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, 4: Delivering the Literacy Smackdown – Big Box Battle

Big Box Battle monsters pose in their cardboard city
Big Box Battle monsters pose in their cardboard city

Last time on the blog we were discussing Parkes Shire’s time travel roleplay activity for schools, Time Travel Detectives. In it, a time portal had been opened from a polluted future Earth. Insidious, bug-like creatures were trying to cross timelines and usurp the present, but Parkes kids were able to go after them and capture them in specimen jars…

In the follow-up school holiday activity, ‘Big Box Battle’, another time portal presented a rather bigger challenge. Our young heroes found themselves wrestling Godzilla-like monsters in a knee-high cardboard city. Like our live action teen zombie roleplays, which you can see news coverage of here, this was a chance for kids to physically enter the world of an adventure story.

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Finding Library Futures, 3: Time Travel at the Speed of Pop Culture

This article looks at Time Travel Detectives, my recent youth activity for Parkes Library in New South Wales. For more on the concept of storylining a public library system’s youth offerings, see TimeQuest – A Scientific Romance for Libraries.

Poster from Parkes Library's Time Travel Detectives event with Matt Finch

Let’s start with science. Australia’s new government might have decided there’s no need for a dedicated science minister, but scientific research is not going to simply stop in Australia. We need to encourage children and young people to develop that sense of wonder which impels scientific research around the world.

I’m currently based in Parkes, New South Wales. It’s a quiet rural town, but one which played a vital part in putting a man on the moon. Its radio telescope, celebrated in the movie The Dish, helped Neil Armstrong to make that giant leap back in 1969.

Invited to make school holiday activities for the September vacations in Parkes, I wanted to find something which respected the town’s history and scientific traditions, but also offered an adventure that looked forward as well as back.

My work is based on storytelling and immersive play. In creating a science-themed activity, I don’t seek to duplicate the work of science educators, but rather inspire and intrigue audiences with an adventure that would get them thinking about the scientific method and the practice of disciplined observation.

Spirit Box
Spirit Box

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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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