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 taken 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

6 Hot Picks – NZ Library Life

Together with Australia’s Brendan Fitzgerald, I’m in Library Lifethe magazine of libraries in Aotearoa / New Zealand, this month, offering six hot picks and a few reflections on our recent NZ strategy workshops.

You can read our feature here, click on the image below, or check out the complete issue (PDF download) at the Library Life website.

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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!’

Six hours, three sentences for Libraries Tasmania

This September, I spent a day with senior leaders from Libraries Tasmania as part of my Australia/New Zealand workshop tour.

Accompanied by Aussie consultant Brendan Fitzgerald, my task was to help over 20 senior managers to agree an overarching mission statement that reflected an existing strategic plan, plus the full scope of an organisation encompassing archives, a museum, the State Library of Tasmania, and an island-wide public library service.

We set the scene for the mission statement with a series of iterative tasks exploring plausible futures that the organisation might face – and ways of responding if those futures came to pass.

By the end of the day, we had built enough common ground for the workshop participants to agree a wording which framed and articulated their service’s mission in an accessible yet inspiring way: three compelling sentences that could only be found after a solid day of future-facing inquiry.

Libraries Tasmania’s Executive Director Liz Jack wrote:

Throughout the day, Matt kept things moving while still being emotionally intelligent enough to notice when people were feeling uncomfortable, respectfully encouraging them to articulate what they were feeling and thinking.

Comments from participants included the following:

  • Matt captured the context of Libraries Tasmania very well and his in depth
    knowledge and experience of other libraries internationally added value to the
    sessions
  • Matt kept us on track and had a great ability to read the room
  • A great find!
  • Best facilitator seen in a long time; a good understanding of both strategic
    planning and the library field
  • Matt is one of the best. Clever listening and guidance and good subtle questioning of assumptions . . . a paradigm changer and questioner
  • The fact that there was an outcome was a significant improvement to any
    other vision/mission related workshop I have engaged in . . . It could not get
    much better.

Matt’s work has set us up with a mission statement that everyone has embraced and now owns, and the discussion and ideas he generated have laid a solid foundation for future planning and visioning work with the entire organisation.

You can read more at this site’s testimonials page.

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.

State Library of Victoria Interview with Peter Miller

I joined multimedia artist Peter Miller a.k.a. Scribbletronics to talk about his work creating art from the digitised collections at the State Library of Victoria.

Our conversation ranged across questions of serendipity and creativity, empathy and respect for historical figures whose images we use, and the sheer delight of experimenting with visual art in the archive.

You can watch the full interview on YouTube.

Show Me The Money? Thousand-Dollar Receipts and the Value of Public Libraries

Have you seen that library receipt which is doing the rounds on social media? What do you think of it?

Receipt showing that the user has saved hundreds of dollars by using their library, more than a thousand dollars over the past year, and more than seven thousand since they began using the library.

The receipt shows that the user in question supposedly saved thousands of dollars by going to the public library instead of the bookstore.

What message does this monetary value, printed on a library receipt, send out? Does it help or hinder attempts to show communities the wider value of library service?

Would a user who borrowed all those books really have spent all that money, and bought them all, if the library didn’t have them, or the library didn’t exist?

Do people make decisions & commitments about what to borrow in the same way that they do about what to buy?

The value is based on a hypothetical: what you would have had to pay, if the library didn’t exist, and you chose to buy all of those items instead of loaning them…so what is it evidence of exactly?

Dollar values speak to many people in an uncomplicated way, especially in times of austerity or economic difficulty, but what message are these numbers sending? Are public libraries only about transactions and items on shelves?

What other information could libraries be printing on library receipts instead of the retail value of books borrowed? What would be gained, and what would be lost?

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