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.

Fun Palaces Countdown: Zine Making with #Citylis

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.

We’ve already heard about Stephann Makri’s Serendipity Tours, but Stephann isn’t the only City University staffer who’s contributing to Lambeth’s Fun Palaces this year.

There will also be a Zine Making Workshop run by City University at Clapham Library.

Ernesto Priego, lecturer and course director on the infamous #Citylis Library & Information Studies course, will be joined by student and library polymath James Atkinson, with additional online support from Queen of Zines and doctoral student of fandom Ludi Price.

They’ll be helping people at Clapham Library to make zines about any subject dear to their heart. Come along on the afternoon of Saturday 3rd October to explore the wild and wonderful meeting place of the Internet, personal obsession, scissors and glue…

Read more from Ludi, Ernesto, and me on the #Citylis Zine Workshop over at the #Citylis blog.

Fun Palaces Online Comic Maker by State Library of Queensland

I’m really pleased to announce the launch of the online Fun Palaces Comic Maker.

A Fun Palaces comic

The Comic Maker lets you drag and drop characters inspired by Emily Medley’s original Fun Palaces illustration into a comic-book story of your own devising.

We’ve been working on this behind the scenes for a long time, ever since I pitched the idea of an online version of Comic Book Dice for Fun Palaces 2015.

Talia Yat and Phil Gullberg of the State Library of Queensland have run with this idea and developed it into an amazing online game, as part of the Queenslanders’ contribution to Fun Palaces 2015.

Comics created at the site will be curated and shared at

It’s been a huge team effort and thanks must go to: Fun Palaces’ Stella Duffy, Sarah-Jane Rawlings, Hannah Lambert, and Kirsty Lothian; Zoey Dixon of Lambeth Libraries; Daniel Flood of State Library of Queensland; our web host Simon Appleby of Bookswarm, plus Sandy Mahal who put us in touch with him; and last but not least our digital Brains Trust of Ed Bishop, Martin Feher, Barney Lockwood, and Steven Moschidis (“I’m tempted to say I will host it just to stop the funky emails!”).

Other Fun Palaces comics events include a workshop at Waterloo Library with Chris Thompson of Orbital Comics, and Amanda Lilywhite’s giant collaborative comic for Carnegie Library.

Go make a Fun Palaces comic online – and then check out the Fun Palace nearest to you!

Fun Palaces Countdown: Serendipity Tours With Stephann Makri

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 Dr. Stephann Makri of City University. Stephann and his student Shermaine Waugh will be running “serendipity tours” of Clapham Library from 2-3pm and 3-4pm this Saturday.

A Wordle of key terms related to Serendipity

Stephann is a Lecturer in Human-Computer Interaction at City University London and self-proclaimed ‘Prince of Serendip.’ His research on the nature of serendipity and how we can design to create opportunities for it has been published in leading academic journals and has also featured widely in the media, including on the BBC, in The Sunday Times and in Reader’s Digest.

On Saturday 3rd October, Stephann will invite Fun Palaceers to step out of their comfort zones, break with old habits, and find new ways to stumble on unexpected and rewarding information within the library. After an introduction to techniques of serendipitous browsing and creative exploration of information, Stephann will send you out into Clapham’s beautiful spiral library to forage for wonder amid the shelves.

Stephann Makri
Stephann Makri

There will also be opportunities to learn about, and even participate in, Stephann’s research.

For more information about Stephann’s work, visit And you can find Clapham Library’s Fun Palace at the Fun Palaces homepage.

All Your Base Are Belong To Us: Lambeth Library Fun Palaces

All Your Base Are Belong To Us

Just an update on the Fun Palaces project in the London Borough of Lambeth next month.

On Saturday, 3rd October, eleven venues run by Lambeth Libraries and Lambeth Archives will open their doors for people to try their hand at the arts and sciences, storytelling and play, exploration and adventure.

Novelist, therapist, and radio host Lucy Beresford will be joining us at Clapham Library for a Q&A session, as will the entrepreneur Tara Benson, founder and CEO of Here and Now. Staff from City University will be running zine workshops and library tours exploring the science of serendipity.

