Can you dig through spaghetti to save a ribbon? @UTSLibrary

A library needs your help — and by helping them, you’ll be helping the world.

A few years ago, the librarians at University of Technology Sydney (UTS) in Australia awarded a creative residency to Chris Gaul, a designer and artist who used sound and visuals to find new ways to bring the collection to life.

One of Chris’ most impressive works from this period was the Library Spectogram, which visualised the library’s collection, organised by the Dewey Decimal system, as a colour spectrum.

 

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Chris’ artwork visualised the collection by representing the number of books under each Dewey subject heading as a colour, with different shades of each colour representing the subdivisions within each class.

What made this truly brilliant was what UTS Library did next: turning Chris’ artwork into a practical tool, an interactive web interface to explore the library collection.

On the UTS library catalogue, the library spectogram exists as a band of colour – “the ribbon” – which you can click to expand the colours of each subject into the subdivisions which they’re shaded by.

 

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The spectrum makes understanding and browsing the Library’s collections more intuitive and engaging. It’s a simple tool which could be used by almost any library with an online catalogue, large or small, in any sector.

In a world where everyone is trying to wow you with the latest digital innovation, it’s a simple, humble, effective tool which offers a transformative experience in collection exploration: the online version of serendipitous browsing among the shelves.

So what’s the problem?

UTS Library is going through massive changes right now: moving to a new building on their Ultimo campus and starting to rethink their discovery services, which could mean moving to a new online home too. The long-awaited project to share the ribbon’s code openly has been deferred by several years.

Plans to release it in early 2018 were delayed until the start of this year, and as 2019 comes to a close, more than seven years after Chris’ original residency, the ribbon is still not out in the world. With the planned overhaul of discovery services, it’s even possible that the UTS ribbon might be lost entirely.

What’s needed now is to find a way for the code which creates the ribbon to be liberated from the UTS online catalogue and shared openly. That’s where you, or someone you know, comes in.

UTS’ Dr Belinda Tiffen has kindly given permission for interested parties to work with the Library to make this happen. This could involve a group of interested students taking it on as a project; it could become the focus of a hackathon; or it could be volunteer work by public-spirited souls who want to give something back to libraries worldwide.

The code uses the functionality of the UTS search engine Endeca to group search results, so there could be a bit of a technical challenge digging through “spaghetti code” to make this happen – but once the ribbon’s code is exposed and shared with the world, any library with an online catalogue could consider making use of Chris Gaul’s gift to UTS.

In an age when university libraries are striving to be open, it would be an act of generosity, sharing digital discovery tools just as freely as libraries wish to share their content.

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At a time when we recognise the need to preserve digital as well as physical heritage, it would ensure that the Library Spectogram doesn’t just become “a nice thing one library had once”, yet another great innovation which is celebrated on social media and shown off at conferences, but ends up on the scrapheap when steps aren’t taking to nurture and sustain it.

If you think you could help UTS Library to share the Library Spectogram code with the world, reach out to Belinda Tiffen to offer your services and learn more.

Are English libraries serious about fighting ‘fake news’?

The upcoming general election is a big one for English libraries, as well as the nation at large.

It’s a serious test of Libraries Deliver, the national campaign to advocate for public libraries which was launched by the UK library association CILIP in association with the US organisation EveryLibrary. I don’t know much about the American campaign, or how it ports over to the very different environment in which British public libraries operate; it’s definitely the sort of moment at which one wishes that the information sector benefited from the attentions of an independent and questioning press.

In the UK, Ian Anstice at Public Libraries News does a great job of chronicling changes in the sector and navigating the fractious debate about public libraries’ future. CILIP’s own Information Professional is always a useful read, but is of course an organ of the library association itself. British librarians will also be found reading the interviews and features hosted by Princh, a Danish company offering cloud printing solutions to the sector. I’ve chatted to the Princh team before, at the suggestion of trusted peers and colleagues, but it’s always felt somewhat strange that such a significant platform for sharing librarians’ ideas is really a marketing campaign by a library supplier, where the library workers offer their thoughts for free and the Danes benefit from clicks, pageviews, and trickle-down prestige which they hope will earn them some money. It’s interesting to reflect on how questions of agendas, authorities, and funding surround the flow of information and news even within the information profession itself.

