I joined Jaqueline Crawshaw of Energy Consumers Australia on their Watts Next podcast to discuss how we can deal with uncertainty in matters of policy, governance, and leadership.
Ideas on Ghosts: Scenarios and the Spectral Metaphor
Did you just ghost me?
I just read Catie Disabato’s U Up?, a strange little mystery novel set in contemporary L.A.
Eve is a researcher for an app called LA By Foot which offers “definitive walking guides to the secret history, hidden paths, pedestrian staircases, and beautiful architecture of Los Angeles”. A historian at UCLA highlights notable locations in the city, then Eve visits them, photographs them, and writes the copy.
“I could do it all myself,” Eve explains, “research the history of Los Angeles by reading any or all of the many books James Danielson has published, but he has something I don’t have: the social power that comes from having a masculine name that starts with a J.”
So Eve walks the city, through hangovers and simmering California heat, all the while keeping another secret: on her iPhone, she texts her friend Miguel, who died by suicide a year before. And Miguel’s ghost texts back.
The novel follows the events around the first anniversary of Miguel’s death, when Ezra, who was Miguel’s friend and Eve’s, goes suddenly missing. As she tries to discover whether Ezra is merely avoiding her or something more sinister has happened, Eve is forced to confront what is going on within and between their circle of friends.
Disabato’s book addresses different kinds of spectrality with delicacy and deftness. In this world, there’s little difference between a supernatural revenant like Miguel’s ghost and a living friend who Eve is messaging, “trapped inside my useless idiotic lump of an iPhone.”Read more
All Things Considered? Scenario Planning for Australian Public Libraries
In the pages of INCITE, the magazine of the Australian Library & Information Association, Mylee Joseph, Brendan Fitzgerald, and I have an article on scenario planning for public libraries at the State Library of New South Wales.
On September 9th, Brendan will join the State Library’s Cameron Morley for a webinar on public library scenario planning, which you can register for here.
Simon Groth: After the Future of the Book
To consume media today means using the same tools and skills as it takes to produce; the device in your pocket is capable of both and its platforms are built with this in mind. This is a profound shift, even from the assumptions that underlie the web, and it’s a landscape in which, superficially, the book does not seem to have an obvious place.
In the latest edition of his newsletter, marginalia, Australia’s Simon Groth describes the closure of if:book Australia, the Brisbane-based “institute for the future of the book” which explored new forms of literature and the changing relationship between writers and readers in the digital age.
if:book projects included a book written and published in just 24 hours, the live-writing event series Memory Makes Us, the N00bz project which saw writers take up tools and formats which were strange to them, the “remixed memoir” collection Lost in Track Changes, and Hunted Down, another “remix” of short stories by nineteenth-century author Marcus Clarke.
Simon’s elegaic piece recounts his journey with if:book as “one of being swept up by larger shifts in current that made it possible—if only for a brief moment in time—to create interesting experiences and opportunities for a small number of writers and readers to engage with each other”.
The anxieties and excitement around digital literature in the 2010s, back when some thought that “the ebook spelled the end of civilisation as we know it”, created an opportunity for the if:book community to surf for a while on some of the more challenging and remote parts of Australia’s literary coastline. No matter how many people were standing on the shore to bear witness, those surfers know what they achieved. The tricks and techniques they discovered will continue to teach all of us who are interested in the future of the written word, both digital and physical.
Today, Simon notes, if:book Australia has no web presence:
Its various project sites have all vanished, their domains no longer point to active sites. Its social media accounts are deleted. If not for the Internet Archive, there would be almost no online evidence that any of it had happened. Maybe this was how it was meant to be. Memory Makes Us had already anticipated disappearance as the logical end for digital literary projects. Such is the nature of the web and digital media more broadly: the threat of data rot is much more aggressive and immediate than the slow degradation of the page.
[…] Ten years on from its initial flurry of activity, its bold charge to explore and investigate how technology was set to expand our conception of the book, all that’s left of if:book Australia is a collection of printed, bound pages.
See more about Simon Groth’s work, and the projects he ran for if:book Australia, at his website.
Exploring Photography with Wendy Catling, Dr. Natasha Barrett, and Jonathan Bart
Last month, I invited three photographers to discuss how their medium is used for art, research, and storytelling in families, communities, and institutions.
Joining me for the conversation were Australian artist Wendy Catling, Research Librarian Dr. Natasha Barrett of the Alexander Turnbull Library (National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa), and British filmmaker Jonathan Bart.
