Stopping to Start: Allowing for Creation

I visited Vienna’s superlative Jewish Museum on my recent trip to the city. Their exhibitions and programmes are always sharp, relevant, and thoughtfully curated.

Currently, they’re hosting an exhibition on Kabbalah, the esoteric branch of Judaism which has been popularised by various celebrities from David Bowie to Madonna.

I wandered round, learned a little, and made some unexpected connections as well.

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What exactly is Library Island anyway?

I’ve spent a fair chunk of the last two years working on something called “Library Island”. You might have seen photos, videos, or social media posts appearing online as university staff, health workers, museum professionals, students, and, yes, librarians take part in this interactive training activity.

Later this year, a free CC-licensed print-and-play kit for Library Island will be released, so that people anywhere can take this activity and use it with their institutions, companies, and communities.

But what exactly is Library Island? Read on to find out… Read more

The Future Sound of Libraries, Revisited: Interview with Martin Kristoffer Bråthen

martinkbrathenToday I’m joined by Norway’s Martin Kristoffer Bråthen. Martin is head of innovation and product development at Biblioteksentralen, the cooperative business which supplies libraries across Norway with collection materials, equipment and services.

 

Prior to that, Martin worked at Deichman Bibliotek, the Oslo Public Library, in a range of project roles. During that time, he wrote a robust defence of public libraries in the age of the e-book in response to a comment by a senior Norwegian arts editor that “digitisation leaves public libraries on the scrapheap of history.”

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The Norwegian Library Innovation Exchange @innovasjonnorge

How do you get a whole nation thinking about the challenges which lie ahead of it?

How can you help a community to solve seemingly intractable problems?

Which institutions need to be part of the discussion about society’s future directions?

I visited Norway this week to speak and run a workshop at the national library conference, #biblkonf2018. I asked these questions, and more, with a focus on how libraries might serve the innovation agenda articulated by Norway’s innovation agency, Innovasjon Norge. (You can see slides from the keynote here).

Today I want to focus on one idea, which comes from the work of the British innovation agency Innovate UK. Read more

The Question Box: Exploring Teamwork

A colleague working in a think tank faced a knotty challenge: how to lead a conversation about a team’s attitude to collaboration and teamwork, when she herself was a part of that team.

The activity formed part of an away day and the session was set to last ninety minutes. I worked with my colleague to devise activities that would prompt frank and constructive conversations, free her from the role of facilitator, and create space for imaginative new ideas to surface.

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The Question Box

The core activity we came up with was a series of questions or challenges written on cue cards, to be drawn from a box. Like the Presenterless Workshops activity, this encourages participants to take charge of the discussion and gives them freedom in how they approach the topic. Read more

Drink Your Way To Better Librarianship with @RobThomson2528

Today we’re joined by Australia’s Rob Thomson, a library worker and educator who trains library staff, runs conferences and events, and explores the future of the profession in a most adventurous way. We got to chatting after I read Charlie Spedding’s book From Last to First; in a previous entry on this blog, I explored a chapter of this book entitled “The Beer Drinker’s Guide to Sports Psychology.”

Matt
Thanks for joining me, Rob. I got in touch for this chat after reading the section of Spedding’s book where he describes changing his approach while nursing a pint of beer:

“If thinking differently was going to make me a better runner, I could do it sitting in the pub. I smiled to myself and took another drink as I figured I was making myself a better runner right now.”

And I thought of you!

Rob
That is awesome! I am no runner, but I do get to thinking differently. Sometimes that happens whilst nursing a beer… sometimes it is over a coffee; or even descending the stairs… But a beer helps!

Often because it’s not at work, you’re in a different place, more relaxed and can take a longer, more considered, view of things and put 2 and 3 together better than when distracted by what goes on at work.

In a sense, it’s giving yourself permission to have some thinking time.

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Image by Wikipedia user U3144362, licensed as CC BY-SA 4.0

Matt
You’re kind of in the business of making better librarians, aren’t you? Read more

#NotEnoughScifi: John M. Ford & the Funny Business / Part 1

I’ve been thinking about where we go next.

It’s a big part of my job, which essentially has two sides.

One of them is connecting and coaching people to bring their own bright ideas to fruition: finding resources, partners, and opportunities for them to realise marvellous initiatives.

Another part is scouting out the unmarked territory, the unknown spaces beyond service models and strategic visions, the opportunities we hadn’t even considered yet.

That includes using speculative fiction, sci-fi, and fantasy as a way of thinking about how things could be different…and what comes next.

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Ragnarok: permission and design

A set report from the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok gives us a healthy reminder about what creativity really is.

The best line in the trailer comes not from screenwriter Eric Pearson, nor director Taika Waititi. It wasn’t even improvised by one of the actors.

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Want my job? Five tips for the budding Creative in Residence

Jane Cowell, who hired me as Creative in Residence at the State Library of Queensland 2016-2017, has five reasons why your organisation should create such a role over at her Medium account.

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In turn, I wanted to share five tips for people who might want to take on a role like mine.

1. Be passionate
Your job is to make good use of the unexplored gaps in an institution’s existing procedures; to be opportunistic, inventive, and positive about the merits of innovation. Like a catalyst in chemistry, your presence reduces the energy required for new reactions to happen. Your passion for the role and personal commitment to constructively challenge the status quo will play a large part in determining your ultimate success.