All of which brings us to the ongoing question of ‘fake news’, or the bundle of phenomena and practices including misinformation, disinformation, trolling, poor information literacy, and general carelessness which get lumped under that unfortunate label. Read more

Dream and Deliver 2018

Last year, I delivered a session called “Dream and Deliver” for librarians from across south-west England, hosted by Service Delivery Manager Tabitha Witherick and her colleagues at Libraries Unlimited. (The workshop’s excellent title was Tabitha’s idea).

Tabitha writes:

Dream and Deliver: Finding New Ideas, Developing Relationships, and Making Good Things Happen on a Budget

I had the pleasure of working with Matt on a regional project to bring together library people from across South West England, to provide a workshop packed with creative, practical tips and techniques for strengthening the library’s relationship with the community, empowering staff, and delivering spectacular, innovative, cost-effective programmes and services.

Matt is incredibly easy to work with; he supported me with information to complete funding applications, promotional materials to engage participants and helpful communication pre and post workshop. On the day the participants experienced a highly interactive session. Matt puts everyone at ease and fosters a collaborative atmosphere.

By the afternoon the group were creating new library experiences together, being encouraged to understand inclusivity and diverse perspectives and needs, experimenting and evaluating, all within the safe space that Matt had created for them.

As a result the follow up pledges the group put forward were really inspiring!

But don’t take my word for it, see what the participants said:

‘Matt is amazing! Really engaging, fun and informative. I look forward to using some of the techniques back at the ranch. Great, out of the box thinking, very refreshing. Can we borrow him please?’

‘Matt was really good at engaging everyone and making us all feel a bit special. I will definitely use the practical ideas like the penguin and kinder egg.’

‘A really innovative, refreshing workshop with an inspiring presenter. Lots of things to take away and think about and so many games and ideas to try back at the library. Lots of fun!’

‘It reminded me to look for solutions rather than simply identify problems. I feel renewed – there is a future in libraries!’

Strategy and Impact Workshops for LIANZA Aotearoa New Zealand

Last week, I ran two workshops for New Zealand culture and information professionals with the support of Australia’s Brendan Fitzgerald.

The sessions, hosted at the National Library in Wellington by the Aotearoa New Zealand library association LIANZA, explored foresight, strategy, and next-generation measures of impact. We sought to give Kiwi culture & information professionals the tools to examine the future and make judicious strategic decisions, then investigate new ways to measure and demonstrate the difference their actions make in the world.

One participant said:

​​The tools from the strategic session were the most immediately useful to me – I liked how they broke a large process down into smaller steps from which concrete directions came organically and iteratively. I also liked the argument that while evidence-based research is good, there is no evidence from the future, and the stress on the fact that there is more than one possible future.

It was good to have people from outside your immediate context test your assumption, and to do the same for others… I made a coffee date with someone who is already a second-degree connection in my network who I have been meaning to connect more closely with (bonus: they’re from a different GLAM field to me, so that was a plus for LIANZA making it open to multiple sectors).

You can read more at the Libraries Aotearoa website.

New South Wales Strategy & Leadership Workshops

“It was important to us that our participants would gain a greater understanding of how to think about the changes and needs in their own communities and would learn some tools or techniques that they could continue to apply and revisit… essentially building both an awareness of trend monitoring but also the capability to respond with creative local strategies. The feedback from participants throughout the workshops and afterwards has been really positive with many commenting on how they would be able to use what they’d learned straight away with their teams.”

The feedback has arrived from the two day-long strategy workshops which I ran for the State Library of New South Wales this month. The sessions were designed to equip attendees with practical foresight, planning, and advocacy tools; I delivered them together with Brendan Fitzgerald as observer/respondent to the day’s activities.

