Still pushing boundaries: creative discomfort, adventure, and change in Auckland and beyond

Well, it’s been another busy old week in Auckland, bookended by presentations to Auckland Council’s Democracy Services team and the Rotarians of Auckland’s North Shore, on making the civic life of New Zealand’s largest city more creative and daring.

There’ll be more on that in the next few days, but in the meantime here’s a quick plug for a fringe festival at which I’ll be speaking on Wednesday night – I’ll be at St. Kevin’s Arcade on Karangahape Road from 7pm, performing a short piece on illness, age, and sexuality called “There’s no terror in the carelessness of flesh”.

The festival ties in with Auckland Libraries’ own successful Dark Night season in June, which pushed the boundaries of library services to over-18s with events that explored, challenged, and celebrated sex and sexuality on page, stage, and screen.

This time round we’ll be supporting Auckland’s artists by contributing a panel discussion about the boundaries of acceptability in literature – from the scandal around Ted Dawe’s Into The River – the prize-winning NZ teen book which has now been been submitted for age-restricted classification! – to the legal status in New Zealand of Alan Moore’s Lost Girls. The panel will be moderated by’s literary maven Karen Tay, and feature cartoonist Dylan Horrocks and literary columnist Craig Ranapia alongisde badass librarian Karen Craig.

Aucklanders can catch that dream team of literati walking the boundaries of scandal and culture on Tuesday, 6pm-8pm at Method and Manners on Queen Street. Then there’s more at St. Kevin’s Arcade on the Wednesday night. Hope to see you then!

Guest Post: Walking Through Walls – Library Spaces Everywhere

Following guest posts from Adrienne Hannan on what librarians can learn from military strategy and Hamish Lindop on the best way to reach out to our customers, we’re joined this week by Auckland Libraries’ Baruk – aka @feddabonn on Twitter – an outspoken, audacious, and innovative librarian who co-designed and delivered our interactive teen space (featuring real live teens!) at the recent Auckland Libraries hui New Rules of Engagement. Here’s Baruk on ‘Walking Through Walls’:

We usually think of libraries as being confined to specific spaces that people come to. Even the more liberal expressions I have heard, “parks with walls” still focuses on a particular geographic space…with walls. And one wonders – does this attitude wall us in psychologically as well?

I’m an Aucklander and a librarian: although I grew up in a remote corner of north eastern India, I work in New Zealand’s largest city, in the biggest public library system in the southern hemisphere. A decade into the 21st century, the majority of the human race lives in an urban environment – but at the same time, the concept of the city is being re-imagined. This breakdown is a rich source of inspiration for librarians; here are three examples.

Frieze magazine recently published a piece on the methods of urban warfare used by the Israeli Defence Force (IDF). It’s a philosophical change as much as a tactical one, based on a drastic re-conceptualisation of space. If a soldier sees an urban space as consisting of streets and houses, each doorway and window becomes a threat that could hold a sniper or be booby trapped. The IDF therefore ‘walks through walls’, using explosives to blow apart roofs and walls that stand in the way of the direction they wish to go.

“We interpreted the alley as a place forbidden to walk through and the door as a place forbidden to pass through, and the window as a place forbidden to look through, because a weapon awaits us in the alley, and a booby trap awaits us behind the doors. This is because the enemy interprets space in a traditional, classical manner, and I do not want to obey this interpretation and fall into his traps.” – Brigadier-General Aviv Kokhavi

What’s good for war is also good for play: the increasingly popular sport of parkour does something similar, in its refusal to stick to prescribed paths laid down by urban planners. Parkour players – “traceurs” – make a game of moving vertically, climbing walls and jumping roofs to move between spaces. While at first glance it looks like it requires more athleticism and gymnastic ability than most of us have, it is more about one’s attitude to space, and really another way of tracing desire lines in the urban landscape. (See more on desire lines and libraries from Books and Adventures guest Jess Begley).

If we lack the acrobatic skill to move through the urban space as a traceur would, there are other options. Read more

Guest Post: Hamish Lindop – Buying Library Users A Birthday Present

Today’s guest post comes from Hamish Lindop, who is Reference Librarian-Learning Services at Auckland Libraries, but has also turned his hand to numerous special projects in the city this year – from street promotion for our Dark Night festival to behind the scenes work on our 2013 Children’s and Youth Service conference, “the hui of awesome awesomeness”.

Auckland Libaries Youth Hui

The hui was a huge success, bringing together librarians from across New Zealand and Australia for panel discussions, hands-on Nerf-gunning workshops, and a teen space which attendees could visit to experience youth librarianship in action. You can follow the discussions via the Storify page created by Auckland’s own social media maven Tosca Waerea.