At Waterloo Library, Chris Thompson of Orbital Comics will be running a comics creating workshop and recording a special episode of his Pop Culture Hound podcast.

In Brixton, Louie Stowell – who worked on Australia’s Parkes Library Fun Palace in 2014 – will be running sessions based on her new book The Astronaut’s Handbook – alongside participatory theatre from Needless Alley Collective and the launch of a new game from the kids’ Code Club led by Lambeth Libraries’ Zoey Dixon.

Zoey Dixon of Lambeth Libraries
Zoey Dixon of Lambeth Libraries

At Upper Norwood Library, there will be special board game and tabletop roleplay sessions from Andy Horton, librarian at Regent’s University – and across the borough, you’ll also find jewellery making, firefighters, art, science, dance, play, and all kinds of creative mayhem.

Stella Duffy, co-director of the national Fun Palaces event, will be leading a walking and writing tour of Lambeth, visiting each one of our library venues.

The Fun Palace vision – of participants not audiences, of locally made art and science and play – exemplifies the best work that I’ve seen in libraries, galleries, and museums over the past few years.

Fun Palaces remind us that libraries are about so much more than shelves (PDF) and they make space for wild play as well as more structured activities.

In Lambeth, our partnership with Orbital Comics builds on experience devising collaborations between retailers and libraries in New Zealand and Australia.

In a time of budget cuts and austerity, Library Fun Palaces emphasise community collaboration and the power of volunteering, while still recognising the unique skills which professional librarians have to offer.

Most importantly, Fun Palaces focus on arts provision for all, not just for a privileged centre.

Lambeth Libraries’ Fun Palaces run across the borough on Saturday 3rd October 2015.

Find out more at the Fun Palaces website.

Fun Palaces workshop at Brixton Library

Today, Fun Palaces kicked off in earnest at Lambeth Libraries, with a workshop for staff and allies from libraries, universities, businesses, and the wider community.

You can see more of the event via Storify:

“At last, something I can talk about!” – Fun Palaces at Lambeth Libraries

After a stint carrying out research for publishers and media productions – projects which I’ll look forward to talking about when I’m allowed to! – I’m pleased to announce that I’ll be working as a creative producer with the London Borough of Lambeth, helping their library staff to devise and deliver ten Fun Palaces with local communities on Saturday 3rd October 2015.

Fun Palaces are the international movement creating pop-up venues for communities to try their hands at science and the arts. Last year, I worked with Parkes Library on Australia’s first Fun Palace which incorporated tabletop games and supervillainous challenges alongside creative play for all ages.

I’m looking forward to taking things further with Lambeth in 2015. Our events will tie in to Black History Month and feature a range of stargazing, cybernetic, all-embracing, all-ages art and adventure. Watch this space for more news.

In the meantime you can read my article “Pushing the Limits: Play, Explore, Experiment” for British librarians’ in-house magazine CILIP Update, which looks at Fun Palaces alongside other arts and community adventures from the UK, Australia, and New Zealand:

CILIP Update Finch Article Cover Image

Sign up to create your own Fun Palace at the Fun Palaces website.

Debbie Gould at Parkes Fun Palace: Making Games with the Currajong Disability Group

Debbie Gould is one of the librarians I work with in Parkes, New South Wales. She creates and delivers library programmes for the Currajong Disability Group. Currajong clients are people who require some degree of care. They are diverse in ability, with some who are nonverbal, some needing 24/7 care, and others who have learning disabilities. Debbie created a game for Parkes’ Fun Palace last month and was then able to share it with her clients in the group on one of their weekly visits.

Here’s Debbie talking about her work with the Currajong group, and how she brings Parkes’ philosophy of fun and open-ended learning to library users with disabilities.

This image is licensed by Parkes Shire Library under a CC 4.0 BY-NC-ND licence
This image is licensed by Parkes Shire Library under a CC 4.0 BY-NC-ND licence

At Parkes Library, we believe that libraries are about so much more than books and shelves. Our job is helping our whole community to learn, explore, and have fun on their own terms.