The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, although of course there’s still much to learn as we explore ways to put sophisticated foresight tools like scenario planning in the hands of information professionals at all ranks, from communities large and small.

“Great approach to strategy and the tools make sense – Worth it.”

“A totally engaging and thought provoking day. A fantastic opportunity to interact with colleagues across NSW libraries and even though we come from very different situations, large and small libraries, the challenges we face have common ground.”

“Great day – Matt a very charismatic presenter and Brendan really well grounded in the realities of Library services. Great to have the opportunity to work with other Libraries and some novel approaches to workshopping!”

“Not what I expected at all. I thought it was going to be a talkfest and I was wondering how I will stay alert after lunch!!But we had short breaks, started on time and were kept connected to our table group and sent around the room to interact with the other groups in the room.”

“It was a wonderful day with practical hands-on information heard and learnt through application. I was very pleased I was able to participate in this. Thank you for hosting this event and bringing someone with Matt’s resume to Sydney for us to all learn from and be inspired.”

“This seminar was one of the most engaging, informative and stimulating professional development activities I have attended. I would have willingly attended the 2nd session.”

“The most valuable and thought-provoking professional development opportunity I have ever attended.”

Things That Make You Go Boop: Self-Check and Engels’ Pause

We order most of our groceries online in our house, but when we’re short on something or have forgotten a vital ingredient, we go to a Sainsbury’s supermarket ten minutes down the road. There are two tills staffed by cashiers and three of those machines that make you go boop: you have to scan the items for yourself, passing their barcodes over the laser light, and the machine lets you know it has logged the item with a “boop” sound.

I work a fair bit with public libraries, which also have things that make you go boop these days.

Read more

New strategic plan for Supreme Court Library Queensland

I’m pleased to announce the publication of one of my recent projects, the new five-year strategic plan for the Supreme Court Library of Queensland, Australia (SCLQ).

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Queen Elizabeth II Courts of Law, Brisbane by Wikipedia user Kgbo – CC BY-SA 3.0

The project, which ran through 2018 and early 2019, comprised research, interviews, survey and workshop design, plus co-writing the finished plan with Supreme Court Librarian David Bratchford.

Researching and writing the plan gave me the opportunity to explore one of the most fascinating and challenging sectors of the information profession – the law.

Read more

My Visit to Library Island: Eli Neiburger, Ann Arbor District Library

Library Island, the participatory activity which reaches the parts other professional development cannot reach, is here! You can read more and download your copy of the free, CC-licensed PDF file here.

I’m featuring some accounts of the Island from people who have attended Island sessions, or run Islands of their own, to give you a better sense of what it means to take part in, or even organise, your own Library Island.

Last time, Sherlonya Turner of Ann Arbor District Library (AADL) in Michigan, USA joined us for her account of running Library Island. Sherlonya and her colleagues ran a tailor-made session at LibCamp 2019, a professional development event for regional librarians hosted by AADL.

Now AADL Deputy Director Eli Neiburger takes up the story.

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Read more

The Library as Value-Creating System

Here are a few thoughts on how we might apply the Value-Creating System (VCS) approach – which focusses on relationships as much as transactions or products, emphasises collaboration as much as competition, and incorporates values other than the financial – to public libraries.

Box full of colourful characters and figures with placards labelled "Library of the Future - Some assembly required

What Does a Library Do, Anyway?

It can be hard to define a library’s purpose these days.

This is more of a problem for public libraries than for other institutions. Universities and colleges have well-articulated information needs, as do hospitals, courts, and other government bodies, or large enterprises which employ librarians of their own. Libraries within these organisations serve the information needs of a specified group, and often those needs and services are pretty well defined too.

Public libraries, however, struggle more with self-definition. They provide a wide and varied range of services, plus the communities they serve are often more diverse and less tightly defined. Some corners of Libraryland have been talking about this online for a while. Read more