Finding Library Futures, 4: Delivering the Literacy Smackdown – Big Box Battle

Big Box Battle monsters pose in their cardboard city
Big Box Battle monsters pose in their cardboard city

Last time on the blog we were discussing Parkes Shire’s time travel roleplay activity for schools, Time Travel Detectives. In it, a time portal had been opened from a polluted future Earth. Insidious, bug-like creatures were trying to cross timelines and usurp the present, but Parkes kids were able to go after them and capture them in specimen jars…

In the follow-up school holiday activity, ‘Big Box Battle’, another time portal presented a rather bigger challenge. Our young heroes found themselves wrestling Godzilla-like monsters in a knee-high cardboard city. Like our live action teen zombie roleplays, which you can see news coverage of here, this was a chance for kids to physically enter the world of an adventure story.

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Finding Library Futures, 1: TimeQuest – A Scientific Romance for Libraries

Auckland Libraries - Timequest
Auckland Libraries – Timequest logo
This school holiday season has seen Auckland’s library branches join forces to deliver a programme of activities built around a single citywide storyline, “TimeQuest.” Working with the city’s Service Development advisers Anne Dickson and Danielle Carter, I wrote the short text which frames the whole season:

Auckland, 2379. It’s the end for planet Earth – a red sun burns in the sky and the ground is parched of life.

The last survivors are preparing to leave for a new home on the other side of the galaxy, when the scientist Maia completes her greatest invention – a time portal that can take you to any moment in Auckland’s history.

Her plan: to send you back in time to recover the best books, art, and objects from New Zealand’s past.

Where will you go – and when?

What will you choose to save?

TimeQuest – Raid the past to save the future.    

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From monsters to Manila: a few upcoming events

Awestruck Time Travel Detectives!
Awestruck Time Travel Detectives at Parkes Shire Library, New South Wales

Once again, it’s busy times over at Finch Towers. I owe this blog a report on Time Travel Detectives and Big Box Battle, two immersive roleplay activities that I’ve just run at Parkes Library. That’s coming, but in the meantime you can see a few photographs from the two events below. There’s no qualitative assessment quite as cool as the awestruck expression on a child’s face…or the air-punching victory of a seven-year-old girl who just took down a chainsaw wielding Elvis robot.

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Next week sees schools from around Central West New South Wales converge on Tullamore for the sequel to 2012’s zombie showdown, and after that I’ll be speaking in Manila and Sydney.

Zombie at the window
ALWAYS with the zombies…

In Manila, I’ll be running a youth activity for the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design, (MCAD) as well as speaking to Filipino librarians on strategy and innovation. MCAD made a rather beautiful poster for the event:

Poster for Matt's talk on librarianship to Manila museum of contemporary art and design

After that, I’ll be speaking at a New South Wales Writers’ Centre event on Thursday 24th October, Monsters Under The Bed, alongside novelist Kate Forsyth and researcher Nyssa Harkness. We’ll be looking at the place of monsters in children’s and Young Adult fiction – and with Nyssa’s gaming background, I’m hoping we get to explore whether our relationship to monsters changes in an age when interactive storytelling and gaming often allow us to struggle with them directly… You can order tickets for the event at the Writers’ Centre Eventbrite page.

And when all that is done, I have a few words for you on immersive roleplay, performance and literacy, and embedding stories in a community. Stay tuned…

Interview with comic creator Pat Grant for New South Wales Writers’ Centre

Pat Grant cartoon“In an age of touchscreens, desktops, and video-on-demand, the ability to handle visual communication is an advantage for every writer. It’s not always about artistic technique, but a willingness to embrace the use of images to get your message across.”

Read my interview with Australian comic book author and scholar Pat Grant at the New South Wales Writers’ Centre website.

A spatulate depression, part II: The mission of the librarian

This is a standalone blog post, but also the second part of some larger thoughts around archives, libraries, and how words shape who we are. Click to read the first part.

When I first started working with libraries, I downloaded and read a copy of the Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset’s ‘The Mission of the Librarian’ (PDF download). It was written in 1934, but I hoped there would be some lingering insights about libraries or – let’s be frank – cool, glib quotes that I could share in speeches or workshops to make myself look smart and erudite.

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Key 23 and the Nth Degree, part III: Your words in the real world

This is the third part of a blog series giving a personal take on librarianship, archives, and the powers of words. Start here for the first post in the series.

Key 23 is something I only discovered because, working in Auckland for six months, I am using a public library like a regular reader for once – borrowing books simply because they interest or excite me.

A lot of the books I’m borrowing are comics – I love the economy of storytelling and really believe, as I was telling the State Library of New South Wales last year, that this medium might hold the future of space, word, and image. Among the comics I’ve been reading is Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles, which chronicles the adventures of a secret society battling extradimensional forces in the run up to the year 2000.

