of Auckland’s North Shore, on making the civic life of New Zealand’s largest city more creative and daring.

There’ll be more on that in the next few days, but in the meantime here’s a quick plug for a fringe festival at which I’ll be speaking on Wednesday night – I’ll be at St. Kevin’s Arcade on Karangahape Road from 7pm, performing a short piece on illness, age, and sexuality called “There’s no terror in the carelessness of flesh”.

The festival ties in with Auckland Libraries’ own successful Dark Night season in June, which pushed the boundaries of library services to over-18s with events that explored, challenged, and celebrated sex and sexuality on page, stage, and screen.

This time round we’ll be supporting Auckland’s artists by contributing a panel discussion about the boundaries of acceptability in literature – from the scandal around Ted Dawe’s Into The River – the prize-winning NZ teen book which has now been been submitted for age-restricted classification! – to the legal status in New Zealand of Alan Moore’s Lost Girls. The panel will be moderated by Stuff.co.nz’s literary maven Karen Tay, and feature cartoonist Dylan Horrocks and literary columnist Craig Ranapia alongisde badass librarian Karen Craig.

Aucklanders can catch that dream team of literati walking the boundaries of scandal and culture on Tuesday, 6pm-8pm at Method and Manners on Queen Street. Then there’s more at St. Kevin’s Arcade on the Wednesday night. Hope to see you then!

Guest Post: Hamish Lindop – Buying Library Users A Birthday Present

Today’s guest post comes from Hamish Lindop, who is Reference Librarian-Learning Services at Auckland Libraries, but has also turned his hand to numerous special projects in the city this year – from street promotion for our Dark Night festival to behind the scenes work on our 2013 Children’s and Youth Service conference, “the hui of awesome awesomeness”.

Auckland Libaries Youth Hui

The hui was a huge success, bringing together librarians from across New Zealand and Australia for panel discussions, hands-on Nerf-gunning workshops, and a teen space which attendees could visit to experience youth librarianship in action. You can follow the discussions via the Storify page created by Auckland’s own social media maven Tosca Waerea.

One of the biggest tensions I sensed at the hui was between the need for librarians to be courageous and creative, and the tendency of managers to struggle as they balanced this creativity with the demands of administration and the bigger picture of the libraries’ business plan. It’s very hard to not take bureaucracy personally when one is also being directed to be passionate and innovative…

Hamish has done some work reconciling these challenges with a wonderful common-sense analogy: buying our communities a birthday present.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how a public library can deliver the best value to the community that it sits in. The answer that I have come up with is this: we can get the community a birthday present. This is my favourite analogy for how to synthesize listening to your community, and innovating to surprise and delight them.

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