Do photographs offer a collection of scattered moments or an unbroken connection to the past? From first pictures taken through “memories of memories”, stories of migration and famiy secrets, questions of colonialism, agency, and power, my three guests talk candidly about their personal, professional, and artistic relationships to this unique and powerful medium.
You can listen to the discussion on Soundcloud or YouTube.
Would you like to find out more about my guests?
Wendy Catling’s work appears at her own website and the site for her most recent project Nightshade, discussed in the podcast. (She is currently fundraising for the Nightshade photobook).
Read more about Dr. Natasha Barrett’s research at the University of Leicester website, and you can also find Natasha on Twitter.
Jonathan Bart’s work appears at his own website. You can also find Jonathan on Instagram, Behance, Vimeo, and Flickr.
Learning from Acknowledgments of Country
“I’d like to begin by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land that we’re on, and paying my respects to elders past, present, and emerging.”
That’s the form of words as I say them now; the current evolution. I learned to say them on the lands of the Turrbal and Jagera people in what is now Brisbane, and the lands of the Jarowair and Giabal people in what is now Toowoomba. “Custodians” has recently replaced “owners”, at the suggestion of Chris Lee; “emerging” replaced “future” a while back, although I’m not sure entirely why, I just noticed that some people I respected used that word rather than the other.
The saying, as a whole, is an Acknowledgement of Country; a form of recognition and respect for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and their relationship to the land which is often spoken at the beginning of a gathering in Australia. These days, I say it when hosting online meetings and workshops on Zoom or other platforms. Although I’m currently in London, and might be speaking with people anywhere in the world, I usually choose the Australian form of words if I’m working in a multinational space, because Australia was where I first became aware of the need to acknowledge Indigenous peoples’ custodianship of the land, and of a formalised protocol which could guide us in doing so.Read more
“Just Waiting for the Locusts, Really”: OECD Government After Shock Interviews with Innovation Norway & National Library of Australia
“Smoke, fire, hail, and pestilence…we’re just waiting for the locusts, really” – the wry and insightful Marie-Louise Ayres, who heads the National Library of Australia in Canberra, talked to me about guiding her unique federal institution through the many challenges faced by the Australian capital in 2020.
You can hear what Marie-Louise had to say on the OECD’s Government After Shock podcast.
I also spoke with Håkon Haugli, CEO of Innovation Norway, a state body which promotes sustainable growth and exports for Norwegian businesses through capital and expertise. Håkon talks about moving to a digital workplace, the struggle to preserve multilateralism, and embracing the messy nature of innovation. His episode of the podcast can be found here.
New strategic plan for National & State Libraries Australia
National and State Libraries Australia (NSLA), the peak body for Australia’s national, state, and territory libraries, has just published its new strategic plan.
I was pleased to work with the NSLA team on diagnosing the challenges and opportunities they face, then devising a guiding policy and coordinated actions to lead NSLA and its members into the future.
You can watch NSLA Chair Marie-Louise Ayres and Deputy Chair Vicki McDonald introduce the new plan in this video, and download the new plan here.
“NSLA represents the national, state and territory libraries of Australia – we’ve been running as a collaboration since the 1970s, but it’s always a challenge to strategise for nine different institutions.
We approached Matt to help us shape up a new strategic plan just as the outbreak of COVID-19 was reaching its crescendo around the world. Matt already has a strong reputation and following among our libraries, with deep knowledge of the Australian landscape. With face to face workshops no longer an option, we decided that he was the right person to help us clarify our thinking at a distance, in a context that was changing as quickly as we could verbalise it.
Matt worked one-on-one via Zoom with the NSLA Executive Officer in Melbourne, and facilitated online workshops with the NSLA Chair and Deputy Chair in Canberra and Brisbane. Despite the unfriendly time zone for London, he cheerfully and skilfully shepherded us to find consensus on a series of priorities that could resonate with nine libraries around Australia – all the while asking us why, how, and what if. Matt’s approach was refreshingly accessible and jargon-free. We were reminded through this process that a strategy is much more than a collection of unconnected aspirations, and that the whole is only as strong as its parts.
Matt has been delightful to work with. In a relatively short time, he left us well placed with a strong draft plan to present to our full committee of nine library CEOs, as well as a series of resources and ideas for measuring impact in libraries – all managed from the opposite side of the globe.”
– Dr. Barbara Lemon, Executive Officer, NSLA
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
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……