Marvellous, Electrical: Adventures of a Wandering Cook

Angela Hirst of Wandering Cooks tends the garden at her Brisbane food incubator

Brisbane is just shading into winter now, and while it doesn’t get too cold in subtropical Queensland, you still need to make a little effort if you want a place to feel cosy.

On the fringe of the cultural quarter, entrepreneur Angela Hirst is doing just that, as she plays host to the city’s most adventurous chefs and diners at her “food incubator” Wandering Cooks.

In this week’s newsletter, Angela explains the links between philosophy, architecture, permaculture, and her attempt to create a special place for culinary innovators in the heart of Brisbane.

You can read this week’s Marvellous, Electrical here.

Beyond Panels: The Presenterless Future?

Our quest to mitigate guest speakers’ privilege, plus include audiences as participants in workshops and panel discussions, continues.

Last week I spoke at USQ – where audience members were invited on stage as part of my live-streamed presentation – and I also delivered a workshop “Are we asking the right questions of our digital future?” at Broadband for the Bush.

For the latter, I wanted to create a way of talking about the future that was open to all and could even be held in venues with limited access to technology.

I put together twelve provocations: 400-word texts, followed by questions which served to prompt discussion. Workshop participants were invited to choose one or two of the twelve provocations, read them, and then discuss them with their tablemates.

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Dimestore Futurism

This week I spoke at both the University of Southern Queensland (USQ) and the national Broadband for the Bush Forum. The Forum is an annual gathering of people working to improve access to digital communications in remote and regional Australia. You can watch the USQ talk above.

Both events aimed to get people questioning their assumptions and exploring what they exclude or overlook in their visions of the future.

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A Speaky Week

On Tuesday, I’ll be over at the University of Southern Queensland, giving talks and workshops to staff and students across faculties. You can follow them online via this livestreaming link – the fun kicks off at 11am Australian Eastern Standard Time.

Then on Thursday I’m joining the Broadband for the Bush Conference on rural and regional access to digital technology and communications, running a presenterless workshop session on planning for the future. I’ll be drawing on science fiction, Afrofuturism, and comics alongside debates around copyright, government policy, and the presentation of financial data.

You can follow via the hashtag #BushBroadband on social media. I feel like non-Aussies are going to think that’s something far more salacious than it actually is…

Fun Palaces Countdown: Entrepreneurship workshop with Tara Benson

As the 2015 Fun Palaces launch on Saturday 3rd October approaches, Lambeth Libraries are gearing up for their borough-wide, simultaneous 11-venue celebration of arts and sciences.

In the countdown to Lambeth Libraries’ Fun Palaces, I’ll be featuring some of the amazing activities and special guests we’ve got lined up for Londoners this weekend.

Today it’s the turn of entrepreneur Tara Benson, the founder & CEO of Here and Now.

Here and Now helps families find exciting activities in their local area. It was the Sun‘s website of the week in April.

Tara is a commercial marketer and entrepreneur with 26 years of experience in tech, consumer brands, publishing and communications. She has worked with start-ups, rapid-growth and established businesses such as Gumtree, PayPal, Mills & Boon, and Blackwood Distillers. Tara was the opening speaker at NatWest Bank’s 2014 “Marks…Set…Grow” business banking conference.

Tara’s Fun Palaces workshop on entrepreneurship and start-up culture will help people interested in founding, running, or developing their own business. It runs from 3-4pm at Clapham Library on Saturday 3rd October.

You can read an interview with Tara on ‘achieving super-human start-up stuff and bashing down the barriers for women’ at Womanthology, and also watch her 2014 ShedTalk on Youtube.

Find out more about Clapham Library Fun Palaces at the main Fun Palaces website.

Popcorn? Connor Tomas O’Brien and Chris Cormack on the battle for libraries’ future

Find an update to this blog debate at Popcorn Complacency: Supporting Readers and Writers at Australia’s Margins, on this site.

Today on the blog I’m joined by writer, web developer, and Australian creative-man-about-town Connor Tomas O’Brien plus Kiwi open source advocate (and fellow developer) Chris Cormack of Koha.

Connor is the director of the EWF Digital Writers’ Festival. He came to my attention after a Twitter conversation which led to his article “A very quiet battle” for the journal Kill Your Darlings. In it, he addressed sci-fi author Ursula Le Guin’s argument that publishers are deliberately making it untenable for public libraries to loan e-books to their patrons.

Connor Tomas O'Brien at Kill Your Darlings

“That’s probably true, and actually not very surprising,” Connor replied, suggesting that “ebooks and public libraries fundamentally just don’t mix”:

After all, if we accept that one of the core roles of the public library system is to make work freely available, and to make that work as convenient as possible to access… well, it’s already extremely easy to acquire ebooks freely and easily online without paying a cent. If we ignore the copyright implications, the torrenting website The Pirate Bay is, in a sense, like a modern day Library of Alexandria […D]igital lending systems are so complex, restrictive, and counterintuitive that it’s far more convenient for somebody with a limited income to pirate an ebook than rent it from their public library. The Pirate Bay, though illicit, offers a superior system of unrestricted free digital access to written work than any public library in existence. (For reference, here’s a breakdown of a typical library’s ebook checkout restrictions).

