A Romance on Three Legs: The Ivory Archives / @IAMLaustralia

Is a library just a machine for making knowledge?

In such a place, can a piano be a research tool?

Why did a Kindertransport refugee from the Nazis acquire Glenn Gould’s favourite instrument for the National Library of Canada?

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Photo by National Arts Centre Archives, Canada

In advance of Australia’s 2017 IAML conference of music librarians, you can read the story of Gould’s beloved Steinway CD 318 over at Library as Incubator.

Check out “A Romance on Three Legs: The Ivory Archives” now.

Decolonising reading: the Murri book club of Townsville, Queensland

The brilliant Janeese Henaway of Townsville Libraries has just co-written an academic paper with researcher Maggie Nolan.

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The paper, ‘Decolonising reading: the Murri book club‘, explores the project to create and support an Indigenous book club in a regional Australian city, led by Janeese in her capacity as Indigenous Library Resources Officer.

If book clubs are an overwhelmingly white phenomenon, through which members ‘maintain their currency as literate citizens through group discussion’, what does it mean for Indigenous people to create and run their own book club? How does it differ from other clubs and activities? What are the tensions, concerns, opportunities, and expectations when Indigenous people reshape the book club format for their own purposes?

Janeese and Maggie explore decolonization of the book club as a social, cultural, and political institution. They ask how this project might address white ignorance and explore empathy across ethnic groups, and they consider the tension between oral and written traditions for Indigenous people living in the Australia of 2017.

Read ‘Decolonising reading: the Murri book club’ in Continuum Journal of Media & Cultural Studies today.

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

We come to the final instalment of this series on the forgotten but brilliant science fiction writer John M. Ford.

Over the last few posts, we’ve looked at how he made nifty comedy out of the Star Trek franchise, and how his interest in games allowed him to lend nuance to the usual goodies-vs-baddies-in-space shenanigans when he was playing in other people’s universes.

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We also thought about why thinking science-fictionally matters when we try to find new ways of doing things for our communities, our organisations, ourselves. And we considered how good ideas move between the world on the page and the world beyond it.

I wanted to end by coming back to Ford’s actual life in Minneapolis. Read more

A new strategic vision for Queensland public libraries

My University of Southern Queensland colleague Kate Davis and I have won the tender to review the strategic vision for public libraries in Queensland, Australia.

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We’ll be drafting a successor to the existing VISION 2017 document after a season of consultation, workshops, surveys, and interviews with library staff, managers, and key stakeholders from across the state.

Find out more at the State Library of Queensland’s PLConnect blog.

Code Brown: Design Thinking & Beyond feat. @jeromical / Part 1

Blame it on Jerome; it started with him.

Jerome Rivera, aka @jeromical, is Community Library Manager at Ranui in Auckland, New Zealand. He’s smart and thoughtful and highly accomplished, and one of the sharpest dressers I’ve ever seen. Jerome and his wife Rachael form something of a library power couple: she manages Auckland’s central city library and her teams have been responsible for amazing projects such as specialised services for homeless people and bespoke one-to-one encounters with Kiwi musicians for NZ Music Month. But I’ll have to get to the full story of Rachael’s greatness another time, because today is about Code Brown, and Code Brown starts with Jerome.

You see, being a librarian today is about all kinds of things. Access to information. Bringing communities together and giving them the opportunity to share their skills and stories, or create new knowledge. Offering new technologies and the skills to explore those technologies.

But, as Jerome pointed out on Twitter, when you work in a space like a library which is open and welcoming to all members of the public, sooner or later, you end up dealing with a Code Brown. Read more

Battle for Library Island @ALIAnls workshop notes

The team behind this year’s NLS8 conference have released notes from my Battle for Library Island workshop in PDF, PPT, and Keynote formats.

You can see some of the activities we used as warm-ups for this creative approach to organisational strategy and vision, plus enjoy video from the raucous, dramatic session itself.

Visit NLS8’s Figshare account to download materials from Canberra’s Battle for Library Island or read more about the game, and the philosophy behind it, here.

There’ll be more Library Island at LIANZA 17 in Christchurch, New Zealand, this September.

Library Island hits #nls8

My professional development roleplay Library Island visited the New Librarians Symposium at the National Library of Australia last weekend.

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Librarians old and new joined forces to explore their work with communities in new, messy, and productive ways.

Going beyond the vogue for design thinking, the safe, fictional space of “Library Island” allowed us to engage with knotty questions of office politics, limited resources, managerial edicts, and library users who are sometimes airbrushed out of “future visions” – such as homeless people or those whose behaviour might be challenging to staff. Read more

Interview with @coffeemiss: creative leadership @slqld

Library as Incubator features my interview with Vicki McDonald – aka @coffeemiss on social media – State Librarian and CEO of the State Library of Queensland, Australia.