One of the biggest tensions I sensed at the hui was between the need for librarians to be courageous and creative, and the tendency of managers to struggle as they balanced this creativity with the demands of administration and the bigger picture of the libraries’ business plan. It’s very hard to not take bureaucracy personally when one is also being directed to be passionate and innovative…

Hamish has done some work reconciling these challenges with a wonderful common-sense analogy: buying our communities a birthday present.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how a public library can deliver the best value to the community that it sits in. The answer that I have come up with is this: we can get the community a birthday present. This is my favourite analogy for how to synthesize listening to your community, and innovating to surprise and delight them.

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Guest Post: Adrienne Hannan, “The Strategic Librarian” – Part II

Following last week’s guest post on what librarians can learn from the 21st century military, children’s librarian and New Zealand Defence Force reservist Adrienne Hannan, of Wellington City Libraries, sets out the ‘ten commandments of manoeuvre warfare for librarians.’

Manouevre warfare in libraries

Adrienne was a guest speaker at the Auckland Libraries conference ‘New Rules of Engagement (PDF download)‘ – now she offers 10 ways librarians can learn from the military’s can-do attitude and take our operations to a new level of efficiency, effectiveness, and panache.

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Dark Night: Bromance, 1 – “I am serious, and don’t call me Shirley”

Ted and Elaine from AIRPLANE/FLYING HIGH

You know Ted and Elaine from Airplane* are the most romantic couple of all time, right?

*(“Flying High” to some of you Antipodeans out there)

You’ve probably forgotten. That’s okay. I’ll give you a quick reminder.

Last Friday I was at the launch for Dark Night, Auckland Libraries’ festival exploring sex and sexuality on page, stage, and screen. Afterwards, in the pub, the conversation got pretty deep as we considered the ways in which society influences the way we show our gender and sexuality to the world.
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Zombies at Tupu Library, South Auckland

Auckland Libraries' Anne Dickson in zombie makeup
Auckland Libraries’ Anne Dickson led teen zombie hordes against a group of survivors in Tupu Youth Library

Last Friday in Tupu Youth Library, South Auckland, I ran an interactive live-action zombie event for teens on their school holidays.

The ‘survivors’, aged from 12 to 18, found themselves besieged in a meeting room while zombies feasted on hapless victims outside. Teens made barricades from furniture, used library resources to plan their escape from South Auckland, and faced special challenges including detecting potential zombie victims and even wrestling with a zombified police officer!

See the Tupu Zombies on New Zealand’s TV3 News and find more coverage at New Zealand’s website.

Profile in Australian Books + Publishing

Forgive the shameless self-promotion, but I’ve just been featured in the latest edition of Australian Books & Publishing, speaking about community outreach, daring to be different, and why rural Australia proved one of the most exciting places to create children’s and youth events for libraries.

It’s a subscriber-only link, but there is the option to sign up for a free trial.

You can read my profile piece in Australian Books & Publishing Online.

Respect, innovation, and cheeky pancakes: thoughts on the future of bookstores and libraries

Central City Library, Auckland
Central City Library, Auckland

So, a big announcement has been in the works for some time: from 25th February I begin a six-month contract as adviser to Auckland Libraries, the largest public library network in the southern hemisphere. The mission is to extend and enhance Auckland’s already superlative library offerings for children and young people with creative, challenging, and sustainable activities for the future.

I feel confident that we’re entering an era of swashbuckling literacy adventure Down Under. Auckland is the city where kids play a Kiwi-themed version of Angry Birds in their libraries; the city whose librarians already talked Bryan Lee O’Malley into letting them use Scott Pilgrim as the face of their comic book events and wooed Amanda Palmer into giving an impromptu Get Loud In Libraries-style guerilla gig.

Before Auckland beckons, I’ve been looking at the latest developments in the UK and US. The Future Foyles workshop held on Monday of this week brought together publishing, retail, and literacy professionals seeking a vision for London’s next great flagship bookstore – you’ll see me quoted in The Bookseller’s report of the event –  and finding much food for thought from a wider community outreach perspective.

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New Zealand Libraries: Quiet Innovation

Over on my Tumblr page there’s a new post with a brief interview.

Corin Haines of Auckland Libraries – whose Central Library recently hosted an impromptu gig by alternative cabaret act The Dresden Dolls – took the time for a quick chat about notions of what libraries, and literacy, can be.

See the post here: