Let’s Do Something Awesome

I’m off to the Australian capital Canberra tomorrow to work with Libraries ACT on their annual training day.

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We’ll be looking at creative approaches to community engagement, and sharing some neat little tools from my team, including the WELCOME Toolkit for programme design. Read more

What’s next

From May, I’ll be joining the University of Southern Queensland for six months supporting “proactive, strategic, and sustainable engagement with key stakeholders and communities internal and external to USQ.”

Working with Professor Helen Partridge and her fab team in USQ’s Scholarly Information and Learning Services division, I’ll be acting as a coach and catalyst to raise awareness, understanding, and capacity in maintaining a sustainable community engagement program.

I visited USQ last year to talk about community engagement, healthcare, storytelling, digital media, and what really listening to people and technology in Australia might entail.

This new adventure is going to be cracking good fun – but there’s still a few more exciting things to come out of my extended residency with the State Library of Queensland, so watch this space.

Curiosity vs The Post-Truth World

Among my weekend reads was Tim Harford’s Financial Times piece “The Problem with Facts“.

We’re big Harford fans around these parts, not just for his podcast More or Less but also his book Messy, which I’ve been inflicting on various colleagues and friends around Australia.

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In the FT piece, Harford takes us back from the fake news and false claims of political debate in the age of Trump and Brexit to the history of “doubt manufacture” in the 20th century, and the tobacco industry’s attempts to blur the links between smoking and cancer.

He examines the limits of fact-checking as a response or a rebuke to those who cloud public discourse with lies.

He tells us that scientific literacy is not necessarily the answer, that it “can actually widen the gap between different political tribes on issues such as climate change — that is, well-informed liberals and well-informed conservatives are further apart in their views than liberals and conservatives who know little about the science.”

Rather, he points to a paper “Scientific Curiosity and Political Information Processing” by Dan Kahan, Asheley Landrum, Katie Carpenter, Laura Helft and Kathleen Hall Jamieson.

Those authors argue that it is worth exploring further whether a person’s curiosity about science can counteract our tendency to view the world through the lens of political bias.

Their initial findings prompt them to explore whether

individuals who have an appetite to be surprised by scientific information—who find it pleasurable to discover that the world does not work as they expected—do not turn this feature of their personality off when they engage political information but rather indulge it in that setting as well, exposing themselves more readily to information that defies their expectations about facts on contested issues. The result is that these citizens, unlike their less curious counterparts, react more open mindedly and respond more uniformly across the political spectrum to the best available evidence.

As Harford puts it, “Curiosity is the seed from which sensible democratic decisions can grow. It seems to be one of the only cures for politically motivated reasoning but it’s also, into the bargain, the cure for a society where most people just don’t pay attention to the news because they find it boring or confusing.”

All of this is great news for those of us working at the odd intersection of knowledge and culture, where communities meet institutions like galleries, museums, libraries, universities, and healthcare providers.

I’ve been worrying for a while now, even with events as warm and cuddly as the annual Fun Palace celebrations of art and science, about the times we choose to take scientific claims on faith.

I worry too about what part libraries have to play in the battle against fake news and egregiously false claims in the media. Is the library a trusted dispenser of facts and information? A repository of the truth? Or, rather, a safe place for you to indulge your curiosity, to wander as you see fit through all the contested claims and different visions of human knowledge and culture?

Harford’s take on that research paper returns us to the notion of each individual’s curiosity and exploration as the basis of scientific endeavour and the quest for truth. It returns us not to blind faith in science or reliance on fact checkers, but a sense that we must always actively challenge and revise our beliefs.

It reminds me why, in the last few years, we’ve allowed kids to sketch time-travelling creepy crawlies from a steampunk world to encourage scientific observation; why we spent last week in the Aussie town of Bundaberg to help rural writers speculate  about the future of society; why we’ve been training health professionals using far-fetched and fantastic case studies like the Immortal Sock Monkey. It’s because these activities each became a matter of curiosity and wonder, rather than a mere transfer of facts from a person in authority. Curiosity and wonder might just be the best antiseptic for the spread of fake news.

If the formal research into scientific curiosity proves fruitful, it could guide and nuance our attempts to encourage  a world where people are free to learn, explore, create, and play as they wish to, not just in accordance with curriculums and constraints.

It wouldn’t just be about science, either. For isn’t art, too, a matter of curiosity about materials, expression, and representation? And don’t those of us who find ourselves on colonised lands need, as Columbia anthropologist Beth Povinelli has been arguing, to become more curious, too, about Indigenous ways of knowing and understanding the world?