Vicki spoke with me about libraries as creative spaces supporting business and community projects as well as the arts and education. She also shared her own journey from a small-town library to executive leadership and strategic development roles in universities and local government.

Vicki says:

“The power of libraries is in their responsiveness.  Our community can ask to see anything in the collection; and we strive to encourage serendipity. If you think of a local public library and the way a community feels comfortable to walk through the doors and ask for our help, our services, it’s very different to how the public treat a museum or a gallery. At the State Library level, that means responding to the curiosity in people – and even encouraging them to be more curious!”

Read her full interview at Library as Incubator.

Best #FyreFestival Ever: From Melbourne to Library Island

1. #FyreFestival

So you may have been watching accounts of the Fyre Festival’s collapse on social media.

The much-hyped “luxury music retreat”, taking place on the Bahamas’ Exuma Islands, charged thousands of dollars for tickets. On arrival, festivalgoers found themselves stranded in emergency-relief tents, their luggage confiscated and dumped in a shipping container. By the end of the first day, the organisers had cancelled the event and attendees were struggling to leave the island.

One of the event producers gleefully noted that she hadn’t been made to sign a nondisclosure agreement and gave an account of what she saw as the festival’s inevitable downfall to New York magazine.

Festival organiser Billy McFarland told Rolling Stone:

The Exumas didn’t have a really great infrastructure – there wasn’t a great way to get guests in here – we were a little bit ambitious. There wasn’t water or sewage. It was almost like we tried building a city out of nothing and it took almost all of our personal resources to make this happen, and everything we had, to make this festival go on.

All of which reminds me of a wet weekend in Melbourne.

2. Chance, skill, and disaster

Over the past fifteen months, I’ve been working with health practitioners, librarians, and other professionals on ways to incorporate play and storytelling in their training and development.

As research for this, I took part in a game of Best Festival Ever at Arts House Melbourne in July last year.

Best Festival Ever, subtitled How To Manage A Disaster, is a participatory theatre presentation devised by Boho Interactive. Attendees take on the role of event producers faced with bringing a festival together at the last possible minute, dealing with sponsors, talent, merch booths, caterers, and bathrooms – as well as a party-hungry horde of festivalgoers.

By playing a series of simple games of chance or skill, the players collaboratively contribute to the success or failure of the festival as a whole – firstly as it’s being organised, and then in the latter stages of the game, improvising a response to catastrophic events.

Boho’s team originally created the game to explore environmental science through interactive theatre. The result is a lively event which examines whether our decision-making processes are well-equipped to deal with natural and man-made systems. Playing the game and attempting to run the “Best Festival Ever” forces us to confront the way we approach complex systems with more serious real-world consequences – such as the environment we live in.

If you get a chance to play this one day, you really should.

3. The Road to Library Island

It’s not hard to see how a game of Best Festival Ever – which only takes a couple of hours to play – might have sharpened the thinking of Fyre Festival’s organisers. Playing a frantic game against the clock to see if a festival’s Portaloos get cleaned is a marvellous way of focussing your attention on infrastructure. And a little time playing in the sandbox gives you the chance to prepare for the future – not just for what you hope or expect to happen, but also the catastrophic collapse of the systems you have in place.

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Libraries have proved resilient in these kinds of catastrophic scenarios, perhaps because of their strong connections to the community they serve. Whether it’s Scott Bonner’s team keeping their library open during the 2014 Ferguson riots, or Christchurch Libraries’ work during the earthquakes which struck their city in Aotearoa/New Zealand, libraries have some pretty great success stories to share from times of disaster.

So we spent last year working on a professional development session called Library Island. Our game uses this kind of play-based scenario to explore national strategies for public libraries, the problems of day-to-day library operations, and the challenges that arise when unexpected pressures are placed on the system.

Already Library Island has led to new communications and strategic approaches at the State Library of Queensland, and we’ll be taking the game to both the NLS8 and LIANZA conferences later this year. You can read more about Library Island, and this approach to professional development, in the current issue of Library Life.

In the meanwhile, why not pass some time with the Schadenfreude-heavy story of #FyreFestival on social media?

Library Island: The Professional Benefit of Play

What is the professional benefit of play? When is it better to impose an objective, and when should we learn through experimentation and happy accident? How can we “fail better” without wasting valuable resources?

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In this month’s Library Life magazine, I explore these questions through an account of the Library Island project I’ve been developing during my time at the State Library of Queensland.

Could it be that our next innovation challenge is to break down the walls between fact and fiction? Could story-based, open-ended play be as valuable for professionals as for children? Could it be physical, low-tech, and improvisational as well as digital?

You can read Library Life April 2017 here as a PDF download – my piece starts on page 12.