It’s hard to see things improving. Public libraries were established to facilitate the distribution of physical objects, not digital files. The conceptual framework for lending – involving one patron visiting a physical space, removing a book from the collection for a limited period, then returning it for others to enjoy – breaks down when it comes to ebooks, which can be accessed anywhere and endlessly duplicated.

Connor acknowledged that “The public library […] is nowhere near obsolete. In some cases, it’s more important than ever”, but without giving examples of what he expected the library to do in this brave new world. And when he signed off the article like this:

For now, there’s not much to do, really, but grab the popcorn and sit back and watch as publishers and librarians battle it out (very, very quietly, of course).

Well, of course this got my dander up. I was minded of Edward Burke’s “All that is necessary for the triumph of Evil is that good men do nothing.” If people complacently munch popcorn while public libraries ail and the smallest, most disadvantaged communities lose their free point of access to human knowledge and culture, they’re actually helping a deeper slide into inequality across the nation.

So I got in touch with Connor and asked him to talk through his ideas about the future of public libraries – and to bolster my limited technical knowledge, I talked also with Chris Cormack of Koha, an open-source software developer who spoke at this year’s Auckland Libraries Youth Hui. I won’t deny I’ve got a soft spot for Chris ever since I found out he arranged for the Māori hero Maui to attend his son’s birthday party – the kind of parenting that chimes so well with the spirit of playful learning.

The following interview comes from stitching together e-mail discussions with Connor and Chris. Connor ran out of time because of his work with the Digital Writers’ Festival, but I hope interested readers will be able to pursue the issue further online – you can find Connor online as @mrconnorobrien and Chris as @ranginui.

After reading Connor’s article, I asked him: “Aren’t the systems around e-book lending only so complex because publishers are trying to enforce unenforceable, outdated business systems? It’s so easy to publish an ebook now: aren’t publishers trying to create an artificial scarcity, because the traditional business model was based on scarcity of the physical text? I’ve heard it argued that libraries should directly value and reward authors for the work that they do, rather than the distributors who might be increasingly irrelevant. Rather than the problem being libraries, isn’t the problem a publishing business model which places intrinsic value not on the work, but on its transmission?”

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Libraries learning from retail: Interview with Oxford’s indie music mecca, Truck Store

This is the third in a loose trilogy of blog posts exploring libraries and music: previous features include a guest post by Stewart Parsons of Get It Loud in Libraries and an interview with rapper-educator Professor Elemental. Today, we’re joined by Carl Smithson, the manager at Truck Store, an amazing indie record shop in Oxford, England.

Truck Store, Oxford
Truck Store, Oxford

After attending the Foyles Futures workshop on next-generation book retail in London, I’ve become increasingly concerned with design and atmosphere in libraries. Great service and effective presentation of collections are vital for any 21st century public library.

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Stealing fire from the gods: Keynote address to Canberra Early Literacy Conference

On 13th September, I spoke in Australia’s Parliament House at the inaugural meeting of the Parliamentary Friendship Group for Early Literacy, followed by a keynote address to the third annual Paint the Town REaD Early Literacy Conference.

Paint the Town REaD (PTTR) is the Australian initiative which encourages families, carers and the wider community to ‘read, talk, sing and rhyme with your child from birth.’

Paint the Town REaD's Reading Bug

I tend to give speeches the same way I used to prepare my classroom as an infant school teacher: research the topic, put loads and loads of resources into place, then allow free play across the interests and needs of the audience. Today’s blog post captures a few highlights from the conference’s keynote discussion, assembled under the hashtag #occupyliteracy.

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“We’re here for five-year-olds, grandmas, and everyone in between”: Community outreach at Bookmans, Arizona, Part 2

The Cat in the Hat at Bookmans, Arizona

“We’re here for five-year-olds, grandmas, and everyone in between.”

For Bookmans Entertainment Exchange in Arizona, community outreach is more than just being a good corporate citizen – it also makes great business sense.

Last time on the blog I spoke with Bookmans Marketing Director Sheila Kressler-Crowley about their recent Schools Challenge. It’s just one element of a fun, creative vision of community partnership which stretches from sponsoring a rollerderby team to themed events aimed at teens (a Scott Pilgrim dating night) and toddlers (Dr. Seuss storytelling sessions, pictured above).

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“Ads are fine, but we’d rather hang out with our friends”: Community outreach at Bookmans, Arizona, Part 1

In the arid, traditionally conservative state of Arizona, the Bookmans chain of second-hand stores promotes a progressive community spirit

Regular visitors to this site know my passion for community partnerships, bringing together the best of the business, public and non-profit sectors.

I’ve worked with media distributors, mining companies and a range of public and non-profit schemes to address social need and deliver business benefits.

This is why I got excited when a chance Tweet by Zoe Toft, showing a cute video of books in a domino chain, led me to Bookmans Entertainment Exchange. They’re an unusual Arizona retail firm which sells everything from books to musical instruments, housewares and video games – unusual because these second-hand dealers stand out for their sense of mission and commitment to community values.

This week, Bookmans awarded over $20,000 to school development projects in their region – offering no-strings funding to worthy educational causes in Tucson, Flagstaff and Phoenix.

Sheila Kressler-Crowley, a community outreach co-ordinator turned Marketing Director at Bookmans, joined me on the day of the award for a chat.

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