Human Library books from the State Library of Queensland

Human Library at State Library of Queensland

That might mean midnight phone calls across timezones to pick Canadians’ brains about Human Library projects; or driving a State Library web team to devise, develop, and then share the code behind an online comic maker. Caring enough to go that extra mile is a huge part of this role.

2. It’s not about you
I always remind my clients that your pay grade doesn’t determine how creative you are; it just reflects your responsibilities. Great ideas can come from anywhere in an organisation and we need a diversity of perspectives, from client-facing staff to policymakers, ancillary workers, and digital specialists, when we help our organisation respond to changing circumstances. A Creative-in-Residence role is also about paying attention, brokering partnerships, and supporting others in putting forward proposals like the FaceSwap Lab pitched by a State Library project officer.

I always made a point of spending time with as many different work units as possible in the State Library. I wanted to hear new ideas, spot potential innovators, understand both the organisation’s pressure points and also its areas of opportunity. I also put in the hard yards serving others, spending time on the set-up and pack-down for events both on- and off-site, or supporting project officers with some of their routine duties.

I spent one of my first weekends in Brisbane setting up and demounting gazebos for a partnership event involving our Indigenous team kuril dhagun and Brisbane’s rugby league stars, the Broncos. It was invaluable in getting to know the team, seeing exactly what services we offered, and showing that I wasn’t just going to waft around in a cushy role making others do the onerous stuff.

3. Be tenacious
Change is rarely straightforward, and bureaucracies aren’t always comfortable with creative or messy pursuits – yet a degree of messiness is necessary if we’re to avoid merely repeating the outcomes of the past. Institutions often seek out my skills because they have discovered the path to change is rarely smooth. As an outsider, you will face people who say, “But we’ve always done things this way” and “What’s the point of playing about with the status quo?” Their concerns need to be listened to and respected, but you must also be tenacious enough to serve as a role model when the going gets tough and the process of change starts to bite.

Remember, too, that some teams will already regard themselves as innovators or even feel that it is impossible to improve on their existing offer. They may not welcome the attention of a critical friend. Again, patient listening reaps enormous rewards. Common ground almost always exists: don’t give up on the quest to find it. Initiatives like the multi-team task forces established by State Library’s CEO Vicki McDonald in 2017 helped with this, encouraging staff members from across work units to collaborate for a specific strategic goal.

4. Allow yourself to be surprised
Given that your job is to serve the organisation, the best ideas and collaborations could come from anywhere – see point two above. One of the most satisfying parts of this role is the element of surprise.

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Australian TV icon Bernard King

When I joined the State Library of Queensland, I’d rarely worked with archivists or conservators. I figured they’d be timid souls, fond of procedure and loath to change or respond nimbly to events. Yet when I located the forgotten final interviews of gay Australian celebrity Bernard King, not only did our Queensland Memory team move swiftly  to acquire them from their owner in Sydney, they also agreed to fast-track the process as a gesture of LGBTQ solidarity in the wake of the 2016 Orlando shooting.

Their conservator colleagues, whose job is to look after our physical collections, also proved to be more playful than I had expected: they are scientifically minded problem solvers with a stronger future focus than almost any other division, always mindful of how later generations will encounter the objects in their charge. They were also keen to share their expertise through public engagement events like Fun Palaces. Working with these teams proved to be an unexpected delight during my residency.

5. Tell stories
Stories turn data into something we can relate to. Stories underpin the mission and vision statements which steer an organisation, and they also help individual work units to align with that overarching vision. Stories give human context to managerial edicts and they help management to understand the concerns and experiences of staff, users, and stakeholders. As case studies, stories help others to see what is possible; but better still, when you let people tell their own stories through role-play activities like Library Island, fabulous new ideas are brought to light.

Ultimately, what makes a Creative-in-Residence role different from an Artist-in-Residence or Writer-in-Residence is that your creative work focusses on the empowerment of the institution itself; you achieve this by listening closely to all its parts, and then helping that organisation to re-tell the story of what it does in ways which make a lasting practical impact.

Who can be a Creative-in-Residence?
Creatives in this role can be drawn from the ranks of your own staff, or brought in as outsiders – both options have their benefits and drawbacks. Residencies can be long, like mine – initially twelve months, then extended twice – or they can be short “tours of duty”. I’d love to see people experiment with these short stints as a way of bringing regional and marginal voices into the heart of major institutions.

In this role, you’ll work harder than you ever thought possible, catalysing change with little more than your wits, a phone, a computer, and a desk. But you’ll also be free: free to innovate, experiment, explore, inspire, and genuinely make a difference to the lasting business of change. It’s a lot of fun. You should give it a go.

Why hire a Creative in Residence?

Jane Cowell of State Library of Queensland has not one, but five answers for you over at Medium.

Jane hired me back in January 2016 for a residency intended to develop staff, challenge convention, engage the wider community, and showcase the organisation’s creative practice. Now, more than a year later, we’re looking back on a successful stint embracing libraries, communities, and partner organisations across Australia’s Sunshine State.

Read more about creative residencies over at Jane Cowell’s Medium account.