I started working with the Currajong Disability group at the start of 2012. I’ve been doing it for almost three years now, but the clients change and so I’m always adapting my programme to suit them.

In the early days, it was trial and error. I wasn’t concerned about not being able to relate to the clients, but I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to provide a programme that worked for everyone, all the time. I wanted all the clients to enjoy their library time. As the weeks passed, I could see that the group did enjoy themselves. Their needs were met even though I was experimenting as I went along, finding out what was going to work best. That was part of the experience!

Building a relationship with the clients took time. It was important to watch and listen as well as present to the group. Clients have different ability levels, and my sessions had to take that into consideration.

In the group, we explore books and stories as well as practical and playful activities. I have found that the world of my clients is very factual. The world of fiction relies on imagination and a sense of “let’s pretend” which can be difficult for my clients. Concepts such as animal characters in books taking on human characteristics aren’t always understood. Quite often clients don’t get the punch line at the end of a story because it isn’t a “real” experience.

Clients work better with non-fiction and real life activities, where as many of the senses can be engaged as possible. Simple science experiments and activities are often popular. Each session I try to incorporate sight, hearing, touch, smell. Taste is explored sometimes but I have to be mindful that not all clients are able to take food by mouth and some have special dietary needs.

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When I designed a game for Parkes’ Fun Palace weekend, I chose to make a maze based on old sideshow games. Players had to drop a ping-pong ball into a slot and try to land on a high score. Age and ability was not a hindrance to playing the game I created. I saw the joy people had playing it at the Fun Palace, and knew that my clients would have a good time with it.

Watching the Currajong group play my game was interesting. They all interacted with it in different ways, but they were all excited to see the end result. They loved the mystery of just where the ball would land. Each of them played their own version of the game – even if it wasn’t quite what I’d intended, they still achieved the goal of landing a score with the ping pong ball.

Relationships are key to making this group work. Without a solid relationship between clients, carers, and the library, our sessions would not be successful. There is no way a programme could run and meet the goals set if the presenter was not mindful of the clients and their needs.

All relationships take time to develop; they need genuine interest, concern, and respect. A little bit of yourself has to be given in each session you present. If it isn’t, then you aren’t presenting effectively. Working with disabled adults is a privilege and it has been exciting to see each client share a bit of their personality in the sessions. The joy and reward from the sessions is priceless and being able to expand the world the clients live in is amazing.

This is a condensed version of a blog post which originally appeared at Parkes’ site, Dog Eared.

Parkes Library Roundup

My friends and clients at Parkes Library are having a big week on the Internet. I’ve collected some of the various links in this blog post.

Our “Tabletop Superheroes” game devised for October’s Fun Palaces weekend is now available for free download. A remix of Cory Doctorow’s article ‘DMing for your toddler’, it was featured by Cory on BoingBoing. There’s also a blog post about the game at the State Library of New South Wales website.

Over at Library as Incubator, you can read Tracie Mauro and Shellie Buckle’s account of running Australia’s first ever Fun Palace.

Meanwhile at Zoe Toft’s Playing By The Book site, Tracie is interviewed by Zoe about the “Wonder-based library programmes” she creates for children and families. Tracie explains how you can create similar activities at home, school, or your own local library.

The Parkes Library team
This image is licensed by Parkes Shire Library under a CC 4.0 BY-NC-ND licence

The Parkes team are among the most daring and resourceful librarians I’ve ever worked with – no project daunts them, from live action zombies to wading through chocolate pudding swamps. Stay tuned, because there’s much more to come from these amazing Australians.

How To Be A Big Evil Head: Fun Palaces from the Supervillain’s Perspective

Louie Stowell's secretly heroic supervillain-in-training, Mandrake DeVille
Louie Stowell’s secretly heroic supervillain-in-training, Mandrake DeVille

Louie Stowell, who contributed author videos to the Parkes Library Fun Palace earlier this month, has written about the experience of being a Big Evil Head, projected across continents and timezones in the name of fun and supervillainy.

Check out Louie’s report over at the Fiction Express blog.