In The Invisibles, there’s a drug called Key 23 which makes the user experience whatever they read as real. It’s a lovely conceit, which Morrison also flips by adding the notion of a ‘fiction suit’ which (I may have got this wrong…) allows characters to travel through the world of discourse.

Panel from Grant Morrison, The Invisibles
Dream, reality, self and other are breaking down in Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles

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Key 23 and the Nth Degree, part II: Libraries for kids

This is the second of three more personal blog posts reflecting on librarianship, archives, and the power of words. You can also read part one of Key 23 and the Nth degree here.

Captain Britain #1 Front Cover
Captain Britain – now with added Dalek Killer!

Training as an infant school teacher brought me back to public libraries for the first time in ages. I’d stopped using them since the Internet had supplanted the local library as my source for obscure music, and I guess before that my last memory of a library was being brutally mocked by some badass teenage girls drinking round the back of one, the first time me and my best friend tried to get served in a pub underage!

As a teacher, school trips to the library were pretty anodyne – the best bit was the forced march three blocks or so from the infant school, the kids’ faces full of wonder as they held hands in pairs and went on a five year old’s adventure into the Big World of grocer’s stores and banks and traffic lights…then, the library.

It was an old building in sore need of refurbishment, overlit within by fluorescent striplights, walls painted the blank cream colour of a hospital corridor, and fitted with that curious, bristly tiled carpet forever associated with Britain’s more dismal civic spaces – probably not even the same colour throughout, with a patch of grey lingering in one corner where the fitters had run out of brown.

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Key 23 and the Nth Degree, part I: My life in library archives

This is the first of a more personal series of blog posts reflecting on librarianship, archives, and the power of words.

My PhD was about the lives of refugees in their adopted countries. I learned a thing or two about libraries then – sending a mate to rummage around in the Library of Congress, visiting the archives of a working German mental hospital, and spending days amid the pungent must of London’s Senate House, where you could still find a corner to sit untroubled on the sixth floor on a November afternoon, walled in on three sides by shelves, books spread across your desk – only half of them really relevant to your topic, the others picked up on impulse or passing interest, looking down on a gloriously cold and lonely darkening winter London.

Senate House, London
Senate House, London – The inspiration for Orwell’s Ministry of Truth, allegedly earmarked as Hitler’s headquarters in the event of a Nazi invasion of Britain…

That intense sensory experience, synonymous with loneliness and hard work for me, is a memory so strong that for all its ambivalence it has taken on the quality of beauty. I can smell the vile rows of shelving which Senate House devoted to Hansard as I write this…and I kind of miss it. Read more

Show Me the Awesome: Immersive play in the 21st century library

Show Me the Awesome Banner by John LeMasney at
Banner by John LeMasney at

Hello! Some of you visiting today will be regular readers of this blog; others may be here as part of Show Me the Awesome: 30 Days of Self-Promotion for libraries and librarians, a great project to help librarians around the world to celebrate their work.

So if you don’t know me, this is the Big Secret: I’m not actually a librarian myself, but currently an adviser to Auckland Libraries, the largest public library system in Australasia. (My wayward career is best described on my ‘About Me’ page). I make up fun stuff for people to do in public spaces, and so today I’m writing about immersive play in libraries. By ‘immersive play’ I mean activities which physically draw your library patrons into the world of a book, artwork, or other piece of media – whether through craft, gaming, roleplay, or content creation.

The big revelation for me came when running a workshop to decide the future of Auckland’s collections management policy – not, frankly, the sexiest task in a public library service, but most rewarding in the long run. Not just because we had a cathartic Nerf gun shoot out as part of the activity, but because I discovered the UN’s Missions of the Public Library.

(I go on a lot about this document, but it’s something really worth hammering home).

The mission statement doesn’t even use the word “books”. It talks about reading, sure – but this is not a manifesto for shelves. Instead, the focus is on activities like stimulating imagination and creativity, providing access to cultural expressions of all performing arts, supporting the oral tradition, and providing opportunities for personal creative development.

That’s an especially big deal in New Zealand, where a lot of the discussion about future branding of libraries revolves around their historic association with books. Wherever you are in the world, that “libraries = books” equation comes up a lot, especially when libraries’ enemies want to imply that they are outdated and can be supplanted by digital means, as happened in the Huffington Post last week.

So, how do we bring those missions of creativity, play, independent learning, and performance to life while remaining true to libraries’ heritage of literacy and reading? Let’s see if we can do it in six bullet points… Read more

City of Souls: Gaming and Augmented Reality in Auckland Libraries

Auckland Libraries has just launched its first online game, City of Souls – an interactive zombie adventure for ages 14 and over.

City of Souls game
City of Souls – click the image to play!

Written by my colleague Danielle Carter using the free Twine game design software, City of Souls takes place in the same universe as both our Tupu Youth Library zombie siege and the recent Apocalypse Z interactive theatre event in Auckland’s CBD.

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