This is a difficult moment for those of us who value the truth in public life and wish to push back against those who maliciously sow doubt and deliberate misinformation. But Tim Harford’s article reminds us that there are ways forward for those of us unwilling to embrace a post-truth world  – and that, wonderfully, those ways might even be incredibly exciting, incredibly adventurous, and incredibly good fun.

Writing the Digital Future: Dispatches from Bundaberg

I’m joining the team from Queensland University of Technology’s Writing the Digital Futures project to deliver a two-day creative writing event in Bundaberg next month.

It’s part of the broader Digital Futures season at the State Library of Queensland this year.

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“Dispatches from Bundy: Visions from the Future, Stories From the Past” will blend digital media, oral storytelling, play, speculative fiction, and archival materials to help local people explore the past, present, and future of their town.

You can join in the fun on 4th-5th March, and check out the flyer here..

Social Media Training at the Queensland Country Women’s Association

It’s a busy old month here in Brisbane…

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Hot on the heels of a robot-training, cocktail-mixing event for librarians in Moreton Bay, I’ll be joining forces with my colleague Lyn Thompson to deliver three hours of training for the Queensland Country Women’s Assosciation (QCWA), the largest women’s group in Queensland.

Since 1922, the QCWA has helped women from across the state to celebrate their friendship and interests while supporting opportunities to make a difference in the fields of health, education, and the broader community.

Lyn and I will be teaming up on Saturday to deliver social media training for QCWA members across the regions, helping them make the most of the digital age.

 

Outback adventures with Tammy & Matt

I spent last week on the road with the State Library of Queensland’s Tammy Joynson, delivering professional development with a twist & consulting with librarians & local government on future policies, strategies, plans and schemes.

You can see a 2-minute recap of our adventures here.

Library Island at NLS8, Canberra

I’ll be running an interactive workshop, Library Island, at the 8th New Librarians’ Symposium in Canberra, Australia, this June.

There will be drama, there will be danger – and the freedom to reimagine librarianship in a whole new way.

Watch this space for more information nearer the time. Or sign up for the conference today.

Happy Holidays

Hard even to know what to say about a year like 2016. So much upset and upheaval in the world, but I’m still hopeful for the shape of things to come.

It’s been hectic, but productively so, for us here at the State Library of Queensland. I worked with teams on public projects like Human Library and the Scrub Turkey sessions, adding oral histories from TV chef Bernard King and Doctor Who‘s Janet Fielding to our digital collections, and encouraging digital experiments like the State Library’s remixable comic maker and Ozofarm game.

I also got to partner with a number of outside organisations, including healthcare agencies and allied health professionals across Queensland, from Metro South Health Board to the occupational therapy students of Griffith University. A long-held desire to explore the difficult field of ‘death literacy’ came to fruition with a panel discussion for Brisbane’s inaugural ‘Deathfest’ last month.

I also got to work with the Brisbane Writers Festival and various other events across Australia on devising alternatives to the usual conference formats of panels and presentations.

There was even time to interview some personal heroes like the Kransky Sisters, Matti Bunzl of the Vienna Museum, and the makers of Danger 5. This was part of exploring a different corner of Queensland life every week at Marvellous, Electrical, a project that will return in 2017.

Until then, have a good break.

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Marvellous, Electrical: Vienna in Canberra

What values have migrants brought to Australia over the years? How have they changed the nation’s culture? Have they broken laws in an attempt to impose foreign ways of life on the population?

Letter to Gus Petersilka from Canberra government

Gus Petersilka of Canberra did. By putting out tables and chairs on the sidewalks of Australia’s capital, he forced the uptight city government to acknowledge, accept, and ultimately embrace convivial traditions of outdoor dining.

Gus' Cafe, abandoned in Canberra CBD, 2016

Now Gus’ Cafe is gone.

Read its story at Marvellous, Electrical.

Commence festivitization sequence…

The State Library of Queensland has a staff Christmas video competition – as I found out when I returned from my regional travels to be told I’d “volunteered” to shoot an entry for my new colleagues at the Regional Partnerships team…

Half an hour running around with a camera, and a bit of editing time later, Rogue One RAPL was born. It’s good for a laugh, and features some of the great people I’ll be teaming up with in the new year:

Of course, this is only the second best Star Wars related activity I’ve ever been involved with.

A hongi with the Rebel Alliance
A hongi with the Rebel Alliance

Or maybe even the third.